Newtown Pool Service, LLC v. Pond
A writ of error is the appropriate method to seek review of a small claims judgment where the limited circumstances of Practice Book §60-1 are met, and the plaintiff did not have an opportunity or notice to seek a transfer prior to the deadline imposed by Practice Book §24-21. Newtown Pool Service, LLC, commenced this small claims action against Kenneth and Victoria Pond claiming $4925, plus court costs, for a pool's construction and $455 in cleaning fees, waiving amounts beyond the $5000 small claims jurisdictional limit. The Ponds answer included a counterclaim alleging an incomplete job with repair estimates exceeding $5,000. The small claims magistrate rendered judgment for Newtown Pool on its complaint for $5,000 and for the Ponds on their counterclaim for $8,000 and ordered Newtown Pool to pay the Ponds $3,000. Ultimately, Newtown Pool filed a writ of error challenging the damages awarded on the counterclaim beyond the jurisdictional money limit. The Appellate Court reversed the judgment, in part, as to the award's amount, discussing precedent including the 1984 case of Cannavo Enterprises, Inc. v. Burns, in which the Supreme Court held that, notwithstanding C.G.S. §51-197a, barring appeals from the small claims court, limited appellate review of small claims decisions is appropriate through a writ of error. A writ of error was appropriate here, where a party challenged, not the underlying findings or legal conclusions of the court, but the court's award of damages outside the jurisdictional money limit. Relying on Practice Book §60-1, the Court reasoned that a writ of error may be brought to review the judgment to avoid surprise to the plaintiff resulting from strict adherence to Practice Book §72-1(b)(2), to avoid injustice that would be manifest if parties who filed counterclaims in violation of the rules could benefit by such violations, and to clarify the application of the jurisdictional money limit in small claims actions. Thereto, Connecticut courts follow the principle that, when statutes apply jurisdictional money limits, a court's jurisdiction is determined not by the amount of the aggregate award, but by the amount of each individual claim. Ponds' counterclaim, if filed as a separate small claims action, would be limited to $5000. The award of $8000 on the counterclaim was erroneous; reduced to the jurisdictional limit, it resulted in neither party paying anything to the other.