Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of New London, New London
RULING RE PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR ADDITUR,
DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR REMITTITUR, AND PLAINTIFF'S
MOTION FOR ATTORNEYS FEES AND COSTS
F. Vacchelli Judge
case was an action by the plaintiff, Bonnie Stellenwerf,
against her former landlord, Peter Biscuti, for violations of
her lease agreement and various landlord-tenant laws. The
matter was tried to a jury over a three-week period. The jury
entered a verdict for the plaintiff, awarding her $3, 453.50
on her complaint, and awarded the defendant $4, 374.00 on his
counterclaim. Pending before the court are plaintiff's
post-trial motion for additur (Doc. No. 135.00),
defendant's motion for remittitur (Doc. No. 137.00) and
plaintiff's motion for attorneys fees and costs (Doc. No.
136.00). For the following reasons, the plaintiff's
motion for additur is denied. The defendant's motion for
remittitur is granted, in part, in the amount of $702.50. The
remitted sum, if accepted by the plaintiff, would reduce the
verdict in favor of the plaintiff to $2, 751.00. Unless the
plaintiff files a notice with the court accepting this order
of remittitur within thirty days of the date of this order,
the verdict for the plaintiff shall be set aside and a new
trial ordered on plaintiff's complaint as required by
General Statutes § 52-216a. The verdict on the
counterclaim in favor of the defendant was not challenged and
shall remain at $4, 374.00. If the remittal is accepted, the
resultant verdict will be of $1, 623.00 in favor of the
defendant. On the plaintiff's motion for attorneys fees
and costs, the court will award the plaintiff $31, 824.00 in
attorneys fees plus $1, 545.52 for costs upon entry of
judgment, if the remittitur is accepted. The court shall
enter a final judgment consistent herewith after 30 days, or
after receipt of the plaintiff's acceptance of the
remittal order, whichever occurs earlier.
Statutes § § 52-216a, 52-228b and Practice Book
§ 16-35 provide for motions to set aside the verdict and
for new trials and for additurs to remedy erroneous jury
verdicts. The standard of review governing such motions is
well-settled. " The trial court possesses inherent power
to set aside a jury verdict which, in the court's
opinion, is against the law or the evidence . . . [The trial
court] should not set aside a verdict where it is apparent
that there was some evidence upon which the jury might
reasonably reach their conclusion, and should not refuse to
set it aside where the manifest injustice of the verdict is
so plain and palpable as clearly to denote that some mistake
was made by the jury in the application of legal principles .
. . Ultimately, [t]he decision to set aside a verdict entails
the exercise of a broad legal discretion . . . that, in the
absence of clear abuse, we shall not disturb."
(Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.)
Edmands v. CUNO, Inc., 277 Conn. 425, 452, 892 A.2d
considering a motion for additur, " [i]t is the
court's duty to set aside the verdict when it finds that
it does manifest injustice, and is . . . palpably against the
evidence . . . The only practical test to apply to a verdict
is whether the award of damages falls somewhere within the
necessarily uncertain limits of fair and reasonable
compensation in the particular case, or whether the verdict
so shocks the sense of justice as to compel the conclusion
that the jury [was] influenced by partiality, mistake or
corruption . . ." (Citation omitted; internal quotation
marks omitted.) Ng v. Wal-Mart Stores, 122 Conn.App.
533, 536, 998 A.2d 1214 (2010).
The amount of a damage award is a matter peculiarly within
the province of the trier of fact . . . and if, on the
evidence, the jury could reasonably have decided as they did,
[the reviewing court] will not find error in the trial
court's acceptance of the verdict." (Citations
omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Childs v.
Bainer, 235 Conn. 107, 121, 663 A.2d 398 (1995). In
Wichers v. Hatch, 252 Conn. 174, 745 A.2d 789 (2000)
(en banc), the seminal case on the subject, our Supreme Court
jury's decision . . . is best tested in light of the
circumstances of the particular case before it.
Accordingly, the trial court should examine the evidence to
decide whether the jury reasonably could have found that
the plaintiff had failed in his proof of the issue. That
decision should be made, not on the assumption that the
jury made a mistake, but, rather, on the supposition that
the jury did exactly what it intended to do.
previously have stated, although the trial court has a
broad legal discretion in this area, it is not without its
limits. " Because in setting aside a verdict the court
has deprived a litigant in whose favor the verdict has been
rendered of his constitutional right to have disputed
issues of fact determined by a jury; Rickert v.
Fraser, 152 Conn. 678, 681, 211 A.2d 702 (1965); the
court's action cannot be reviewed in a vacuum. The
evidential underpinnings of the verdict itself must be
examined. 'Upon issues regarding which, on the
evidence, there is room for reasonable difference of
opinion among fair-minded men, the conclusion of a jury, if
one at which honest men acting fairly and intelligently
might arrive reasonably, must stand, even though the
opinion of the trial court and this court be that a
different result should have been reached.' Horvath
v. Tontini, 126 Conn. 462, 464, 11 A.2d 846
(1940)." Jacobs v. Goodspeed, 180 Conn. 415,
417, 429 A.2d 915 (1980). " [I]f there is a reasonable
basis in the evidence for the jury's verdict, unless
there is a mistake in law or some other valid basis for
upsetting the result other than a difference of opinion
regarding the conclusions to be drawn from the evidence,
the trial court should let the jury work their will."
Wichers v. Hatch, supra, 252 Conn. 188-89.
the constitutional rights at stake in this exercise, the
Supreme Court, in that case, said:
" The right to a jury trial is fundamental in our
judicial system, and this court has said that the right is
one obviously immovable limitation on the legal discretion
of the court to set aside a verdict, since the
constitutional right of trial by jury includes the right to
have issues of fact as to which there is room for a
reasonable difference of opinion among fair-minded men
passed upon by the jury and not by the court."
Camp v. Booth, 160 Conn. 10, 13, 273 A.2d 714
(1970). Because in setting aside the verdict, the trial
court deprives the party in whose favor the verdict was
rendered of his constitutional right to have factual issues
resolved by the jury, our role generally is to examine the
evidential basis for the verdict itself to determine
whether the trial court abused its discretion. Palomba
v. Gray, 208 Conn. 21, 25, 543 A.2d 1331 (1988).
Wichers v. Hatch, Id.
for Remittitur are available under General Statutes §
§ 52-216a, 52-228b and Practice Book § 16-35.
§ 52-216a provides, in pertinent part, as follows:
the court at the conclusion of the trial concludes that the
verdict is excessive as a matter of law, it shall order a
remittitur and, upon failure of the party so ordered to
remit the amount ordered by the court, it shall set aside
the verdict and order a new trial.
Statutes § 52-216a.
applying this rule, our Supreme Court has long held that the
assessment of damages is " peculiarly within the
province of the jury, whose determination will be set aside
only when it appears that the sum awarded is plainly
excessive and exorbitant." Rutkowski v. Connecticut
Light & Power Co., 100 Conn. 49, 55, 123 A.2d 25 (1923).
To warrant setting a verdict aside on this ground, the court
must find that the verdict " so shocks the sense of
justice as to compel the conclusion that the jury was
influenced by partiality, prejudice, mistake or
corruption." Briggs v. Becker, 101 Conn. 62, 66
124 A.2d 826 (1924); accord, Gilliard v. Van Court
Property Management Services, Ltd., 63 Conn.App. 632,
644, 777 A.2d 745 (2004); see, generally, R. Bollier and S.
Busby, 2 Stephenson's Connecticut Civil Procedure (3rd
Ed., 2003) § 196(b).
[A]lthough the trial court has a broad legal discretion in
this area, it is not without its limits." Wichers v.
Hatch, 252 Conn. 174, 189, 745 A.2d 789 (2000). "
Litigants have a constitutional right to have factual issues
resolved by the jury . . . This right embraces the
determination of damages when there is room for a reasonable
difference of opinion among fair-minded persons as to the
amount that should be awarded . . . The amount of a damage
award is a matter peculiarly within the province of the trier
of fact, in this case, the jury." (Citation omitted;
internal quotation marks omitted.) Ham v. Greene,
248 Conn. 508, 536, 729 A.2d 740, cert. denied, 528 U.S. 929
(1999). " Similarly, [t]he credibility of witnesses and
the weight to be accorded to their testimony lie within the
province of the jury." (Citation omitted; internal
quotation marks omitted.) Childs v. Bainer, 235
Conn. 107, 112, 663 A.2d 398 (1995).
ruling on a Motion for Remittitur, the court should not act
as the seventh juror with absolute veto power. Whether the
court would have reached a different result is not itself
decisive. " The court's proper function is to
determine whether the evidence, viewed in a light most
favorable to the prevailing party, reasonably supports the
jury's verdict." (Citation omitted.) Campbell v.
Gould, 194 Conn. 35, 40, 478 A.2d 596 (1984).
motion for attorneys fees is claimed by reason of fact that
she prevailed on her claim of violation of the Connecticut
Unfair Trade Practice Act (CUTPA), General Statutes §
42-110a et seq. That act provides, in pertinent part, as
follows: " In any action brought by a person under this
section, the court may award, to the plaintiff, in addition
to the relief provided in this section, costs and reasonable
attorneys fees based on the work reasonably performed by an
attorney and not on the amount of recovery." General
Statutes § 42-110g(d). " An award of attorneys fees
is not a matter of right. Whether any award is to be made and
the amount thereof lie within the discretion of the trial
court, which is in the best position to evaluate the
particular circumstances of a case . . . Additionally, the
amount of attorneys fees that the trial court may award is
based on the work reasonably performed by an attorney and not
on the amount of recovery." (Citations omitted; internal
quotation marks omitted.) Thorsen v. Durkin Development,
LLC, 129 Conn.App. 68, 76-77, 20 A.3d 707 (2011). "
One who prevails on a CUTPA claim may be " clearly
entitled" to such fees and costs, but it is an "
undisputed requirement that the reasonableness of the
attorneys fees and costs must be proven by an appropriate
evidentiary showing." Barco Auto Leasing Corp. v.
House, 202 Conn. 106, 120-21, 520 A.2d 162 (1987).
in this case occurred on February 17, 18, 19, 23, 24, 25, and
March 1, 2, and 3, 2016. The jury heard the testimony of
Bonnie Stellenwerf, Peter Biscuti, Christopher Bodiere,
Adriene Merry, Mark Shirley, John Robbins, Jr. and Jeffrey
Decker. It also reviewed numerous correspondence, e-mails,
text messages, video, photographs, records and other types of
documents introduced as exhibits in the case.
jury could have reasonably found as follows: In 2013, the
defendant was interested in renting a single-family home he
owned located at 11 Fanning Road in Ledyard, CT because he
was planning on living in South Carolina. The plaintiff
wanted to rent a house because she needed space to store
equipment for her carpet cleaning business. She saw the
property and liked it. She hoped to live there for many
years. The plaintiff signed a rental agreement to rent 11
Fanning Road on October 17, 2013. The agreement called for a
term of one year, beginning November 15, 2013. The tenant
agreed to pay the landlord the sum of $2, 000.00 per month,
due and payable on the 15th day of each month with a 10-day
grace period. If not paid within the grace period, the
agreement called for, inter alia, a $100.00 late
fee. It also called for a bad check service charge of $25.00.
agreement called for a security deposit as follows:
hereby agree to pay a security deposit of $2000 to be
refunded upon vacating, returning the keys to the Landlord
and termination of this contract according to other terms
herein agreed. This deposit will be held to cover any
possible damage to the property. It will be held intact by
Landlord until at least thirty (30) working days after
Tenants have vacated the property. At that time Landlord
will inspect the premises thoroughly and assess any damages
and/or needed repairs. This deposit money minus any
necessary charges for missing/dead light bulbs,
repairs, cleaning, etc. will then be returned to Tenant
with a written explanation of deductions, within 60 days
after they have vacated the property.
Agreement, para. 6 (emphasis in original).
alterations and damage, the agreement provided as follows:
shall make no alterations, decorations, additions, or
improvements in or to the premises without Landlord's
prior written consent, and then only by contractors or
mechanics, or other approved by Landlord. All alterations,
additions or improvements upon the premises, made by either
party, shall become the property of the Landlord and shall
remain upon, and be surrendered with said premises, as a
part thereof, at the end of the term hereof.
acknowledge that they will be responsible for and pay any
damage done by rain, wind, hail, tornadoes, etc., if this
damage is caused by leaving windows open, allowing stoppage