Creative Masonry and Chimney, LLC v. Johnson
In the 1987 case of Gargano v. Heyman, the Supreme Court explained that under the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act, C.G.S. §42-110a, "to award punitive or exemplary damages, evidence must reveal a reckless indifference to the rights of others or an intentional and wanton violation of those rights." Creative Masonry & Chimney, LLC brought suit against Neil Johnson, an attorney admitted in Connecticut, concerning payment for work performed on the defendant's home. The jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff on counts of breach of contract, fraud and violation of CUTPA and found that the plaintiff was entitled to punitive damages on the fraud and CUTPA counts. The court denied the defendant's motion to set aside the verdict and, finding the defendant's actions to avoid payment, including false statements and baseless accusations, "egregious," awarded $7700 in compensatory damages, $23,100 in punitive damages and $56,380 in attorneys' fees, plus costs and prejudgment interest. The defendant appealed raising multiple claims. The Appellate Court affirmed the judgment. The defendant's argument was inadequately briefed that the court improperly admitted evidence pertaining to his related disciplinary hearing before the Statewide Grievance Committee. The court did not err in denying the defendant's motion to set aside the verdict. The defendant claimed that the verdict erroneously concluded that the plaintiff did not violate the Home Improvement Act, C.G.S. §20-418, the defendant breached the home improvement contract and violated CUTPA. The argument was based on contested facts about the contract's formation, why a building permit was not obtained and whether the plaintiff used his position as an attorney to threaten the plaintiff. The jury reasonably and legally could have reached the conclusion it did. The court did not abuse its discretion in awarding punitive damages under CUTPA after concluding that "the defendant's conduct reflects a reckless indifference to the rights of the plaintiff, and an intentional violation of its rights …" The defendant unsuccessfully claimed that the award was based partly on evidence that the court should not have considered from the disciplinary proceeding. The court stated that it based its determination upon the evidence at trial, the jury's findings of fact and the verdict, and not the grievance committee's order and defendant's affidavit in the disciplinary proceeding, although these were admitted without objection.