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LLC v. Oatis

Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Hartford, Hartford

February 2, 2017

DIAMOND 67, LLC, Plaintiff
v.
DEREK V. OATIS, ET AL., Defendants

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION RE: DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS IN LIMINE TO LIMIT EVIDENCE OF DAMAGES TO ATTORNEYS' FEES AND COSTS

          Ingrid L. Moll, Judge.

         Before the court are defendants' respective motions to limit evidence of recoverable damages to attorneys' fees and costs (collectively, defendants' motions), specifically:(1) defendants Derek v. Oatis (Oatis), Lobo & Associates, LLC, and Glenn Montigny's motion in limine regarding damages recoverable (#273.00); (2) defendant John Summers' motion in limine limiting the damages award, if any, to attorney's fees and costs (#288.00); (3) defendant Ann Letendre's motion in limine regarding damages (#291.00) and supplemental motion in limine regarding damages (#302.00); (4) defendant Debra Wilson's motion in limine re: damages (#292.00); (5) defendant Amy Blaymore-Paterson's motion in limine to preclude evidence of damages other than costs and attorney's fees incurred by plaintiff in the alleged vexatious litigation (#296.00); and(6) defendant James David Batchelder's motion in limine regarding recoverable damages (#297.00).Plaintiff has filed objections. (##284.00, 290.00.) Oatis filed a reply to plaintiffs related objection. (#294.00.) During the telephonic trial management conference on January 30, 2017, all parties agreed that these motions could be adjudicated without oral argument. For the reasons stated below, defendants' motions are denied.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         A fulsome recitation of the facts is set forth in the Appellate Court's decision, Diamond 67, LLC v. Oatis, 167 Conn.App. 659, 661-74, 144 A.3d 1055 (2016), and need not be repeated herein. A brief review of the relevant procedural background is appropriate, however. On February 24, 2015, the trial court, Miller, J., granted all of defendants' motions for summary judgment on the ground that there was no evidence to suggest that Home Depot abandoned the development at issue based on any of the defendants' conduct. See id. at 673-74. Plaintiff appealed from this decision.

         On appeal, the Appellate Court concluded that " summary judgment was improperly granted, and decline[d] to affirm the court's judgment on any of the alternative grounds proposed by the defendants." Id. at 662. The Court issued the following mandate: " The judgment is reversed and the case is remanded with direction to deny the defendants' motions for summary judgment and for further proceedings according to law." Id. at 691.On remand, in accordance with the rescript, this court denied the defendants' motions for summary judgment. (##207.87 (as to Summers), 208.87 (as to Batchelder), 210.87 (as to Letendre), 211.86 (as to Paterson), 215.86 (as to Oatis, Lobo & Associates, and Montigny), and (219.87) (as to Wilson).) Jury selection is scheduled to commence on February 8, 2017.

         ANALYSIS

         A Defendants uniformly argue that the Appellate Court's opinion limits plaintiff's recoverable damages to attorneys' fees and costs incurred in defending against defendants' alleged vexatious litigation and prohibits the possibility of recovery of damages relating to the loss of the Home Depot deal. In essence, according to defendants, when the Appellate Court reversed the trial court's rendering of summary judgment in their favor, it meant only to do so in part. The court rejects this argument.

         The principles governing further proceedings following a remand are well settled. Bauer v. Waste Management of Conn., Inc., 239 Conn. 515, 522, 686 A.2d 481 (1996). " In carrying out a mandate of [a reviewing] court, the trial court is limited to the specific direction of the mandate as interpreted in light of the opinion.... This is the guiding principle that the trial court must observe.... The trial court should examine the mandate and the opinion of the reviewing court and proceed in conformity with the views expressed therein...." (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Id. " No judgment other than that directed or permitted by the reviewing court may be rendered, even though it may be one that the appellate court might have directed." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Wendland v. Ridgefield Construction Servs., Inc., 190 Conn. 791, 795, 462 A.2d 1043 (1983). " If ajudgment is set aside on appeal, its effect is destroyed and the parties are in the same condition as before it was rendered." Bauer, 239 Conn, at 522; see also Hon. Eliot D. Prescott, Connecticut Appellate Practice & Procedure, § 8-5:10.2, p. 498 (5th ed.) (" A bare remand for further proceedings 'according to law' vitiates ajudgment and requires a new trial on all issues, even if the appeals court found error in only one of several claims.").At the outset, the court has carefully examined the Appellate Court opinion, mindful that the rescript must ultimately be interpreted in light of the views expressed in the opinion. The Appellate Court analyzed at length the trial court's conclusion concerning plaintiff's ability to recover attorneys' fees and costs, stating:

[A] genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether the plaintiff can establish its claim that the defendants' conduct caused it to incur fees and costs for which it is entitled to recover money damages. Accordingly, the trial court improperly rendered summary judgment on that ground.

Diamond 67, LLC, 167 Conn.App. at 679. Defendants rely on this language to claim that plaintiff's recoverable damages are limited to attorneys' fees and costs. Neither this paragraph, nor any other language in the opinion, however, states that the plaintiffs recoverable damages on remand are limited to attorneys' fees and costs. Just as significantly, there is no language in the opinion that reflects an endorsement of the trial court's conclusion that there was no genuine issue of material fact as to whether the defendants caused the loss of the Home Depot project. Instead, the opinion sets forth, at the end of the introduction, the following view of the panel:

The trial court granted all of the defendants' motions for summary judgment on the ground that the plaintiff could not establish that the defendants' actions had caused Home Depot to abandon the development project, or thus to sustain any compensable losses. The plaintiff appeals, claiming that genuine issues of material fact remain as to the causation of damages. The defendants argue that summary judgment was appropriately rendered, and raise various alternative grounds for affirmance as well. We agree with the plaintiff that summary judgment was improperly granted, and decline to affirm the court's judgment on any of the alternative grounds proposed by the defendants.

(Emphasis added.) Id. at 662. This language supports the conclusion that the Appellate Court agreed with the plaintiffs causation argument concerning the loss of the Home Depot deal and undercuts defendants' argument that the Appellate Court intended to preserve the trial court's conclusion that plaintiff could not prove that defendants' conduct caused the loss of the deal.

         Against this backdrop, and further guided by the following observations, the court considers the rescript of the opinion. [1] When the Appellate Court intends to reverse a trial court judgment only in part, it does so expressly in the rescript. For example, one of the most recent volumes of the Connecticut Appellate Reports, volume 168, includes the following rescripts:

" The judgment is affirmed as to the plaintiff's motion for disqualification; the summary judgment is reversed and the case is remanded for further proceedings according to law." Doe v. West ...

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