State v. Salmon, (SC 15930)

CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Writing for the CourtNORCOTT, J.
Citation250 Conn. 147,735 A.2d 333
PartiesSTATE OF CONNECTICUT v. RALSTON SALMON
Docket Number(SC 15930)
Decision Date10 August 1999

Callahan, C. J., and Borden, Berdon, Norcott, Katz, Palmer and McDonald, Js.1 Matthew P. Tuller, for the appellant (B & B Bail Bonds Agency, Inc.).

Carolyn K. Longstreth, assistant state's attorney, with whom were David Kutzner, assistant state's attorney, and, on the brief, Michael Dearington, state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

Opinion

NORCOTT, J.

The principal issue in this certified appeal is whether a bail bondsman, who is a nonparty to the underlying criminal action, may appeal pursuant to General Statutes § 52-263,2 from the trial court's order to forfeit its bond. We conclude that, as a nonparty, a bail bondsman does not have a right of appeal under § 52-263.

The record discloses the following factual and procedural history. The defendant in the underlying criminal case, Ralston Salmon, was arrested and charged with violating General Statutes §§ 21a-279 (a) and (c),3 and 21a-277 (a).4 He posted a surety bond of $150,000 and was released. B & B Bail Bonds Agency, Inc. (bondsman), was the surety that furnished the bond. When the defendant later failed to appear for a court date, the trial court, on January 7, 1997, ordered the forfeiture of the bond. The court, pursuant to General Statutes § 54-65a,5 simultaneously ordered the rearrest of the defendant and a stay of execution on the forfeiture for six months. The bondsman located the defendant in Jamaica, but was not permitted to remove him without extradition authorization from Connecticut. Accordingly, the bondsman requested that the state's attorney's office extradite the defendant to Connecticut, which it refused to do. The stay of execution subsequently lapsed, and the forfeiture of the bond became due. After the state settled its claim with the bondsman for $75,000, the bondsman moved in the trial court for both a rebate of the bond forfeiture and a release from the bond. The trial court denied these motions, and the bondsman appealed from the denial of the motion for release to the Appellate Court.

The Appellate Court, acting sua sponte, placed the matter on its calendar on the question of "why the appeal should not be dismissed because review by way of an appeal is not available to a nonparty." After hearing argument on that question, the Appellate Court dismissed the appeal. We granted the bondsman's petition for certification on this issue.6 Following oral argument, we decided, sua sponte, to consider the case en banc; see footnote 1 of this opinion; and to request supplemental briefs by the parties.7 Before this court, the bondsman claims that the Appellate Court's interpretation of § 52-263 was incorrect. Specifically, the bondsman claims that review by way of appeal pursuant to § 52-263 is available based on our construction in prior cases of the term "party" contained in § 52-263. We disagree, and conclude that review by way of appeal pursuant to § 52-263 is available only to parties to an underlying action.

I

We first must determine the parameters of the "party" requirement of § 52-263. Such a determination is a matter of statutory construction and, therefore, a matter of law over which this court's review is plenary. Wright Bros. Builders, Inc. v. Dowling, 247 Conn. 218, 226, 720 A.2d 235 (1998). "The process of statutory interpretation involves a reasoned search for the intention of the legislature.... In other words, we seek to determine, in a reasoned manner, the meaning of the statutory language as applied to the facts of this case, including the question of whether the language actually does apply. In seeking to determine that meaning, we look to the words of the statute itself, to the legislative history and circumstances surrounding its enactment, to the legislative policy it was designed to implement, and to its relationship to existing legislation and common law principles governing the same general subject matter." (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) United Illuminating Co. v. New Haven, 240 Conn. 422, 431, 692 A.2d 742 (1997).

We begin our analysis by examining the plain language of § 52-263, which provides in relevant part: "Upon the trial of all matters of fact in any cause or action in the Superior Court, whether to the court or jury, or before any judge thereof when the jurisdiction of any action or proceeding is vested in him, if either party is aggrieved by the decision of the court or judge upon any question or questions of law arising in the trial ... he may appeal to the court having jurisdiction from the final judgment of the court or of such judge...." (Emphasis added.) On its face, the statute explicitly sets out three criteria that must be met in order to establish subject matter jurisdiction for appellate review: (1) the appellant must be a party; (2) the appellant must be aggrieved by the trial court's decision; and (3) the appeal must be taken from a final judgment.

The relevant language concerning "either party" has remained unchanged since the statute was first enacted in 1929 as Public Acts 1929, c. 301, § 1.8 Because records of legislative history are not available for that time, the legislature's intent in using the phrase "either party" is unknown. We previously have interpreted the party requirement of § 52-263, however, to mean a party to the underlying action. In Bergeron v. Mackler, 225 Conn. 391, 392, 623 A.2d 489 (1993), the plaintiffs in error brought a writ of error concerning the disqualification of the law firm that they had retained to represent them as nonparty witnesses in a marital dissolution. In addressing the claims made pursuant to the writ of error, this court noted in a footnote that "[t]he claim sought to be reviewed by the plaintiffs in error could not have been reviewed by this court by way of appeal because they were not parties in the underlying marital dissolution action. Only an aggrieved party may appeal from a final judgment of the trial court. See Practice Book [§ 61-1, formerly § 4000]. Consequently, a writ of error is the proper vehicle for review of the plaintiffs' claim." (Emphasis added.) Bergeron v. Mackler, supra, 391-92 n.1.

Our prior interpretation in Bergeron is consistent with the usual meaning of the term "party." "Ordinarily, the word `party' has a technical legal meaning, referring `to those by or against whom a legal suit is brought ... the party plaintiff or defendant, whether composed of one or more individuals and whether natural or legal persons.' Black's Law Dictionary, citing Golatte v. Mathews, 394 F. Sup. 1203, 1207 (D.C. Ala. 1975)...." (Citation omitted.) Lieberman v. Reliable Refuse Co., 212 Conn. 661, 669, 563 A.2d 1013 (1989). This definition of party, which we also have labeled "party status in court"; Rose v. Freedom of Information Commission, 221 Conn. 217, 225-26, 602 A.2d 1019 (1992); includes only those who are parties to the underlying action.

The bondsman argues, however, that judicially created exceptions exist whereby an appellant need not establish that he was a party to the underlying action in order to establish subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to § 52-263. As support for this contention, the bondsman, first, relies upon our interpretation of "party" in Day v. Middletown, 245 Conn. 437, 441-42, 716 A.2d 47 (1998), and second, argues that interpreting the party requirement of § 52-263 as limited to parties to the underlying action would conflict in varying degrees with our prior decisions in CFM of Connecticut, Inc. v. Chowdhury, 239 Conn. 375, 685 A.2d 1108 (1996),Lougee v. Grinnell, 216 Conn. 483, 582 A.2d 456 (1990), and In re Mongillo, 190 Conn. 686, 461 A.2d 1387 (1983).9 We are unpersuaded. To the extent that those precedents imply that a person or legal entity that is not a party to the underlying action constitutes a party for purposes of appellate review pursuant to § 52-263, those precedents are mistaken and are hereby overruled.

The bondsman first contends that, in Day v. Middletown, supra, 245 Conn. 442, we created a standard by which de facto parties satisfy the "party" requirement for appellate review. We disagree that our decision in Day requires us to establish a broader definition of "party" for purposes of § 52-263 than we adopt today. In Day, we interpreted the term "party" in the context of General Statutes § 31-301b of the Workers' Compensation Act. Section 31-301b provides in relevant part: "Any party aggrieved by the decision of the Compensation Review Board upon any question or questions of law arising in the proceedings may appeal the decision... to the Appellate Court." (Emphasis added.) In that case, an employee retained the services of a law firm in the prosecution of a workers' compensation claim and agreed to pay the law firm 20 percent of the employee's gross recovery. Shortly before resolution of the matter two years later, the employee discharged that law firm and retained a different attorney. In a fee approval hearing, the workers' compensation commissioner awarded compensation to the law firm, and that sum was reduced on appeal to the workers' compensation review board. Day v. Middletown, supra, 438-39. This court concluded that the law firm was an aggrieved, de facto party under § 31-301b, because, for purposes of that statute, "[i]n short, a party is a litigant with a personal stake in the outcome of the controversy." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Id., 440.

Our adoption of a broader construction of the term "party" that includes de facto parties in the context of appeals from the workers' compensation review board pursuant to § 31-301b does not, however, compel a similar construction of the term "party" in the context of § 52-263. The circumstances surrounding our decision in Day are distinguishable from the present case in three critical respects. First, the plain...

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