Argument Recap: Connecticut Light and Power Company v. Proctor, SC 19531
The Supreme Court heard oral argument yesterday in Connecticut Light and Power Company v. Proctor, SC 1935, a dispute concerning a poultry business, unpaid electric service and a man from New Jersey known only as “Chan.” Setting aside the interesting facts, the legal issue presented is whether the elements of an implied in fact contract were established at trial.
The facts, in a nutshell, reflect that the Defendant, Gary Proctor, was a part time employee of a poultry business known as “Pedigree Chicks” which, although operating in Connecticut, was not registered with the Secretary of State’s office. Mr. Proctor contacted Plaintiff to arrange for electric service to the commercial location but was informed by Plaintiff that no commercial account could be created in the absence of a validly registered corporate entity. From that point, the facts asserted by the parties diverge greatly with the Plaintiff asserting that Defendant orally undertook personal responsibility for not only future electric consumption charges but also for payment of “retroactive” charges for service previously provided to the location. Plaintiff’s claims were bolstered by Defendant’s act of providing his home address, contact phone numbers and social security number in a conversation with one of its representatives at the time of the creation of the account.
On the other hand, Defendant asserted that, while he did contact Plaintiff to seek electric service, he never agreed to undertake personal responsibility for the charges, never received bills for the consumption and, on multiple occasions in discussions with Plaintiff, stated he did not want to undertake personal liability for any charges. It was undisputed that Plaintiff never received a written, signed application for a service account nor the security deposit required by its internal processes for commercial accounts from any party. It was also found that Defendant never contacted Plaintiff to terminate the service to the location, even after his leaving employment with Pedigree Chicks.
The underlying action was tried to the Court in the judicial district of Rockville (Klaczak, JTR) and judgment entered for the Plaintiff in the amount of $14,620.51 on the first count of its complaint asserting implied contract for the provision of electric service to a commercial operation. The Court found that the Defendant’s contact and actions relative to the establishment of the electric service account established an implied in fact contract. The Court further found that the Defendant’s reliance on the mysterious “Mr. Chan” for payment of the bills, as the operator of Pedigree Chicks, was misplaced.
Defendant appealed the judgment to the Appellate Court which affirmed the entry of the judgment by finding it was not clearly erroneous for the Superior Court to have found an implied in fact contract was created between the parties (Connecticut Light and Power v. Proctor, 158 Conn. App. 248 (2015)). Defendant sought certification to appeal to the Supreme Court presenting the issue of whether or not the Appellate Court properly affirmed the Superior Court’s finding of liability based on the theory of an implied in fact contract.
As the legal standards for establishing the presence of a contract (or an implied contract, whether it be in fact or in law), are extremely well-settled, it is interesting that certification was granted by the Supreme Court in this case. From this author’s perspective, which is mine alone, the record, including the memorandum of decision, does appear to contain facts that would, if credited, destroy any meeting of the minds as between the parties which, in turn, destroys any claim for an implied contract and may lead to reversal of the Appellate Court’s decision. However, standing in opposition to reversal are the deferential clear error standard of review to be employed as well as the long established standard that the trial court is the sole finder of facts and credibility of witnesses.
Leaving aside the interesting nature of the facts of the dispute, the case has significant implications to local businesses, their employees and utility providers alike since what can establish an acceptable and legally enforceable contract in fact for providing of utility services may be altered significantly regardless if the Court affirms or reverses the prior decisions. The case has the potential to create far reaching liability of any employee who, on behalf of a corporate entity, undertakes contact with a utility provider regarding establishing a service account.
We will be paying close attention to the arguments and will provide further updates once argument has concluded so stay tuned.