Town of Sprague v. City of Norwich
Absent any evidence of prejudice to the defendant, a court may grant a plaintiff's request to amend a return date, so that the return date in the caption is the same as the return date in the text. The sewer authority of the City of Norwich charged sewer fees, and the Town of Sprague filed an appeal, to protest the sewer fees, pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes §7-255(a). The town's appeal was consolidated with related cases. The City of Norwich moved to dismiss and argued that the court lacked jurisdiction, because the return date was more than 30 days after the date of service. The Town of Sprague objected that the text correctly indicated that the return date was July 10, 2012 and that the return date in the caption was incorrect and should be considered a scrivener's error. The Town of Sprague requested the court's permission to amend the return date in the caption. The City of Norwich objected that administrative appeals are creatures of statute and that failure to comply strictly with time restrictions serves to deprive courts of legal jurisdiction. In Coppola v. Coppola, a 1998 decision, the Connecticut Supreme Court observed it preferred to permit the parties to litigate disputes on the merits and held that C.G.S. §52-72(a) permits an amendment to a return date, in order to correct a late return of process. The Superior Court found that the Supreme Court's decision in Coppola applies to the amendment of a return date in a sewer fee appeal. The City of Norwich filed an appearance timely and failed to establish any prejudice as a result of the incorrect return date. "The trend in cases is clear," wrote the Superior Court. "[P]laintiffs should not be deprived of a decision on the merits based on technical and nonprejudicial defects in return dates." The court denied the City of Norwich's motion to dismiss and granted the Town of Sprague's motion to amend the return date.