• The Lightning Round: Highlights From Recent Connecticut Cases
  • October 27, 2017 | Author: Daniel Jonah Krisch
  • Law Firm: Halloran & Sage LLP - Hartford Office
  • Civil Litigation

    Matos v. Ortiz, 166 Conn. App. 775 (2016): The Appellate Court held that Audubon Parking Assoc. Ltd. Partnership v. Barclay & Stubbs, Inc., 225 Conn. 804 (1993), which allows a court to summarily enforce settlement agreements, applies only to settlement agreements entered into after the commencement of litigation; pre-suit agreements are not summarily enforceable. In an Audubon proceeding, a court may resolve factual disputes about the meaning or enforcement of an agreement without a jury trial, even if a party demands one. Matos does not prevent the enforcement of such agreements; the opinion notes that a party may still plead the agreement as a special defense and then move for summary judgment on it. However, it prevents a quick resolution to most such claims. There usually will be disputed issues of fact to resolve when one party seeks to enforce a settlement agreement; Audubon shortcuts the resolution of those issues by empowering the court to resolve them. Now, for pre-suit settlements, parties will have to take the long road.

    Criminal Law

    State v. Kono, 324 Conn. 80 (2016): The Supreme Court held that it is unconstitutional for the police to conduct “a warrantless canine sniff” at the front door of drug suspect’s condominium because “a resident’s legitimate expectation of privacy in the home is capacious enough to preclude certain uses of the common areas immediately adjacent to the home.” Id. at 113. The Court determined that “even if a canine sniff were to reveal nothing about the interior of the home, we believe that the underlying prohibition against unreasonable intrusions into the sanctity of the home cannot abide the public spectacle of a warrantless canine investigation of the perimeters of any home[,]” and distinguished such searches from canine sniffs of movable property, e.g., luggage. Id. at 114-15. The Court reached this result under Art. I, sec. 7 of the state constitution, rather than under the United States constitution; id. at 90; so there is no basis for the State to file a petition for certiorari to the United States Supreme Court. Mr. Kono’s condo was in a multi-unit building, which suggests that the holding also would apply to an apartment in a multi-unit building (though renters may have slightly lesser expectations of privacy in adjacent common areas than owners).

    Employment Law

    Geysen v. Securitas Security Services USA, Inc., 322 Conn. 385 (2016)*: The Supreme Court reaffirmed the limited scope of Connecticut’s Wage Act, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 31-71 et seq., which permits employees and ex-employees to sue their employer for earned, but unpaid, wages. The Court upheld the legality of a commission agreement between Securitas and the plaintiff that required Securitas to pay him commissions only on “commissionable amounts . . . invoiced to the client” prior to his termination. The Court reversed the trial court’s holding that this agreement violated the public policy embodied in Connecticut’s Wage Act because the “express and enforceable” terms of an employment contract define what wages are due to an employee and when an employer must pay them. The Court also agreed with Securitas that the plaintiff could not maintain a cause of action for wrongful termination in violation of public policy.

    Insurance Law

    Martinez v. Empire Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 322 Conn. 47 (2016)**: The Supreme Court affirmed summary judgment for Empire based on a lack of coverage under an endorsement to a policy that Empire had issued to Tony’s Long Wharf Transit. One of Tony’s drivers was involved in an accident with the plaintiff while picking up repair parts. However, the endorsement at issue, MCS-90, applies only if the insured was operating as a “for-hire” motor carrier at the time of the accident. Like the majority of courts that have addressed the “for-hire” issue, the Supreme Court applied a “trip-specific” approach and held that the accident occurred when Tony’s driver was involved in a trip- specific event in Connecticut. The Court also held that the MCS-90 endorsement did not apply merely because the parts that Tony’s driver was in the process of picking up were intended to be installed in vehicles that would be used in interstate commerce.

    Pacific Ins. Co., Ltd. v. Champion Steel, LLC, 323 Conn. 254 (2016): The Supreme Court held that a worker’s compensation insurer may bring a claim for equitable subrogation against a third-party tortfeasor in order to recover benefits that the insurer has paid to an injured employee. The Court noted that equitable subrogation is a long-established common-law right – both in general and for insurers specifically – and so the Connecticut legislature presumably was aware of that common-law right when it passed the Worker’s Compensation Act. As the Act does not expressly preclude an insurer from bringing an equitable subrogation action, the common-law right remains. However, an insurer that files an equitable subrogation action steps into the shoes of its insured and thus can only sue to recover benefits it has paid if the insured employer could have sued the tortfeasor, too. See Conn. Gen. Stat. § 31-293(a).

    Legal Malpractice

    Bozelko v. Papastavros, 323 Conn. 275 (2016)***: The Supreme Court clarified the scope of a plaintiff’s burden to prove causation in a legal malpractice suit. Bozelko holds that, even if a plaintiff alleges that her attorney committed gross negligence, “a plaintiff’s failure to produce expert testimony on the issue of causation is fatal to her claims of legal malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty by an attorney.” Id. at 277. There may be “exceptions in obvious cases,” expert testimony on causation “also is a general requirement . . . in legal malpractice cases.” Id. at 284-85.

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    Halloran & Sage successfully represented Securitas.*

    Halloran & Sage successfully represented Empire.**

    Halloran & Sage successfully represented Attorney Papastavros.***