VAYLE NELSON, PPA, et al. v. KAREN DETTMER, M.D., et al., SC 18700

Judicial District of Hartford


     Medical Malpractice; Sovereign Immunity; Whether Plaintiff's Motion to Set Aside Judgment was Untimely; Whether Public Act 09-44, Which Allows Claims Commissioner to Vacate Prior Decision, Applies Where No Request for Review is Filed. The plaintiff sought permission from the claims commissioner to bring a medical malpractice action against the state.  Initially, the claims commissioner dismissed the plaintiff's claim for failure to prosecute.  Subsequently, upon the plaintiff's request, the claims commissioner vacated the dismissal, reopened the claim and granted the plaintiff permission to sue the state.  Thereafter, the plaintiff filed this action.  General Statutes § 4-158 (b) provides that a claimant who desires the General Assembly to review the claims commissioner's decision must file a request for review.  On November 13, 2008, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the state.  The court explained that, because the plaintiff did not file a request for review pursuant to § 4-158 (b), the claims commissioner did not retain jurisdiction over her claim.  Therefore, the court determined that the claims commissioner lacked authority to vacate the dismissal and, thus, his waiver of sovereign immunity was improper.  The plaintiff filed a motion to reargue, which the court denied on February 11, 2009.  On June 11, 2009, the plaintiff moved to set aside the summary judgment based on Public Act 09-44, which provides that the claims commissioner may vacate a prior decision as long as the claim has not been submitted to the legislature.  The state argued that the plaintiff's motion was untimely under General Statutes § 52-212a, which provides that, "[u]nless otherwise provided by law," a judgment may not be set aside unless a motion to set aside is filed within four months after the judgment is rendered.  The court determined that its summary judgment ruling did not become final for purposes of § 52-212a until it denied the plaintiff's motion to reargue.  Since the motion to set aside was filed within four months of that decision, the court ruled that the motion to set aside was timely.  Alternatively, the court ruled that the legislature's passage of Public Act 09-44 allowed the court to consider the plaintiff's motion under the "unless otherwise provided by law" exception of § 52-212a.  Next, the state argued that Public Act 09-44 was inapplicable because, in the absence of a request for review, the claims commissioner's dismissal of the plaintiff's claim was a final disposition that could not be vacated because doing so under these circumstances would provide the claims commissioner with greater jurisdictional authority than the General Assembly.  The court rejected this claim as well.  Accordingly, the court granted the plaintiff's motion to set aside.  In this appeal, the Supreme Court will review the trial court's judgment.