Stroiney v. Crescent Lake Tax Dist.

Decision Date30 July 1985
Citation495 A.2d 1063,197 Conn. 82
PartiesEileen C. STROINEY et al. v. CRESCENT LAKE TAX DISTRICT et al.
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court

James W. Sherman, East Hartford, with whom was William F. McDonald, Enfield, for appellants (defendants).

Joseph E. Fallon, Enfield, with whom was John A. Kissel, Windsor, for appellees (plaintiffs).

Before ARTHUR H. HEALEY, SHEA, DANNEHY, SANTANIELLO and CALLAHAN, JJ.

SHEA, Associate Justice.

On April 15, 1982, petition forms were submitted to the town manager for the town of Enfield requesting that a meeting be held for the purpose of voting on a proposal to form a special tax district pursuant to General Statutes § 7-325. 1 Thereafter, as required by statute, a notice of a meeting to be held on May 13, 1982, was published. The formation of the Crescent Lake Tax District in the town of Enfield was approved at that meeting.

The plaintiffs, thirty-two electors residing in the town of Enfield, brought this action seeking declaratory and injunctive relief as well as damages for the allegedly illegal formation of the tax district, claiming that the circulator of the petitions failed to comply with the provisions of General Statutes § 7-9. 2 The trial court, Quinn, J., rendered summary judgment for the plaintiffs, declaring the tax district to have been illegally formed. The defendants appealed, claiming that the trial court erred in its holding that the requirements of General Statutes § 7-9 apply to the formation of a special tax district under General Statutes § 7-325. Because we conclude that a summary judgment granting only declaratory relief, but failing to dispose of claims for an injunction and for damages, is not a final judgment, the appeal is dismissed.

At oral argument, both parties expressed a desire to have the summary judgment order regarded as appealable. Agreement by the parties, however, cannot confer appellate jurisdiction on this court. State v. Curcio, 191 Conn. 27, 30, 463 A.2d 566 (1983); Gores v. Rosenthal, 148 Conn. 218, 221, 169 A.2d 639 (1961). The right of appeal is ordinarily limited to parties aggrieved by final judgments. General Statutes §§ 51-197a, 52-263; Practice Book § 3000; State v. Audet, 170 Conn. 337, 342, 365 A.2d 1082 (1976). Therefore, before considering the merits, we must determine whether the appeal has been taken from a final judgment. In re Juvenile Appeal (82-AB), 188 Conn. 557, 559, 452 A.2d 113 (1982); E.J. Hansen Elevator, Inc. v. Stoll, 167 Conn. 623, 624, 356 A.2d 893 (1975); Prevedini v. Mobil Oil Corporation, 164 Conn. 287, 291, 320 A.2d 797 (1973).

The record indicates no reason for the failure to complete the proceedings in the trial court by resolving the claims for injunctive relief and for damages. The trial court may well have assumed that a further hearing would take place, analogous to a hearing in damages after rendition of a summary judgment determining liability in an action for damages. See Practice Book § 385. The plaintiffs have not withdrawn or abandoned their claims for relief that have not yet been adjudicated. The situation, therefore, is similar to where a judgment has been rendered only upon the issue of liability without an award of damages. Such a judgment, being interlocutory in character, is not a final judgment from which an appeal lies. Pinnix v. LaMorte, 182 Conn. 342, 343, 438 A.2d 102 (1980); Palmer v. Hartford National Bank & Trust Co., 157 Conn. 597, 253 A.2d 28 (1968); New Haven Redevelopment Agency v. Research Associates, Inc., 153 Conn. 118, 120, 214 A.2d 375 (1965).

Such an interlocutory judgment does not fall within one of the narrowly defined exceptions to the general prohibition against appeals from judgments that are not final. "An otherwise interlocutory order is appealable in two circumstances: (1) where the order or action terminates a separate and distinct proceeding or (2) where the order or action so concludes the rights of the parties that further proceedings cannot affect them." State v. Curcio, supra, 191 Conn. 31, 463 A.2d 566; Daginella v. Foremost Ins. Co., 197 Conn. 26, 30, 495 A.2d 709 (1985). The first alternative, termination of a separate and distinct proceeding, requires the order being appealed to be severable from the central cause of action so that the main action can "proceed independent of the ancillary proceeding." State v. Parker, 194 Conn. 650, 654, 485 A.2d 139 (1984). Obviously, a ruling affecting the merits of a controversy could not be separate and distinct. Id., 653, 485 A.2d 139. It is clear that the plaintiffs' claims for damages and for injunctive relief could not go forward if we were to hold that the summary judgment could properly be appealed. The declaratory judgment was merely a "step along the road to a final judgment" and was not "independent of the main action." Id., 653-54, 485 A.2d 139; Dewart v. Northeastern Gas Transmission Co., 139 Conn. 512, 514, 95 A.2d 381 (1953); Enfield v. Hamilton, 110 Conn. 319, 322, 148 A. 353 (1930). The first Curcio alternative is, therefore, not met.

Nor does this interlocutory order satisfy the second Curcio alternative, that the rights of the parties be so concluded "that further proceedings cannot affect them." It is obvious that the rights of the parties have not been concluded, because further proceedings upon the plaintiffs' claims for an injunction and for damages are bound to affect those rights. In re Juvenile (85-AB), 195 Conn. 303, 312, 488 A.2d 778 (1985); New Haven Redevelopment Agency v. Research Associates, Inc., supra, 153 Conn. 120, 214 A.2d 375; State v. Fahey, 146 Conn. 55, 57, 147 A.2d 476 (1958); 47 Am.Jur.2d, Judgments § 1054.

Because the lack of a final judgment is a jurisdictional defect, 3 we must dismiss the appeal. Pinnix v. LaMorte, supra, 182 Conn. 343, 438 A.2d 102; Guerin v. Norton, 167 Conn. 282, 284, 355 A.2d 255 (1974); Sewer Commission v. Norton, 164 Conn. 2, 6, 316 A.2d 775 (1972); New Haven Redevelopment Agency v. Research Associates, Inc., supra, 153 Conn. 120, 214 A.2d 375.

The appeal is dismissed, sua sponte, for lack of jurisdiction.

In this opinion the other Judges concurred.

1 "[General Statutes] Sec. 7-325. ORGANIZATION. BOUNDARY CHANGES. ANNUAL REPORT. (a) Upon the petition of twenty or more voters, as defined by section 7-6, of any town, not residing within the territorial limits of any city or borough in such town, specifying the limits of a proposed district for any or all of the purposes set forth in section 7-326, and not including within such limits any part of any city or borough in such town,...

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