JULIE M. SOWELL v. DEIRDRE H. DICARA et al., SC 19534
Judicial District of Waterbury
Appellate Jurisdiction; Whether Appellate Court Properly Dismissed Appeal from Dismissal of Application Filed in Ongoing Wrongful Termination Action for Lack of Final Judgment. The plaintiff brought this action against Southbury-Middlebury Youth and Family Services, Inc. (YFS), its executive director and the chairman of its board of directors, claiming that she was fired in retaliation for reporting mismanagement. YFS counterclaimed, alleging that the plaintiff breached her employment contract by abusing sick leave. The plaintiff moved to dismiss the counterclaim, claiming that YFS lacked standing to pursue it. The trial court denied the motion to dismiss. The plaintiff then filed an application in this action seeking a determination pursuant to General Statutes § 33-1089 as to the validity of the election of the directors and officers of YFS. Under that statute, “any member, director or person aggrieved” may challenge a corporate election. The plaintiff sought to establish that the election of the YFS board of directors was invalid such that the board was not authorized to prosecute the counterclaim on behalf of the corporation. The defendants moved to dismiss the application, claiming that the plaintiff lacked standing to bring it because she was not a “person aggrieved” by the corporate election. The plaintiff countered that she was aggrieved as the application was the only means by which she could establish that the trial court lacked jurisdiction over the counterclaim. The trial court dismissed the application, finding that the statute was enacted to allow persons directly impacted by a corporate election to obtain judicial review of the process and that the plaintiff did not have a special interest in the election that set her apart from other employees or members of the public. The plaintiff appealed from the order dismissing her application, and the Appellate Court summoned the parties to address whether the appeal should be dismissed for lack of a final judgment pursuant to State v. Curcio, 191 Conn. 27 (1983). Under Curcio, an interlocutory order is deemed an immediately appealable final judgment only if it (1) terminates a separate and distinct proceeding, or (2) so concludes the rights of the parties that further proceedings cannot affect them. The second prong of Curcio focuses on whether, barring an immediate appeal, the appellant’s rights will be irreparably harmed. The Appellate Court dismissed the appeal, and the Supreme Court granted the plaintiff certification to appeal that judgment. The plaintiff contends that the Appellate Court wrongly determined that it lacked jurisdiction over her appeal where her challenge to the legitimacy of the counterclaim implicates the trial court’s very authority or power to entertain that pleading. The plaintiff also argues that the order dismissing her § 33-1089 application was a final judgment under the first prong of Curcio because it terminated a proceeding that was “separate and distinct” from the underlying wrongful termination action. Finally, the plaintiff contends that the challenged order satisfies the second prong of Curcio because she has a due process right not to defend a claim over which the trial court has not determined its jurisdiction, that the dismissal of her application foreclosed that determination, and that, if she cannot vindicate her due process right with an interlocutory appeal, she will be irreparably harmed in that that right will be forever lost.