Ridgaway: Millbrook is broader than you thought

In the waning days of Chase Rogers’ decade as Chief Justice, the Supreme Court issued a flurry of decisions. One of the important ones is Ridgaway v. Mount Vernon Fire Ins. Co., 328 Conn. 60 (2018).

Our office represented the plaintiff, whose case had been nonsuited for failure to comply with a court order to file a document. We claimed that a nonsuit (and the denial of the motion to open the nonsuit) was not proportional to the violation, citing the Millbrook test; Millbrook Owners Assn., Inc. v. Hamilton Standard, 257 Conn. 1, 14-15 (2001); which pertained to discovery violations.

Until Ridgaway, it was unclear whether Millbrook applied outside the discovery context. The Supreme Court held in Ridgaway that it did. Having so held, the Supreme Court reviewed the trial court’s findings and found that some of them were not supported by the record. The Supreme Court then said the refusal to open the nonsuit was an abuse of discretion and reversed the judgment. A new hearing on the proper remedy was ordered.

A tip for appellate practitioners: make sure, when claiming an abuse of discretion, that you separately brief any attack you may have that a finding of fact is clearly erroneous. Clear error and abuse of discretion are not the same thing. However, clear error on a finding of fact may lead to abuse of discretion in the result. That is what happened in Ridgaway.

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