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Meribear Productions, Inc. v. Frank

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

May 10, 2016


Argued February 3, 2016

Appeal from Superior Court, judicial district of Fairfield, Tyma, J.

Michael S. Taylor, with whom were James P. Sexton and, on the brief, Matthew C. Eagan, for the appellants (defendants).

Anthony J. LaBella, with whom, on the brief, was Deborah M. Garsk of, for the appellee (plaintiff).

Gruendel, Alvord and Pellegrino, Js. [*]



The defendants, Joan E. Frank and George A. Frank, appeal from the judgment of the trial court, rendered after a trial to the court, in favor of the plaintiff, Meribear Productions, Inc. The plaintiff’s three count complaint sought the common-law enforcement of a foreign judgment, and, alternatively, damages for breach of contract or quantum meruit. On appeal, the defendants claim that the court improperly (1) enforced the foreign judgment against George Frank after concluding that he had minimum contacts with California that warranted the exercise of its jurisdiction, (2) concluded that the contract signed by Joan Frank was enforceable even though it failed to comply with certain provisions of the Home Solicitation Sales Act, [1] and (3) awarded double damages to the plaintiff. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

The following facts and procedural history are relevant to the defendants’ claims. The defendants, who are husband and wife, resided at 3 Cooper Lane in Westport. They decided to sell their home and hired the plaintiff to provide design and decorating services, which included the staging of home furnishings owned by the plaintiff, in an effort to make their residence more attractive to potential purchasers. The plaintiff is a California corporation with its principal place of business located in Los Angeles. The plaintiff’s representatives met with George Frank, his office assistant, and the defendants’ realtor in Connecticut to negotiate the terms of a staging services agreement.

On March 13, 2011, Joan Frank signed a ‘‘Staging Services and Lease Agreement’’[2] after George Frank made changes to some of its provisions. The agreement expressly provided that addendum B, titled ‘‘Credit Card Authorization, ’’ was ‘‘a part of this Agreement . . . .’’ George Frank signed addendum B, which authorized the plaintiff to charge his credit card for $19, 000 ‘‘resulting from this staging/design agreement.’’ Before signing the addendum, he crossed out proposed language that would have made him liable for any additional charges incurred by the plaintiff.

Under the terms of the staging services agreement, the initial payment of $19, 000 was nonrefundable and was payable prior to the delivery and installation of the furnishings. The initial lease period was for four months, but the term would expire sooner if the contingencies in any purchase agreement for the property were fulfilled or waived. The agreement further provided that if the defendants’ property was not sold within the initial four month period, the lease would continue on a month-to-month basis at a rental amount of $1900 per month. The testimony at trial established that the initial $19, 000 payment covered the plaintiff’s design services, the delivery of the staging furnishings, the first four months of the lease, and the cost of removing the furnishings upon the sale of the property or the termination of the agreement. Either party could terminate the agreement by providing a timely written notice.

The furnishings were delivered and staged. Four months passed, and the property had not been sold and neither party had terminated the staging services agreement. The plaintiff sent invoices for the additional monthly rental amounts, which never were paid by the defendants. When the plaintiff sent a crew of movers to the defendants’ property to remove the furnishings, they were denied access to the home. The plaintiff’s staging inventory remained in the defendants’ home through the time of trial. At oral argument before this court, the plaintiff’s counsel represented that the defendants’ property had been sold, but the plaintiff had no knowledge as to the whereabouts of its furnishings.

The plaintiff commenced an action against the defendants in the Superior Court of California in the county of Los Angeles, and, on August 7, 2012, it obtained a default judgment against them in the amount of $259, 746.10. On October 9, 2012, the plaintiff commenced the present action in the Superior Court in Connecticut to enforce the foreign judgment.[3] The plaintiff subsequently amended its complaint to include counts for breach of contract and quantum meruit. The defendants filed an answer with special defenses, claiming, inter alia, that the foreign default judgment was void because the California court lacked personal jurisdiction over them[4] and that the staging services agreement was unenforceable because it failed to comply with certain provisions in the Connecticut Home Solicitation Sales Act.

Following a trial to the court, the court issued its memorandum of decision on October 14, 2014. The court made the following determinations: (1) George Frank did not sign and was not a party to the staging services agreement, but he did sign addendum B, which was attached to the agreement and authorized the plaintiff to charge $19, 000 on his Visa credit card; (2) the defendants’ residence is a luxury home in an affluent community, and the furnishings provided by the plaintiff ‘‘appear[ed] to be appropriate for such a home’’; (3) the defendants defaulted on their rent obligation to the plaintiff; (4) the plaintiff had prepared an inventory of the furnishings provided to the defendants, and values were ascribed to each piece based on standard industry pricing for used furniture; (5) although the defendants claimed that they asked the plaintiff to remove the inventory from their residence, the more credible evidence was that no such demand ever had been made; (6) the plaintiff sent a crew of movers to remove the inventory on more than one occasion, but the defendants denied the movers access to the premises; (7) Joan Frank was not properly served with process in the California action, and the California Superior Court lacked personal jurisdiction over her; (8) George Frank was properly served with process in the California action, and the California Superior Court possessed personal jurisdiction over him; (9) the staging services agreement was enforceable against Joan Frank because the parties’ transaction was specifically excluded by statute from the definition of a home solicitation sale; (10) ‘‘George Frank’s testimony on the procedural and ...

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