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Lee v. Stanziale

Appellate Court of Connecticut

December 1, 2015

PETER LEE
v.
RICHARD H. STANZIALE

Argued September 25, 2015.

Page 580

Action for the return of a security deposit, and for other relief, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Harford, small claims session, where the matter was transferred to the regular civil docket; thereafter, the defendant filed a counterclaim; subsequently, the matter was tried to the court, Woods, J.; judgment in part for the plaintiff on the complaint and counterclaim; thereafter, the court, Woods, J., denied the defendant's motion for reconsideration; subsequently, the court, Woods, J., awarded the plaintiff attorney's fees, and the defendant appealed to this court; thereafter, this court dismissed the appeal in part; subsequently, the court, Woods, J., granted the plaintiff's motion for additional attorney's fees, and the defendant filed an amended appeal in this court; thereafter, the court, Woods, J., issued articulations of its decision.

Affirmed.

SYLLABUS

The plaintiff tenant brought this action against the defendant landlord in the small claims session of the Superior Court seeking the return of his security deposit in connection with a lease agreement between the parties. Thereafter, the defendant filed a motion to transfer the case to the regular docket, which the trial court granted. The trial court rendered judgment in part for the plaintiff and awarded him attorney's fees and costs pursuant to the statute (§ 52-251a) that permits the award of attorney's fees and costs to a prevailing plaintiff in a case that was transferred from small claims court to the regular docket by a defendant. The defendant appealed to this court, which dismissed the appeal in part. Thereafter, the trial court granted the plaintiff's motion for additional attorney's fees, and the defendant filed an amended appeal. Held :

1. The defendant could not prevail on his claim that the trial court improperly applied § 52-251a in awarding the plaintiff attorney's fees and costs: contrary to the defendant's assertion, the trial court was not required to find that the defendant had engaged in identifiable misconduct as a prerequisite for awarding the plaintiff attorney's fees and costs under § 52-251a, as the essential elements of the statute do not contain such a requirement; furthermore, a review of the record indicated that the trial court properly considered the policies underlying § 52-251a, as that court's memorandum of decision and articulations clearly showed that the court was cognizant of the policies underlying the statute and that it had fashioned its award mindful that a relatively straightforward small claims action to recover a security deposit was transformed into a pitched legal battle once it was transferred to the regular docket.

2. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in awarding the plaintiff $18,122.50 in attorney's fees and costs: that court had the opportunity to review the presentation of the evidence, the effort expended by the plaintiff's counsel, and the complexity of the legal issues involved, and it was in the best position to evaluate the reasonableness of the attorney's fees and costs requested by the plaintiff in the particular circumstances of the case; moreover, the amount of the award to the plaintiff as the prevailing party pursuant to § 52-251a was reasonable given that a relatively minor dispute over a security deposit became a complex and protracted legal battle after the matter was transferred from the small claims session to the regular docket on the defendant's motion.

Robert Shluger, for the appellant (defendant).

Adam J, Teller, for the appellee (plaintiff).

Gruendel, Lavine and Bishop, Js. GRUENDEL, J. In this opinion the other judges concurred.

OPINION

Page 581

[161 Conn.App. 526] GRUENDEL, J.

In this landlord-tenant case, the defendant, Richard H. Stanziale, appeals from the judgment of the trial court awarding the plaintiff, Peter Lee, a total of $18,122.50 in attorney's fees and costs pursuant to General Statutes § 52-251a. The defendant contends that the court abused its discretion in so doing. We disagree and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of the trial court.

In its memorandum of decision, the court found the following facts. The defendant is the owner of residential rental property known as 56 Brace Road in West [161 Conn.App. 527] Hartford (property). In April, 2010, the plaintiff entered into a written agreement to lease the property from the defendant from May 1, 2010, to April 30, 2011, at a rate of $2500 per month. At that time, the plaintiff paid a $5000 security deposit to the defendant.

During his tenancy, the plaintiff notified the defendant of various problems he claimed to have encountered with the property. Those problems included inadequate heat on the third floor of the residence, electrical wiring issues, and an asbestos wrapped furnace.

In early September, 2010, the plaintiff informed the defendant of his intention to vacate the property before the lease expired. The parties thereafter discussed the termination of the lease agreement. On November 12, 2010, the defendant listed the property with a realtor, and soon received multiple offers from prospective tenants. On December 15, 2010, the defendant entered into a lease agreement with a new tenant for a term of two years commencing on January 1, 2011, at a monthly rate of $2500.

Although he paid rent to the defendant through December 31, ...


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