Norton v. Anthony's Ocean View Inc.
A defendant who allegedly provides an incorrect address for the defendant's agent for service of process to the secretary of state can be equitably estopped from claiming it was not legally served, when a marshal attempted to serve the writ, summons and complaint at the incorrect address. On Sept. 13, 2009, the plaintiff, Norma Norton, allegedly was on the premises of a restaurant owned by the defendant, Anthony's Ocean View Inc., when she slipped and fell. On Sept. 12, 2011, a marshal attempted to serve process on Anthony's agent at the agent's official residence address in Guilford, Conn. Anthony's agent sold the Guilford, Conn. property in 1995 and moved to New Haven. The defendant moved for summary judgment, and the plaintiff objected that the accidental-failure-of-suit statute saved the plaintiff's complaint. A court can apply the doctrine of equitable estoppel if: 1.) the defendant's conduct is intended to induce the plaintiff to believe a fact and to act on that fact; and 2.) the plaintiff relies on the defendant's conduct and acts to the detriment of the plaintiff. The court found that although the agent of Anthony's Ocean View received the writ, summons and complaint on or before Jan. 12, 2012, the plaintiff did not properly effectuate service of process. The doctrine of equitable estoppel applied, because Anthony's agent allegedly misled the plaintiff about the location of the agent's residence for service of process. Anthony Ocean View's official information about the location of the agent's residence was incorrect, and the plaintiff acted on that information to her detriment. "The plaintiff," wrote the court, "was lulled into complacency by the defendant's misrepresentation." Anthony Ocean View's conduct directly caused prejudice to the plaintiff. The court found that Anthony's was equitably estopped from claiming it was not legally served or that the Sept. 12, 2011, attempted service of process failed to commence the plaintiff's suit, pursuant to the accidental-failure-of-suit statute. The court denied the defendant's motion for summary judgment.