Statute of Limitations – Discrimination Actions

Authored by: Justin R. Bengtson

Sokolovsky v. Mulholland, 213 Conn. App. 128 (2022). The Connecticut Appellate Court resolved a split of authority on whether the time limitation for filing a discrimination lawsuit contained in C.G.S. § 46a-101 implicates subject matter jurisdiction. The Appellate Court ruled that the time limitation is mandatory, and thus subject to waiver and equitable tolling. Accordingly, a challenge to the timeliness of a discrimination lawsuit brought pursuant to that statute is properly made by way of special defense.  The plaintiff filed a discrimination complaint with the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities alleging that the Town of East Lyme had discriminated against him on the basis of national origin.  The plaintiff obtained a release of jurisdiction (commonly known as a right to sue letter) on November 6, 2018 which stated that he must commence an action within 90 days of receipt of this release in accordance with C.G.S. §§ 46a-100 and 46a-101(e). The plaintiff applied for a waiver of fees and ultimately served the defendants with the lawsuit on February 22, 2019 which was outside of the 90-day time limitation. The Town’s motion to dismiss, citing a lack of subject matter jurisdiction, was granted by the Superior Court.  In reversing the dismissal, the Appellate Court reviewed the statute’s language, origin, purpose and relation to other statutes and similar federal law, and ultimately found that the 90-day time limitation does not implicate subject matter jurisdiction and instead is a mandatory time limitation which is subject to waiver and equitable tolling.


Legal Malpractice – Exoneration Rule

Authored by: Lisa M. Gutierrez

Pringle v. Pattis, 212 Conn. App. 736 (2022). The pro se plaintiff appealed from the trial court’s granting of the defendants’ motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction by way of the exoneration rule.  At issue was whether Connecticut courts have adopted the exoneration rule and, if so, whether the exoneration rule applied to the plaintiff’s claims.  The exoneration rule generally provides that a legal malpractice claim is not ripe for adjudication unless the plaintiff can demonstrate that the relevant underlying conviction has been invalidated.  The exoneration rule will not bar a claim when the claim does not challenge the underlying conviction.  The Appellate Court analyzed the four claims within the plaintiff’s Complaint and held that the exoneration rule does apply in Connecticut.  First, the plaintiff claimed that a demand made by one of the defendants for an additional fee to represent him on an attempted murder charge breached their oral contract that delineated a different, fixed fee. Second, the plaintiff claimed that the defendants engaged in fraud when they charged and collected an unreasonable fee to represent him in an attempted murder charge.  The Appellate Court held that these two claims did not implicate the validity of the plaintiff’s underlying conviction as they simply challenged representation fees, and therefore these claims survived the exoneration rule and were ripe for litigation. The plaintiff’s third claim alleged that one of the defendants engaged in legal malpractice, breached his fiduciary duties, and breached the oral retainer agreement with respect to asset forfeiture agreements.  The Appellate Court held that this claim was not barred by the exoneration rule because the plaintiff’s claim as to the timing of the state’s ability to commence forfeiture proceedings was collateral to the plaintiff’s convictions.  This claim did not seek to invalidate the plaintiff’s guilty pleas, convictions, or sentence.  The plaintiff’s final claim asserted that the defendants engaged in legal malpractice, breached their fiduciary duties, and caused him to suffer emotional distress by improperly pressuring him to enter into guilty pleas.  The Appellate Court held that this claim was barred by the exoneration rule because the plaintiff’s legal malpractice claim relating to his guilty pleas creates a risk of inconsistent judgments, which is what the exoneration rule intends to prevent. So long as the plaintiff’s conviction remained intact, the plaintiff’s legal malpractice claim challenging the validity of his conviction was not ripe for adjudication.


Connecticut Products Liability Act – Scope of Permissible Claims

Authored by: Peter T. Sabellico

Glover v. Bausch & Lomb Incorporated, 343 Conn. 513 (2022). The plaintiff brought an action in the District Court of Connecticut alleging she was injured by a defective artificial lenses manufactured by the defendants. The plaintiff alleged, inter alia, that the defendants violated the Connecticut Products Liability Act (CPLA) by failing to warn her of the inherent dangers of the lenses, ultimately causing damage to her eyes. The District Court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the CPLA claim on the basis that it was pre-empted by federal law, and simultaneously denied the plaintiff leave to amend to add a claim under the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act (CUTPA) due to futility.  Prior to resolving the appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit submitted two certified questions to the Connecticut Supreme Court: (1) whether a cause of action existed under negligence or failure-to-warn provisions of the CPLA, based on a manufacturer’s alleged failure to report adverse events to regulators such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) following approval of a device; and, (2) whether CPLA’s exclusivity provision barred a claim under CUTPA based on allegations that a manufacture’s deceptively and aggressively marketed and promoted a product despite knowing that it presented a substantial risk of injury.  After consideration, the Connecticut Supreme Court answered both questions in the affirmative.  As for the first question, the Supreme Court concluded that a cause of action did exist under the negligence or failure to warn provisions of the CPLA, as the principal purpose of the statute—protecting the public from defective or dangerous products—supported such a holding.  Furthermore, where some devices were inherently unsafe—such as prescription drugs or medical devices—proper warnings or directions of known risks were required, either to the purchaser or prescribing physician as appropriate.  The court did not, and was not required to, answer whether such a claim would be pre-empted by federal law.  As for the second question, the Supreme Court determined that the CPLA’s exclusivity provision barred a CUTPA claim based on allegations that a manufacturer deceptively and aggressively marketed and promoted a product despite knowing that it presented a substantial risk of injury. The Supreme Court reasoned that the CPLA’s exclusivity provision only permits a CUTPA claim based on the sale of a product where either: (1) the plaintiff does not seek a remedy for personal injury death or property damage caused by a defective product, or (2) where the plaintiff seeks a remedy for personal injury, death, or property damage that was caused by the unscrupulous advertising of a product that was not defective.  The Supreme Court determined that the product at issue in this case would not fit either category, and, as such, the CUTPA claim was barred.


Civil Procedure – Personal Jurisdiction Over Foreign Corporations

Authored By: Michael S. Tripicco

Patti v. Alliance Laundry Service, Superior Court, Judicial District of Fairfield at Bridgeport, 2022 WL 1051597 (Feb. 18, 2022).  The plaintiff—a New Hampshire citizen—filed suit in Connecticut against a product manufacturer alleging that the manufacturer had supplied asbestos-containing products to the plaintiff’s former employer.  The plaintiff further alleged that her exposure to these products caused her to develop mesothelioma many years later.  The product manufacturer—a Delaware corporation headquartered in Pennsylvania—moved to dismiss the plaintiff’s compliant for lack of personal jurisdiction.  The manufacturer argued, inter alia, that non-resident litigants were not permitted to invoke Connecticut’s long-arm statute because the statute expressly limits itself to Connecticut residents or litigants with a usual place of business in Connecticut.  The manufacturer alternatively argued that the exercise of jurisdiction over it would violate constitutional due process because it did not have sufficient contacts with Connecticut such that it was rendered “essentially at home” within the state.  The plaintiff responded by arguing that the manufacturer consented to long-arm jurisdiction in Connecticut when it registered to do business there.  The plaintiff further argued that the manufacturer’s product sales and physical presence in Connecticut was pervasive enough so as to confer general jurisdiction.  In ruling on the manufacturer’s motion to dismiss, the Superior Court agreed with the plaintiff that registration was sufficient to confer personal jurisdiction over the manufacturer.  However, the Superior Court ruled that exercising general personal jurisdiction over the manufacturer would violate constitutional due process because the manufacturer’s presence in Connecticut, while substantial, was not so great as to render it “essentially at home” within the state.  The motion to dismiss was therefore granted.