Giedrimiene v. Emmanuel
The Connecticut Supreme Court in the 2001 case of Wallerstein v. Stew Leonard's Dairy explained that "prevailing party has been defined as [a] party in whose favor a judgment is rendered, regardless of the amount of damages awarded. . . ." Following a failed real estate closing, Dalia Giedrimiene, the would-be purchaser of a home, brought suit against, relevant to this appeal, Kathy Zdeb, Michael Calabro and Calabro & Associates, LLC doing business as Coldwell Banker Calabro. At trial, the only claims remaining against the defendants sounded in negligence and alleged that the defendants provided improper advice, including that no further extension of the mortgage contingency or closing date was necessary. She also alleged that any information received from the defendants was tainted by Zdeb's status as a dual agent for the plaintiff and the home's seller. The defendants filed special defenses and a counterclaim and alleged that under the contract they were entitled to attorneys' fees and costs. Following a trial to the court at which the plaintiff represented herself, the court found that while the plaintiff sustained her burden of proof against the defendants, the defendants met their burden and proved their special defenses of contributory negligence and waiver. The court further found that the defendants significantly contributed to the plaintiff's default and were not "prevailing parties" entitled to attorneys' fees and costs under the buy-sell agreement. Both parties appealed. The plaintiff's appeal was dismissed as untimely. The defendants first claimed on appeal that the court erred in concluding that they were not entitled to recover attorneys' fees and costs under paragraph six of the contract. The defendants argued that the court's interpretation of "prevailing party," as one who does not share blame, was contrary to controlling authority. The Appellate Court affirmed the judgment. The defendants were prevailing parties because judgment was rendered for them on the plaintiff's complaint. While the trial court erred in its interpretation of prevailing parties, consideration of other clauses in the contract resulted in the conclusion that a reversal was not required. For the defendants to recover court costs and attorneys' fees under paragraph 12, they must not have "significantly contributed to the default." The trial court's findings of fact were not clearly erroneous and supported the conclusion that the defendants significantly contributed to the plaintiff's default.