Justia Connecticut Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

by
The defendant, Gonzalo Diaz, was convicted of felony murder, burglary in the first degree, conspiracy to commit burglary in the first degree, attempt to commit robbery in the first degree, and criminal possession of a firearm in connection with a shooting death. The defendant appealed, claiming that the trial court committed plain error by instructing the jury that it could consider his interest in the outcome of the trial when assessing his credibility. He also claimed that the prosecutor made improper remarks during his cross-examination and during rebuttal argument.The Superior Court in the judicial district of Waterbury found Diaz guilty of felony murder, manslaughter in the first degree with a firearm, burglary in the first degree, conspiracy to commit burglary in the first degree, and attempt to commit robbery in the first degree. The court also found him guilty of criminal possession of a firearm. The court later vacated the conviction for manslaughter in the first degree with a firearm.The Connecticut Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's decision. The court agreed that the trial court's instruction to the jury was erroneous, but it did not result in manifest injustice. The court also found that the prosecutor's remarks were not improper. The court concluded that the defendant failed to establish that the evidence adduced at trial, the disputed factual issues before the jury, and the instructions as a whole gave rise to the danger of juror misunderstanding or confusion. Therefore, the court affirmed the judgment of the trial court. View "State v. Diaz" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
by
The case involves two plaintiffs, Glen A. Canner and Louis D. Puteri, who separately sued a condominium association, Governors Ridge Association, Inc., alleging that the foundations supporting their respective units were defective. The units, part of a common interest community, were purchased by Canner and Puteri in 2001 and 2002 respectively. The defendant had affirmed its responsibility for any foundation settlement issues. However, despite the units suffering significant, uneven settling and the defendant hiring several companies to investigate potential repairs from 2012 to 2016, no repairs were ultimately made. The plaintiffs commenced their actions in 2016 and 2017, alleging that the defendant had negligently designed and constructed the foundations and had violated its duties under the Common Interest Ownership Act (CIOA) by failing to conduct necessary repairs.The trial court concluded that the CIOA claims were time-barred by the statutory three-year limitation period generally applicable to tort actions. The Appellate Court affirmed the trial court’s judgments, concluding that the limitation period set forth in § 52-577 applied because the claims sounded in tort rather than contract. The Appellate Court also agreed with the trial court’s conclusion that the declaration and bylaws created no duty to repair because the relevant declaration required the defendant to repair only insured common elements, and there was no requirement that the foundations themselves be insured.The Supreme Court of Connecticut held that the Appellate Court properly applied the statute of limitations set forth in § 52-577 to the portion of the CIOA claims seeking recovery for negligence during the course of construction of the foundations. However, the Supreme Court found that the Appellate Court improperly upheld the trial court’s disposition, in favor of the defendant, of the claims that the defendant had violated its contractual duties under the bylaws to maintain, repair or replace common elements when it failed to effectuate repairs to the foundations. The Supreme Court concluded that the claims that the defendant breached its contractual duties imposed under the bylaws by failing to repair the foundations were governed by the six-year limitation period applicable to contract claims in § 52-576. The case was affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Canner v. Governors Ridge Assn., Inc." on Justia Law

by
The defendant, Dwayne Sayles, was convicted of felony murder and conspiracy to commit robbery in the first degree, among other crimes, in connection with his role in the robbery of a convenience store and the shooting death of the store clerk. On appeal, Sayles challenged the trial court's denial of his motions to suppress evidence of his cell phone and the data contained therein. He argued that the police had violated his rights under Miranda and the Connecticut constitution when they continued to interrogate him after he had invoked his right to counsel, and that the seizure of his cell phone violated the fourth amendment to the U.S. constitution and the Connecticut constitution.However, the Supreme Court of Connecticut concluded that any error in the admission of the contents of Sayles' cell phone was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt due to the overwhelming wealth of evidence against him. This evidence included surveillance footage from inside of the convenience store, detailed testimony from a co-conspirator about Sayles' and his own involvement in the events, testimony from a jailhouse informant that Sayles had confessed to his involvement in the crimes, and a corroborating statement made to the police by a friend of Sayles. The court also noted significant evidence of Sayles' consciousness of guilt, such as testimony that he had directed his cousin to assault a potential witness to force him to recant his testimony. Physical evidence, including a ski mask and gloves found during the search of Sayles' residence and cell phone location data, further corroborated the testimony and statements. Given this, the court affirmed the Appellate Court’s judgment and declined to address Sayles' constitutional challenges. View "State v. Sayles" on Justia Law

by
In this case, the defendant, Lawrence Lee Henderson, was convicted of home invasion after a jury trial. During the trial, the defendant contracted COVID-19, resulting in a 25-day delay in jury deliberations. When the deliberations resumed, the jury found the defendant guilty of home invasion but not guilty of other charges and lesser included offenses.The defendant appealed, claiming that the court should reverse his conviction of home invasion or grant him a new trial on that charge because the jury’s verdicts of guilty of home invasion and not guilty of a lesser included offense were legally inconsistent. He also claimed that the trial court abused its discretion by failing to declare a mistrial when he contracted COVID-19, which resulted in the delay in jury deliberations.The court upheld the trial court’s decision, holding that legally inconsistent verdicts are unreviewable on appeal, following its precedent in State v. Arroyo, which was consistent with United States Supreme Court precedent and that of the majority of other jurisdictions. In terms of the COVID-19 delay, the court found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the defendant's motion for a mistrial, as the delay was unavoidable due to the pandemic, and the defendant failed to demonstrate actual prejudice from the delay. View "State v. Henderson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
by
The plaintiff, the only child of the decedent, filed a lawsuit against the defendant, the decedent's second husband, for tortious interference with the plaintiff’s expected inheritance. The decedent had left her estate to the defendant and disinherited the plaintiff in her will. After her death, the defendant applied to have the will admitted to probate, which the plaintiff contested on several grounds, including undue influence. The Probate Court rejected the plaintiff's claims and admitted the will to probate. The plaintiff appealed to the Superior Court, where the appeal was set for a de novo trial. The defendant moved for summary judgment in the tort action, asserting that the plaintiff’s claims were barred by the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel. The trial court denied the motion for summary judgment.The defendant appealed the partial denial of his motion for summary judgment to the Appellate Court. The court dismissed the appeal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, concluding that there was no appealable final judgment. Upon certification, the Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Appellate Court.The Supreme Court held that the Appellate Court improperly dismissed the defendant’s appeal from the trial court’s partial denial of his motion for summary judgment. The court reasoned that the trial court correctly rejected the defendant’s collateral estoppel claim, although on different grounds. The Supreme Court explained that the Probate Court's decision regarding the plaintiff’s undue influence claim had no force in the probate appeal because the trial court, conducting a trial de novo, would decide on the undue influence claim without regard to the Probate Court’s findings or rulings. Therefore, the Probate Court decree did not have the necessary attributes of finality to warrant the application of the doctrine of collateral estoppel. The Supreme Court remanded the case to the Appellate Court with direction to affirm the trial court’s denial of the defendant’s motion for summary judgment and to direct the trial court to conduct further proceedings. View "O'Sullivan v. Haught" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates
by
This case involves a lieutenant with the Hartford Police Department who filed a bill of discovery against a blogger who writes about Hartford municipal governance. The plaintiff is seeking to compel the defendant to release data that would reveal the identities of anonymous commenters on the blog who posted allegedly defamatory statements about him. The plaintiff also wants the defendant's laptop and cellphone to be submitted for forensic analysis.The trial court granted the plaintiff's bill of discovery, stating that the plaintiff had shown probable cause for his defamation claim against the authors of certain anonymous comments. The court ordered that the parties should try to agree on a protective order and search protocols to safeguard the defendant's privacy during the forensic analysis. If they couldn't agree, the court would resolve the dispute. The defendant appealed the decision before any negotiations took place.The Supreme Court of Connecticut dismissed the defendant's appeal, stating that the trial court's decision was not an appealable final judgment. The Court explained that the final judgment rule applies to a pure bill of discovery, and the trial court's decision wouldn't become a final judgment until the scope of discovery was clearly defined either by the parties' agreement or by court order. In this case, the parties hadn't yet complied with the court's order to either agree on the terms of the protective order and search protocols or to return to the court for resolution of those issues. Therefore, the trial court's decision was not a final judgment. View "Benvenuto v. Brookman" on Justia Law

by
In a dispute between John Drumm, Chief of Police, et al. and the Freedom of Information Commission in Connecticut, the court was tasked with interpreting a provision of the Freedom of Information Act. The provision in question exempts from disclosure records of law enforcement agencies compiled in connection with the detection or investigation of a crime, if the disclosure of such records would result in the disclosure of information to be used in a prospective law enforcement action if prejudicial to such action. The case arose from a request for documents related to a 2010 unsolved murder case by a filmmaker who was working on a documentary about the case. The request was denied by the police department, and the filmmaker filed a complaint with the Freedom of Information Commission. The commission ruled in favor of the filmmaker and ordered the documents be provided. The police department appealed the decision, arguing that the commission failed to apply the correct legal standard.The court held that a "prospective law enforcement action" refers to a future law enforcement action that has at least a reasonable possibility of occurring, meaning that the occurrence is more than theoretically possible but not necessarily likely or probable. The court also clarified that under the first prong of the exception, a respondent before the commission must establish only that it is at least reasonably possible that the information contained in a requested document will be used in support of an arrest or prosecution. Because the commission had not applied this standard and had made clearly erroneous factual findings, the court reversed the judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings before the commission. View "Drumm v. Freedom of Information Commission" on Justia Law

by
In the case, GenConn Energy, LLC, an electricity supplier, appealed to the Supreme Court of Connecticut, arguing that the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) overstepped its authority by reducing GenConn's proposed return on capital for two of its peaking generation facilities. These facilities provide additional electricity to Connecticut consumers during times of increased demand. GenConn claimed that PURA was not allowed to lower GenConn's debt rate or to use the general rate-making principles found in a different statute when making its decision.However, the court rejected these arguments. It held that PURA acted within its statutory authority under § 16-243u when it reviewed GenConn's recovery of costs in line with the general rate-making principles of § 16-19e. The court highlighted the interrelated nature of cost recovery and rate setting, and deduced that PURA must be able to protect the interests of ratepayers if it determines that a company is overrecovering. The court also rejected GenConn's argument that PURA's decision was arbitrary and capricious. The court found substantial evidence in the record to support PURA's final decision and concluded that the decision did not constitute an arbitrary and capricious one. Thus, the court affirmed the trial court's dismissal of GenConn's appeal.The court's ruling implies that PURA has the authority to review a peaking generation facility's recoverable costs to ensure that the rates are "sufficient, but no more than sufficient," to cover the facility's operating costs. The decision also emphasizes the importance of PURA’s regulatory authority and the necessity of protecting ratepayers from bearing the financial burden of a company's overrecovery. View "GenConn Energy, LLC v. Public Utilities Regulatory Authority" on Justia Law

by
A case in Connecticut involved a couple, Aaron Lynch and Jean-Marie Monroe-Lynch, who sought damages for alleged medical malpractice by the state of Connecticut in relation to therapeutic donor insemination (TDI) services and prenatal care provided at a state hospital. The couple were unable to conceive without medical assistance and pursued TDI services. The hospital staff failed to adhere to guidelines regarding the use of cytomegalovirus (CMV) positive donor sperm for CMV negative patients, leading to Jean-Marie being inseminated with CMV positive donor sperm. Jean-Marie later became pregnant with twins. During her pregnancy, an ultrasound revealed conditions associated with an in utero CMV infection, however, the hospital staff failed to inform Jean-Marie or take appropriate follow-up action. One of the twins died in utero from a severe CMV infection and the other was born with severe, lifelong medical conditions as a result of congenital CMV.The Supreme Court of Connecticut held that the state could not claim sovereign immunity as the plaintiffs' fertility treatment claims were medical malpractice claims, not informed consent claims. The court also held that the plaintiffs' son, who was born with severe medical conditions as a result of the state's negligence, was entitled to compensation. The court found no merit in the state's claim that the damages awarded were speculative or predicated on the concept that nonexistence can be preferable to impaired existence. The court concluded that common-law negligence principles were adaptable to provide a remedy for injuries such as those sustained by the plaintiffs' son. This decision affirms the trial court's award of over $34 million in damages to the plaintiffs. View "Lynch v. State" on Justia Law

by
The case involves a group of former firefighters who retired from the city of Meriden and claimed damages from the city and the Meriden Municipal Pension Board for alleged breach of a collective bargaining agreement. The plaintiffs, who retired in 2015, claimed that they should have received an increase in their pension benefits based on a 2% wage increase that was awarded retroactively in an arbitration process after the plaintiffs had retired. The trial court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, holding that the defendants had breached the collective bargaining agreement by failing to recalculate the plaintiffs' pension benefits based on the retroactive wage increase.On appeal, the Connecticut Supreme Court reversed the trial court's decision. The Supreme Court held that the defendants did not breach the collective bargaining agreement. This conclusion was based on the fact that the pension plan did not allow for the recalculation of pension benefits for retirees who voluntarily retired before the issuance of the arbitration award. The court noted that the pension plan only allowed for a retroactive adjustment of pension benefits for those who were forced to retire due to reaching the mandatory retirement age of 65. The court also held that the trial court did not lack subject matter jurisdiction to hear the case, rejecting the defendants' claim that the plaintiffs failed to exhaust their administrative remedies before filing the lawsuit. View "Stiegler v. Meriden" on Justia Law