JAMES RUGGIERO v. JOSEPH PELLICCI et al., SC 18399
Judicial District of Stamford/Norwalk
Trial Court Procedure; Pleadings; Whether Attorney Trial Referee, in Denying the Defendants' Motion to Amend Their Counterclaim, Improperly Departed From the Law of the Case that was Established by the Trial Court's Earlier Ruling and Improperly Made Factual Findings that were not Supported by the Evidence.
The parties entered into a contract in which the named defendant agreed to purchase the plaintiff's produce business. The defendants financed the transaction, in part, by executing a promissory note in favor of the plaintiff, which was secured by a mortgage on the named defendant's house. The plaintiff later brought this action seeking to foreclose the mortgage, alleging that the defendants failed to make the payments due on the note. The defendants filed a two count counterclaim, alleging innocent misrepresentation and negligent misrepresentation. The matter was tried before an attorney trial referee (referee), and after the plaintiff presented his evidence, the defendants moved for permission to amend their counterclaim to add a claim of unjust enrichment. The trial court granted the motion to amend, and the plaintiff moved for a reconsideration of that ruling. The plaintiff asserted that the defendants were improperly seeking to state a new claim for relief several months after the trial had concluded. The court granted the plaintiff's motion to reconsider and vacated its earlier ruling granting the motion to amend. It also remanded the matter to the referee for the purpose of acting on the defendants' motion to amend. In rendering its decision, the court indicated that since the referee had heard all of the evidence, he was in the best position to evaluate the nature and extent of the defendants' request to amend and the prejudicial impact, if any, on the plaintiff. The referee then denied the defendants' request to amend, indicating that if it allowed the defendants to amend their counterclaim at that juncture, the plaintiff would be severely prejudiced and the case would be unjustifiably delayed. Thereafter, the referee issued a report recommending that judgment enter in favor of the plaintiff on his complaint and on the counterclaim. The trial court subsequently rendered judgment in accordance with the referee's report. In this appeal, the defendants argue that the trial court improperly rendered judgment in accordance with the referee's report. In particular, they assert that the referee abused his discretion in denying their motion to amend their counterclaim because there was no change in the facts or law that justified the referee's departure from the law of the case that was established by the trial court's earlier ruling granting their motion to amend. They also argue that the referee, in denying their motion to amend, made factual findings that were unsupported by the evidence and clearly erroneous.