General Statutes §§ 52-328 (b) and 52-380a (b),
"On March 31, 1984, following trial, the court rendered judgment in favor of the plaintiff [the first judgment]. The plaintiff took no action to preserve the interest secured by the prejudgment attachment. Pelino S. DiLoreto appealed, and, on September 22, 1987, [the Appellate Court] reversed the judgment of the trial court on evidentiary grounds and remanded the case for a new trial. Mac's Car City, Inc. v. DiLoreto, 12 Conn.App. 468, 471-77, 531 A.2d 177 (1987).
"On July 16, 1990, following a second trial, judgment was rendered in favor of the plaintiff [the second judgment]. Pelino S. DiLoreto timely appealed to [the Appellate Court]. On October 2, 1990, the plaintiff, for the first time, filed a certificate of judgment lien on the property .... Thereafter, on May 28, 1991, [the Appellate Court] affirmed the judgment of the trial court. Mac's Car City, Inc. v. DiLoreto, 24 Conn.App. 839, 591 A.2d 831, cert. denied, 220 Conn. 903, 593 A.2d 968 (1991)." Mac's Car City, Inc. v. DiLoreto, supra, 39 Conn.App. 519-20.
On appeal to this court, the plaintiff claims that, in order to relate back to the prejudgment attachment, a judgment lien must be filed within four months of the trial court's judgment only if an appeal therefrom is not taken or, if taken, is unsuccessful.
Our resolution of this issue turns on a proper construction of the statutory phrase "final judgment" for the purpose of a judgment lien predicated upon a prejudgment attachment. See General Statutes §§ 52-328 (b) and 52-380a (b).
The meaning of the phrase "final judgment" in § 52-328 (b) cannot be ascertained from the language of the statute. "Our case law has repeatedly recognized that the term `final judgment' may have different meanings in different contexts.... [W]e have recognized that the relationship between a pending appeal and a judgment depends upon the nature of the issue that is to be addressed." (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Connecticut Bank & Trust Co. v. Winters, 225 Conn. 146, 158, 622 A.2d 536 (1993); Capalbo v. Planning & Zoning Board of Appeals, 208 Conn. 480, 487-88, 547 A.2d 528 (1988); Preisner v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co., 203 Conn. 407, 413-14, 525 A.2d 83 (1987). Therefore, "we have taken a functional approach in our construction of the term, eschewing the application of inflexible rules in favor of a contextual analysis. Capalbo v. Planning & Zoning Board of Appeals, supra, 487." Stevens v. Aetna Life & Casualty Co., supra, 233 Conn. 467-68.
The context that informs "final judgment" for the purposes of §§ 52-328 (b) and 52-380a is the legislative policy
The levy of execution was an inadequate remedy for both debtors and creditors. Debtors were burdened by appraisals of their property that were susceptible of being hastily or inadequately conducted. Creditors might find themselves with portions of the debtor's real property that had little or no economic value. See id., § 216 (b).
Recognizing the need for a better remedy, the legislature, in 1878, enacted the provisions creating the judgment lien. See City National Bank v. Stoeckel, 103 Conn. 732, 736, 132 A. 20 (1926); Ives v. Beecher, supra, 75 Conn. 566-67; Beardsley v. Beecher, 47 Conn. 408, 413-14, 416 (1879); 2 E. Stephenson, supra, § 216 (a). In so doing, the legislature "sought to provide another more simple and beneficial process for the enforcement of the general right created by a judgment .... The legislature was evidently looking for a process which should be at once as effective as the old, and at the same time simple, inexpensive, usable by persons not astute in
Although, as a general matter, the judgment lien statutes are intended to protect the interests of a judgment creditor, the inclusion of a time limitation for filing a judgment lien, such as the four month period specified by §§ 52-328 (b) and 52-380a (b), is intended to protect the interests of the judgment debtor. See Hayes v. Weisman, 97 Conn. 387, 391, 116 A. 878 (1922) (construing sixty day time limit for making demand on garnishee in precursor to § 52-328). "To make an attachment of property effectual to accomplish its object it is often necessary that the property should remain in the custody of the law for a limited period after final judgment; hence our statutes provide for a continuance of an attachment lien for four months after final judgment." Beardsley v. Beecher, supra, 47 Conn. 414. Upon the expiration of this four month period without a proper filing, however, the prejudgment attachment is extinguished. General Statutes § 52-380c; see Bradbury v. Wodjenski, 159 Conn. 366, 370, 269 A.2d 271 (1970); Quinlan v. City National Bank, 105 Conn. 424, 427, 135 A. 435 (1926).
Strict construction of the four month filing period for a judgment lien to enforce a prejudgment attachment, is, therefore, appropriate because these statutes provide a creditor with a powerful collection tool. An attachment enables a creditor to gain priority over any subsequent claim to the attached property. See Union Trust Co. v. Heggelund, 219 Conn. 620, 625, 594 A.2d 464 (1991); Mathews v. Converse, 83 Conn. 511, 514-15, 77 A. 961 (1910). As a prior lien, the attachment burdens the
We conclude, therefore, that, in order to effectuate the legislature's intent of "fix[ing] a reasonable limit upon the duration of attachments"; Hayes v. Weisman, supra, 97 Conn. 391; a judgment lien will relate back to a prejudgment attachment only if the judgment lien is filed within four months of the judgment of the trial court, regardless of the possible pendency of an appeal.
A rule relating the timeliness of the filing of the judgment lien to the rendering of a judgment at trial does not impair the appellate process. Appellate review can go forward regardless of when the lien is filed. If the debtor pursues an appeal, execution of the judgment lien would presumably be stayed, unless the stay were
Our conclusion in this case is consistent with the holding of City National Bank v. Stoeckel, supra, 103 Conn. 732, in which we construed a statutory precursor to § 52-380a (b)
The rule we announce today is simple and straightforward. A creditor seeking to assert priority rights pursuant to §§ 52-328 (b) and 52-380a (b) must file a judgment lien within four months of a trial court's final judgment in the creditor's favor. Because the plaintiff in this case failed to file its lien within this time period, the Appellate Court properly reversed the trial court's judgment in its behalf.
The judgment of the Appellate Court is affirmed.
In this opinion the other justices concurred.
General Statutes § 52-328 provides in relevant part: "Duration of attachment liens after judgment....
"(b) No real estate that has been attached may be held subject to the attachment to respond to the judgment obtained in the suit, either against the debtor or any other creditor, unless the judgment creditor places a judgment lien on the real estate within four months after a final judgment."
General Statutes § 52-380a provides in relevant part: "Judgment lien on real property....
"(b) .... If, within four months of judgment, the lien is placed on real property which was previously attached in the action, the lien on that property shall hold from the date of attachment...."
Section 52-328 (b), also relied upon by the parties and the Appellate Court, was enacted prior to 1878 as part of the statutory scheme providing for the levy of execution. See City National Bank v. Stoeckel, 103 Conn. 732, 738, 132 A. 20 (1926). In 1875, the precursor to § 52-328 (b) provided in relevant part: "No estate, which has been attached, shall be held to respond to the judgment obtained in the suit, either against the debtor or any other creditor, unless the judgment creditor shall take out an execution and have it ... levied on the real estate attached, and the same appraised, and the execution and proceedings thereon recorded within four months after [final] judgment...." (Emphasis added.) General Statutes (1875 Rev.) title 19, c. 2, § 15. This statute remained virtually unchanged until 1983, when the legislature repealed the statutes relating to the levy of execution. Public Acts 1983, No. 83-581, § 39; see Public Acts 1984, No. 84-546, § 127.
Although a levy of execution on real estate is no longer available in this state, the legislature chose not to repeal § 52-328. Instead, the legislature removed the language referring to the levy of execution and replaced it with language referring to judgment liens. Public Acts 1984, No. 84-527, § 14. The legislature viewed this change to § 52-328 as technical. See 27 H.R. Proc., Pt. 18, 1984 Sess., p. 6572, remarks of Representative Richard D. Tulisano; 27 S. Proc., Pt. 5, 1984 Sess., p. 1661, remarks of Senator Howard T. Owens, Jr. Furthermore, we have determined that the four month period has the same meaning in the context of judgment liens and levies of execution. See Beardsley v. Beecher, 47 Conn. 408, 415 (1879) ("when it is desired to have the [judgment] lien relate back to the date of a previous attachment ... it must be filed within four months after the rendition of final judgment; and in this respect it is precisely like the levy of an execution"). We, therefore, construe both §§ 52-328 and 52-380a in determining whether a judgment lien relates back to a prejudgment attachment on real property.
Other contingencies may result in the reversal of the judgment of the trial court long after the appeal period has passed. A court may open a judgment at any time if the court lacked jurisdiction; Wilkinson v. Boats Unlimited, Inc., 236 Conn. 78, 83-84, 670 A.2d 1296 (1996); Misinonile v. Misinonile, 190 Conn. 132, 135, 459 A.2d 518 (1983); Broaca v. Broaca, 181 Conn. 463, 467, 435 A.2d 1016 (1980); or if the judgment had been obtained by fraud, duress or mutual mistake. See In re Baby Girl B., 224 Conn. 263, 283, 618 A.2d 1 (1992); Masters v. Masters, 201 Conn. 50, 56, 513 A.2d 104 (1986); Kenworthy v. Kenworthy, 180 Conn. 129, 131, 429 A.2d 837 (1980).
Even if this dictum could be read to imply that a trial court's judgment is final only if affirmed on appeal, in light of the advantages of a bright line rule we decline to follow it. Furthermore, we note the repeal of the alternate process of execution on real property, namely, the levy of execution, referred to in Stoeckel. See footnote 6.