Gomez v. People's United Bank
A court can vacate an arbitration award, if the arbitrator knew about and refused to apply a governing legal principle that was well-defined, explicit and clearly applicable. In November 2008, the plaintiff immigrant, Julio Gomez, purchased a 2007 Chevrolet Trailblazer from the defendant, Country Motors II, which does business as Bob's Dodge. The Chevrolet experienced mechanical difficulties. In March 2009, one of the defendant's employees allegedly persuaded the plaintiff to trade the Chevrolet for a Nissan. Eventually, the plaintiff discovered that he was responsible for two sets of motor-vehicle payments. He revoked his acceptance of both motor vehicles and discovered his credit had been damaged, because he failed to make both sets of motor-vehicle payments. Banks refused to furnish the plaintiff credit. One raised the interest on his credit card debt from 15 to 36 percent. An arbitrator found the defendant falsely represented that the purchase of the Nissan constituted an exchange that would relieve the plaintiff of his obligation for the Chevrolet and failed to accurately disclose finance charges and to display a Spanish buyer's guide. The arbitrator awarded the plaintiff $105,345. The plaintiff moved to confirm, and the defendant moved to vacate and to modify, the arbitration award. The court confirmed the arbitrator's decision to award the plaintiff $10,000 for damage to credit. The court also confirmed the arbitrator's award of $54,454 in punitive damages under the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act. The court was not persuaded that the arbitrator, when he decided to award punitive damages that were approximately five times as much as compensatory damages, knew about a governing legal principle and refused to apply it. The court also approved the award of $37,373 in attorneys' fees, which was based on the affidavit of the plaintiff's attorney and the arbitrator's conclusion that the hourly rates and amount of legal work were reasonable. CUTPA allows an award of attorneys' fees based on work performed, and this constituted the basis for the arbitrator's award. The court approved the plaintiff's request for reimbursement of $325 in arbitration fees and granted judgment to the plaintiff in the amount of $105,720.