We are into the second week of the Connecticut Supreme Court’s 2017-2018 year. Here’s a look at this week’s cases:

Monday, September 18th

The first case is Francini v. Goodspeed Airport, LLC, SC 19705, where the Supreme Court will consider whether the Appellate Court properly held that an easement by necessity for a landlocked parcel is not limited only to ingress and egress. The trial court had rejected the plaintiff’s claim that his property’s easement by necessity to access a public highway also included a right of way to access commercial utilities and the Appellate Court reversed.

The second case is State v. Urbanowki, SC 19678, where the Court will consider whether evidence that the defendant in a strangulation prosecution had previously attempted to choke another woman was harmless error.

Tuesday, September 19th

As part of its public education goals, each year the Connecticut Supreme Court holds an “On Circuit” program where it hears oral arguments at an area law school, college, or high school. This year, the venue for the “On Circuit” program will be the University of New Haven and two cases will be argued.

The first case is Brooks v. Powers, SC 19727, which addresses governmental immunity. The plaintiff is the estate of a woman whose body washed up on the shore. A report had been made to the local police department that she was near the ocean during a severe storm and in need of medical attention, but no one responded. The issue is whether the imminent harm, identifiable victim exception to discretionary act immunity applies. The trial court had concluded that it does, granting summary judgment. A divided panel of the Appellate Court reversed.

The second case, State v. Panek, 19772, is about the meaning of the “not in plain view” element of the video voyeurism statute and, specifically, whether it must be evaluated from the perspective of the defendant or the public at-large. The trial court concluded that the former was the correct test, and granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss because the alleged victims were in his immediate physical presence. The State appealed and the Appellate Court affirmed, agreeing with the trial court.


Continue Reading

The Connecticut Supreme Court ‘s 2017-2018 sitting kicks off on Monday. From September 11th through September 28th, the Court will hear oral arguments in nineteen cases. Here’s a look at first week:

Monday, September 11th

The new year starts with a divorce case and a zoning case. In Reinke v. Sing, SC 19687, the Supreme Court will consider whether a family court, without a finding of fraud, has jurisdiction to open a dissolution judgment several years after it was entered based on a party’s failure to disclose certain assets at the time of the divorce. The case has garnered interest from the Connecticut Bar Association and the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, which both urge for a reversal of the Appellate Court’s decision which had determined that, absent a finding of fraud, the trial court was without jurisdiction to open the dissolution judgment.

The second case is Piece of Paradise, LLC v. Borough of Fenwick Zoning of Appeals, SC 19890, a zoning a dispute over property related to actress Katherine Hepburn’s former Fenwick Estate “Paradise” set on Long Island Sound and built in 1939. At issue is whether the zoning board’s denial of a variance from a 2011 amendment to the zoning regulations, which imposed new setback requirements that effectively barred the property owner from building a single-family home on a parcel that was formerly part of a larger parcel containing the Hepburn home, constitutes a regulatory taking of property.


Continue Reading

In Munn v. The Hotchkiss School, the Second Circuit certified two questions to the Connecticut Supreme Court to help it decide an appeal from a $41.5 million jury verdict awarded to a student who contracted a serious tick-borne disease while on a month-long study abroad program in China:  (1) does Connecticut public policy support imposing a duty on a school to warn or protect against the risk of serious insect-borne disease when it organizes a trip abroad; and (2) if so, does an award of approximately $41.5 million in favor of the plaintiff, $31.5 million of which are  noneconomic damages, warrant remittitur?  For our prior coverage of the arguments, click here.

On August 11, 2017, the Connecticut Supreme Court issued its decision, concluding that Connecticut public policy supports a school’s duty to warn and protect students from serious tick-borne disease on a school-sponsored trip abroad. The Court reiterated the well-established duty of Connecticut schools with custody of minor children to use reasonable care to protect those children from foreseeable harms during school sponsored activities.  The Court found no compelling reason to create an exception to this rule for “foreseeable insect-borne diseases.”

In deciding whether to create such an exception, the Court evaluated four public policy factors: (1) the normal expectations of the participants; (2) balancing the public policy of encouraging participation in the activity against the safety of the participants; (3) avoidance of increased litigation; and (4) decisions in other jurisdictions.


Continue Reading

Argument Recap:  Munn v. The Hotchkiss School, SC 19525

The Connecticut Supreme Court heard oral argument this term in Munn v. The Hotchkiss School to decide whether Connecticut public policy supports imposing a duty on a school to warn about or protect against a serious insect-borne disease when it organizes a trip abroad.

The case

Ruling Recap: Gold v. Rowland, SC 19585

Last October, we reported on the issues at stake in Gold v. Rowland, the class action that claims that Connecticut state employees were members entitled to shares of stock when their insurer, Anthem, demutualized in 2001.  The employees had asked the Supreme Court to reverse the trial court’s ruling that (1) Anthem’s Articles of Incorporation should be considered together with other documents in the Anthem-Blue Cross merger, (2) those documents were ambiguous on the issue of whether the employees were members, and (3) extrinsic evidence showed that the parties intended for only the state, as the policyholder, to be a member.  Alternatively, the employees had argued that even if the documents were ambiguous, the trial court should not have considered extrinsic evidence and instead should have directly applied the rule of contra proferentem to interpret the documents against the drafter, Anthem, and in favor of the employees.  In a decision with an official release date of April 11, 2017, the Supreme Court rejected the employees’ arguments and affirmed the trial court.


Continue Reading

The Connecticut Supreme Court’s Seventh Term begins today and ends on Thursday, April 6th. Here’s a look at the first week of the March/April term:

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Court starts the term by hearing oral argument in Munn v. Hotchkiss, SC 19525, which is a federal lawsuit that resulted in

Argument Recap:  Channing Real Estate, LLC v. Gates, SC19575

The Connecticut Supreme Court recently heard argument in Channing Real Estate, LLC v. Gates, an appeal that rose out of a failed real estate development joint venture.  This case presents two issues of interest to Connecticut’s business community.  The first issue is whether the whole case needs to be retried after an appellate ruling that the parol evidence rule blocks evidence of prior and contemporaneous statements from varying the meaning of promissory notes.  The second issue is whether the payor on those notes can counterclaim under the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act (“CUTPA”) when he was a member of a limited liability company that was working on a joint venture with the limited liability company that was the payee.  This post will focus on the application of CUTPA to joint ventures, which is an issue of first impression for the Supreme Court.

Since it was enacted in 1973, CUTPA has been the basis for countless lawsuits in part because it is one of the few vehicles that litigants can use to recover their attorneys’ fees and punitive damages. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 42-110g.  Indeed, the defendant in this lawsuit, Mr. Gates, was awarded his attorneys’ fees by the trial court even though he did not prove he was entitled to damages on his CUTPA claim.  The courts have interpreted CUTPA broadly, citing its remedial purpose, but they also have ruled that certain conduct cannot violate CUTPA because it is not “trade” or “commerce” as required under the statute.  One of those categories of conduct that is outside of the bounds of CUTPA is intra-corporate or intra-partnership disputes.  In its appeal, Channing Real Estate, LLC argues that this is a dispute between former joint venturers, and that therefore Mr. Gates cannot pursue his CUTPA counterclaim.  Although the appellate courts have ruled a few times on what is or is not an internal business dispute outside of the reach of CUTPA, this case presents a fresh opportunity to clarify whether CUTPA applies to disputes in business arrangements that are not corporations or partnerships.


Continue Reading

Here’s a look at the second week of the Connecticut Supreme Court’s November 2016 term:

Monday, November 14th

The Court starts the week by hearing oral arguments in two criminal cases. In State v. Tilus, SC 19503, an appeal from a robbery conviction of a convenience store, the Court will consider whether a prosecutor equating the defendant’s claim that the victim-convenience store operated an illegal lottery with arguing that a sexual assault victim was a prostitute constituted prosecutorial impropriety. In Taylor v. Commissioner of Correction, SC 19462, the Court will decide if a trial court’s error in sealing the contents of a juror’s note without first sharing it with defense counsel is subject to harmless error analysis.


Continue Reading

Argument Recap:  Lackman v. McAnulty, SC 19668

On October 14, the Connecticut Supreme Court heard arguments in the appeal of Lackman v. McAnulty, SC 19668, a case in which two nieces sued their two aunts in a battle over real estate from their grandfather’s estate.  The underlying question was whether the “Property” should pass through the grandfather’s revocable trust – in which case the aunts shared in the Property – or whether the property should pass by specific bequest in the grandfather’s will – in which case only the nieces and their father would get the Property.


Continue Reading