RICHARD HYLTON v. GARFIELD GUNTER et al., SC 19159

Judicial District of Hartford

 

      Appellate Jurisdiction; Whether the Appellate Court Properly Dismissed the Appeal For Lack of a Final Judgment Where, at the Time the Appeal was Filed, the Trial Court had yet to Determine the Amount of Attorney's Fees to be Awarded as Punitive Damages.  The plaintiff brought this action seeking to recover damages from the defendants for, among other things, fraud, civil theft and breach of fiduciary duty.  The trial court found in favor of the plaintiff and awarded him compensatory damages.  It also found that the plaintiff was entitled to punitive damages in the form of attorney's fees.  The defendant appealed before the trial court determined the amount of attorney's fees to award as punitive damages.  Several weeks later, the court awarded the plaintiff $23,400 in punitive damages, which represented the amount claimed in attorney's fees.  The defendant did not amend his appeal subsequent to the trial court's award of punitive damages, and the Appellate Court (142 Conn. App. 548) dismissed the appeal for lack of a final judgment.  In so ruling, the Appellate Court noted that in Paranteau v. DeVita, 208 Conn. 515 (1988), the Supreme Court held that a judgment on the merits is final for purposes of appeal even though the recoverability or amount of attorney's fees for the litigation remains to be determined.  It then stated that after Paranteau, it decided Lord v. Mansfield, 50 Conn. App. 21 (1998), in which it distinguished the reimbursement of attorney's fees from the awarding of punitive damages and held that an appeal taken prior to a trial court's determination as to the recoverability or amount of punitive damages is not a final judgment for purposes of appeal.  The Appellate Court therefore deemed the dispositive question whether the $23,400 award to the plaintiff here constituted an award of attorney’s fees or an award of punitive damages.  The court found that the trial court’s manifest intention was to award the plaintiff punitive damages, noting that the award was based on certain counts of the complaint that did not have a statutory basis for an award of attorney's fees and that the  trial court explicitly called the award punitive damages.  The Appellate Court therefore concluded that the finality of the judgment was controlled by Lord and that it did not have subject matter jurisdiction over the appeal.  The Supreme Court will now decide whether the Appellate Court properly dismissed the appeal for lack of a final judgment.