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Connelly v. Housing Authority of City of New Haven

Supreme Court of Connecticut

January 2, 1990

Thelma CONNELLY et al.

Argued Nov. 7, 1989.

Page 1213

Alice Bauer, with whom were Shelley A. White, Hartford, and, on the brief, Jon Alander, for appellants (plaintiffs).

Frank Cochran, New Haven, with whom was Edmund Winterbottom, for appellee (defendant).

Clarine Nardi Riddle, Atty. Gen., and Robert M. Langer and Stephen R. Park, Asst. Attys. Gen., filed a brief for the State of Conn. as amicus curiae.


[213 Conn. 355] COVELLO, Associate Justice.

This is an appeal from the decision of the trial court, DeMayo, J., which granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant housing authority [213 Conn. 356] of the city of New Haven (housing authority). The dispositive issue is whether a municipal housing authority, acting as landlord, may be held liable for violations of the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practice Act (CUTPA), General Statutes §§ 42-110a et seq. We hold that the acts of municipal housing authorities are exempt from the operation of CUTPA and that the trial court did not err in granting summary judgment in favor of the defendant.

The relevant facts are undisputed. On December 10, 1981, six low income tenants of the Elm Haven Extension apartments (Elm Haven) [1] filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of all the tenants of Elm Haven against the defendant, which owns and operates these federally subsidized low income apartments. [2] The plaintiffs alleged that the defendant had violated state law by not providing adequate heat and hot water to its tenants due to faulty boilers, plumbing, pumps and heating systems in the apartment buildings. [3] The plaintiffs [213 Conn. 357]

Page 1214

alleged that as a result they had been subjected, during the period from November 1, 1981, through March 31, 1982, to various health risks arising from the defendant's "continuing to rent out apartments to the plaintiffs which lack[ed] adequate and or stable heat and hot water" supplies.

The plaintiffs sought injunctive relief and damages in two counts. The first count alleged that the defendant's failure to provide adequate heat and hot water to the Elm Haven tenants violated the obligations imposed upon landlords by General Statutes § 47a-7 [4] [213 Conn. 358] and by the municipal housing code. [5] The second count alleged

Page 1215

that the defendant's actions constituted unfair and deceptive trade practices in violation of CUTPA.

[213 Conn. 359] On December 22, 1981, after a hearing on the plaintiffs' motion for a temporary injunction, the trial court, Foti, J., issued an injunction enjoining the defendant from failing to make repairs to the Elm Haven heating systems, and ordering the defendant to make immediate repairs in order to restore adequate and uniform supplies of heat to the plaintiffs' apartments. On February 10, 1982, the trial court denied the defendant's motion to strike the second count of the complaint. The court rejected the defendant's claim that, as a municipal housing authority, it was exempt from liability for its actions under CUTPA, and, in the alternative, that none of the acts and practices alleged in the complaint were unfair or deceptive within the meaning of CUTPA.

On November 13, 1987, the defendant filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, or in the alternative, for summary judgment, on the ground that CUTPA does not apply to the providing of essential services to tenants by municipal housing authorities. The trial court, DeMayo, J., granted the defendant's motion for summary judgment on the ground alleged herein. The [213 Conn. 360] trial court held that municipal housing authorities are exempt from CUTPA under General Statutes § 42-110c [6] and were excluded from CUTPA as they do not engage in trade or commerce within the meaning of the act. The court further held that under Russell v. Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc., 200 Conn. 172, 510 A.2d 972 (1986), the defendant is not liable under CUTPA because municipal housing authorities are regulated under the Landlord and Tenant Act, General Statutes § 47a-1 et seq., and because the Code of Federal Regulations is silent on whether municipal housing authorities' transactions are the subject of Federal Trade Commission action.

On April 3, 1989, the plaintiffs filed this appeal with the Appellate Court. We thereafter transferred this appeal to ourselves pursuant to Practice Book § 4023.

The plaintiffs' claims for damages in count two of their complaint fail because they are premised solely on CUTPA. Even if it is assumed, arguendo, that the defendant is engaged in "trade" or "commerce" as defined by that act, the defendant nonetheless is exempted from CUTPA scrutiny because, as a municipal housing authority regulated by the United States department of housing and urban development (HUD), its actions fall within the ambit of General Statutes [213 Conn. 361] ยง 42-110c. Section 42-110c provides in relevant part: "EXCEPTIONS: (a) Nothing in this chapter shall apply to: (1) Transactions or ...

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