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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 plaintiff's 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.ANALYSISADefendants 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 Courtreversed 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 a judgment 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 a judgment 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 plaintiff's 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 plaintiff's 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 courtconsiders 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 recentvolumes 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 Hartford, 168 Conn.App. 354, 385 (2016).1 A rescript is " the written order of the Supreme or Appellate Court at the end of the opinion giving direction to the trial court or Appellate Court concerning the further disposition of the case." Manual of Style for the Connecticut Courts (Third Edition), p. 8.--" The judgment is reversed only as to counts one, three, and five of the amended information and the case is remanded for a new trial on those counts; the judgment is affirmed in all other respects." State v. Best, 168 Conn.App. 675, 689 (2016).--" The judgment is reversed only as to the amount of the award owed to the plaintiff and the case is remanded for further proceedings in accordance with this opinion. The judgment is affirmed in all other respects." Nadel v. Luttinger, 168 Conn.App. 689, 703 (2016).--" The judgment is reversed only with respect to the financial orders and the case is remanded for a new hearing on all financial issues; the judgment is affirmed in all other respects." Ferraro v. Ferraro, 168 Conn.App. 723, 734-35 (2016).These examples demonstrate that, when the Appellate Court limits its reversal of a judgment, an appropriate rescript is carefully crafted to reflect that intention.

         Relatedly, the Manual of Style for the Connecticut Courts (Third Edition) prepared by the Office of the Reporter of Judicial Decisions (Manual) -- which was in effect at the time of the Appellate Court's decision at issue and which remains in effect -- buttresses the conclusion that when the Appellate Court intends to disturb only a portion of a trial court judgment, that intention is reflected in the rescript.2 Although the Manual is not controlling authority, it has been adopted by the Connecticut Supreme and Appellate Courts for their use in the writing and publishing of opinions rendered by those courts. ( See id. at iii (foreword by Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers).)

         On pages 9-14, the Manual describes the various rescript categories. The relevantcategories for purposes of this discussion are " When the Judgment Is Reversed in Full" and " When the Judgment Is Reversed in Part." The Manual provides as follows: If the entire judgment is reversed, the rescript will read: 'The judgment is reversed ...' followed by a specific instruction to the trial court: (1) to conduct further proceedings; (2) to conduct a new trial; or (3) to render a particular judgment. (Ellipsis in original; emphasis in original.) Id. at 9. The Manual further provides:2 The Manual is available on the Judicial Branch website at http://www.jud.ct.gov/ Publications/Manualofstyle.pdf.

         If only a portion of the judgment is reversed, the rescript should indicate that the judgment should be reversed as to only a specific portion. (Emphasis in original.) Id. at 11. The Manual goes on to provide numerous examples of possible rescripts when a judgment is reversed in part. Such examples include, but are not limited to, the following:--The judgment is reversed with respect to the claims of breach of contract, due process, quo warran to and mandamus, and the case is remanded with direction to render judgment in favor of the defendants on those claims; the judgment is affirmed in all other respects.--The judgment is reversed only as to the award of damages for statutory taking and the case is remanded for a hearing in damages; the judgment is affirmed in all other respects. Id. Here, the rescript is clear. It provides: " 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." 3 Diamond 67 , LLC, 167 Conn.App. at 691. Such rescript, which controls this court's " further disposition of the case" (Manual at 8), is strikingly similar to the example provided in the Manual with respect to the reversal of a judgment in full ( id. at 9). Not only is there no limitation on the Appellate Court's reversal of the judgment, there is no limitation in the Court's direction to this court upon remand " to deny the defendants' motions for summary judgment." 4 Diamond 67 , LLC, 167 Conn.App. at 691. The Court's mandate required a denial in full of such motions, and that is what occurred promptly on remand.

         Where the Appellate Court affirms a judgment in certain respects, but not others, it does so, at a minimum, in the rescript. For all the reasons stated above, this rescript informs the3 Notably, defendants' motions ignore the rescript entirely.4 Defendants' position that the reversed judgment granting their summary judgment motions is law of the case is belied by the Appellate Court's directing a denial in full of their summary judgment motions. conclusion that the Appellate Court reversed the judgment of the trial court in full.

         In sum, the mandate of the Appellate Court, as interpreted in light of the opinion, requires this court to conduct " further proceedings according to law, " consistent with the Appellate Court's reversal in full of the rendering of summary judgment in favor of the defendants and consistent with the as-directed denial of defendants' summary ...


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