Since Defendant Filed Appeal After Statutory Deadline, Trial Court Lacked Jurisdiction to Adjudicate

In April, the Appellate Court of Connecticut affirmed a trial court’s determination that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction to hear plaintiff’s appeal because the statutory filing period had already expired.

In this case, the plaintiff was arrested for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol. At the police station, the plaintiff was informed that, under General Statutes § 14-227b(b), if he refused to submit to either a breathalyzer test or other sobriety tests, his license would be suspended for six months. The plaintiff refused to take the tests, and the defendant Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) began the process of suspending the plaintiff’s license. The plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, which was held on August 28, 2009. The hearing officer found that police had probable cause to arrest the plaintiff and that the plaintiff refused to take sobriety tests and operated a motor vehicle at the time he was arrested.

On September 16, 2009, the plaintiff moved for reconsideration, and this motion was denied on September 29. The plaintiff filed a recognizance bond with the clerk’s office on November 12, and then submitted his appeal on November 27. The trial court found it lacked subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate the appeal because it was submitted after the statutory filing period. When the plaintiff appealed this decision, he argued that the trial court erred with this finding: he claimed he actually filed his appeal at the same time as his recognizance bond.

Under General Statutes § 4-183(c), a party must file an appeal with the agency that renders a decision either within forty-five days 1) after mailing of the final decision or 2) after the agency denies a petition for reconsideration. In the context of administrative appeals, courts will strictly comply with statutory dictates, and § 4-183(c)’s forty-five day filing requirement is “a mandatory jurisdiction in the first instance.” A reviewing court will not disturb the findings of a trial court unless there is no evidence to support it, or if a review of the evidence leaves the sense that a mistake was made. This is known as the clearly erroneous standard of review.

In this case, the forty-five day statutory period began to run on September 29, 2009, and expired on November 12, 2009, the day the plaintiff filed his recognizance bond. The plaintiff claimed that he handed a copy of his appeal to the clerk at the same time. However, the trial court found that the filing of the bond “did not constitute a ‘filing’ with the clerk of the court” and that the plaintiff did not file his appeal until November 27, 2009. The Appellate Court stated that the trial court was within its discretion to weigh the evidence, and could not hold that the findings made in this case were clearly erroneous. Therefore, it affirmed judgment.

When faced with a charge of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (a.k.a. driving under the influence) or license suspension, an individual is best served by consulting with an experienced criminal law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.