In Georges v. Ob-Gyn Servs., P.C. the defendants, a midwife, and a medical practice, unsuccessfully attempted to overturn and $1.6 million in interest that accumulated as the result of the defendants’ refusal to accept an offer of compromise after a $4.2 million jury award.
Facts of Georges v. Ob-Gyn Servs.
The plaintiffs’ birth injury lawyer filed their original complaint alleging that the defendants committed malpractice during the mother’s pregnancy, labor, and delivery of her child. The plaintiffs claimed this malpractice caused the child to suffer severe and permanent injuries. The lawsuit claims that as a result of the defendants’ medical malpractice in managing shoulder dystocia, a young girl sustained a severe, permanent injury to her right brachial plexus.
On May 16, 2013, the plaintiffs filed an offer of compromise to settle the claim for $2 million. (I could explain to you what an offer of compromise does. But Wilson Elser explains Connecticut’s version of this law well here.) The defendants did not accept the offer, which was rejected as a matter of law.
The jury returned a verdict for the plaintiffs of $4.2 million against both defendants. The defendants did not file any motions to challenge the jury’s verdict. On November 8, 2016, the plaintiffs filed a motion seeking an offer of compromise interest. The plaintiffs argued that they were entitled to interest according to General Statutes § 52-192(a) (c) and Practice Book §17-18, because the defendants failed to accept the plaintiffs’ offer of compromise for $2 million and the jury’s verdict of $4.2 million, exceeded that amount. The plaintiffs’ motion also sought post-judgment interest under General Statutes §37-3b. The defendants then filed an objection to the plaintiffs’ motion. On December 12, 2016, the trial judge awarded the plaintiffs the offer of compromise and post-judgment interest.
Concerning the offer of compromise interest, the court concluded that the end date for calculating the interest was the date the judgment was rendered and clarified that the judgment was rendered on October 28, 2016. This was the date the court accepted the verdict. The court awarded the plaintiffs $1,639,496.55 in an offer of compromise interest. The trial court also awarded the plaintiffs post-judgment interest under § 37-3b, to be calculated at 10 percent per year, beginning on November 17, 2016, twenty days from the date of the judgment. This is a lot of money.
On December 16, 2016, the defendants filed an appeal with the Appellate Court, challenging the jury’s verdict and the award of interest. The plaintiffs filed a timely motion to dismiss the appeal or, in the alternative, to dismiss the portion of the appeal challenging the jury’s verdict. They claimed that the defendants failed to file the appeal within twenty days of the date the judgment was rendered, as required by Practice Book §63-1 (a).
The defendants then objected to that motion, arguing that their appeal was timely because they filed it within twenty days of the court’s December 12, 2016, decision awarding the offer of compromise and post-judgment interest. The defendants also filed a motion to suspend the rules of practice to permit a late appeal. They argued that there was reasonable cause to permit the late appeal in light of the significant confusion in the trial court concerning the date the judgment was rendered. This motion primarily focused on the clerical mistake that caused an erroneous docket entry of November 28, 2016, listing that date as the date of the judgment.
The appellate court partially granted the plaintiffs’ motion to dismiss and denied the defendants’ motion to suspend the rules of practice to permit a late appeal. The defendants followed by filing a timely motion of appeal.
Holding and Reasoning of Georges v. Ob-Gyn Servs.
The Supreme Court of Connecticut addressed two main issues on appeal. First, the defendants claim that the Appellate Court improperly granted the plaintiffs’ motion to dismiss the defendants’ appeal because the appeal was timely. The defendants argued that the plaintiffs’ November 8, 2016 motion for an offer of compromise and post-judgment interest created a new twenty-day period. The defendants claimed that they could appeal the judgment following the jury’s verdict according to that date. The Supreme Court of Connecticut disagreed. Second, the defendants argued that the court abused its discretion in denying their motion to suspend the rules of practice to permit a late appeal. Likewise, the court was not persuaded and disagreed.
When addressing the first issue, the court reviewed the Appellate Court’s decision for abuse of discretion only. Pursuant to Practice Book §63-1 (a), the court found that an appeal must be filed within twenty days of the date the notice of the judgment or decision was given. Additionally, in civil jury cases, the appeal period begins when the verdict is accepted. The trial court accepted the jury’s verdict on October 28, 2016. This date meant that, in the absence of an extension or filing of a post-verdict motion, the defendants had until November 17, 2016, to appeal the judgment, which they did not.
The defendants argued that the appeal period should be measured from the date of the Supreme Court’s decision rather than the date the verdict was accepted. Primarily they argued that (1) there was no appealable final judgment until the court awarded an offer of compromise and post-judgment interest, and (2) the plaintiffs’ November 8, 2016 motion for interest created a new twenty-day appeal period. In response, the court held that that the presence of an unresolved claim for relief can delay the finality of the judgment on the merits.
However, this exception applies only if the form of relief being sought seeks compensation for the conduct of the defendants. Conversely, when the post-verdict relief is not designed to compensate the plaintiffs for the underlying wrongdoing, it is collateral to the judgment and doesn’t affect its finality. The court found that although the offer of compromise interest increases a plaintiff’s overall recovery, the offer is not part of the plaintiff’s compensation for the alleged wrongdoing that gave rise to the underlying action. Therefore, the twenty-day period began to run on October 28, 2016, the day the trial court accepted the jury’s verdict.
Moving forward in the analysis, when determining a motion that seeks an amendment on the terms of the judgment, the court looks to the substance of the relief sought by the motion rather than the form. In the present case, the awards of statutory interest did not alter the number of compensatory damages the jury previously had awarded. Therefore, the plaintiffs’ motion for an offer of compromise and post-judgment interest did not seek an alteration of the judgment within the meaning of the statute. Meaning, the plaintiffs did not create a new twenty-day period in which the defendants could appeal. The court for these reasons affirmed the judgment of the lower court.
Furthermore, the defendants argued that the court abused its discretion in denying their motion to suspend the rules of practice to permit a late appeal. However, the defendants did not file their appeal until December 16, 2016, approximately one month after the deadline. The Supreme Court of Connecticut held that the rules of practice give broad authority to the Appellate Court for the management of its docket. In determining whether there has been an abuse of discretion, every reasonable presumption should be given in favor of the court’s ruling.
The court also found that the need to address cases that were filed timely, outweighs the need to permit late appeals. Dismissing untimely appeals in the absence of an apparent reason weighs in favor of upholding the Appellate Court’s decision to deny a request for permission to file a late appeal.
In determining whether the Appellate Court abused its discretion in the present case, the Supreme Court of Connecticut examined whether the defendants established the requisite good cause. Reasoning, that despite the defendants’ claim that there was widespread confusion in the trial court about the date the judgment was rendered, there was no reasonable basis for any confusion. The court held, that both the General Statutes and Practice Book, put the defendant on notice.
This notice established when the trial court accepted the verdict on October 28, 2016, and no subsequent motions were filed, a final judgment had been rendered. Once the final judgment was rendered the twenty-day appeal period had begun to run. In summary, the Appellate Court’s well-known policy of managing its crowded docket, and the lack of any persuasive justification for the late filing concludes that the Appellate Court did not abuse its discretion.