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Connecticut Home Health Services, LLC v. Futterleib

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

April 11, 2017

CONNECTICUT HOME HEALTH SERVICES, LLC
v.
ANN FUTTERLEIB ET AL.

          Argued November 15, 2016

         Appeal from Superior Court, judicial district of Hartford, Wiese, J.

          Charles I. Miller, for the appellant (substitute defendant).

          A. Paul Spinella, for the appellee (plaintiff).

          Beach, Mullins and Bishop, Js. [*]

          OPINION

          BISHOP, J.

         This case concerns the enforceability of an alleged oral contract between a homemaker-companion agency and its clients. The defendants in this breach of contract action, Ann Futterleib and her husband Alfred Futterleib, appeal from the trial court's judgment partially in favor of the plaintiff, Connecticut Home Health Services, LLC, awarding $21, 320.94 for caregiver services rendered by the plaintiff.[1] The defendants claim, inter alia, that the court: (1) erred in finding that they had acted in bad faith, and, therefore, that the plaintiff's failure to comply with statutory requirements regarding home companion-care agencies was excused; and (2) erred in rendering judgment on an oral contract because chapter 400o of the General Statutes, entitled ‘‘Homemaker-Companion Agencies'' (Homemaker-Companion Agencies Act), specifically, General Statutes (Rev. to 2010) § 20-679, [2] requires that this type of contract be in writing.[3] We reverse in part the judgment of the trial court.

         The record reveals the following facts and procedural history. The plaintiff, doing business as Right at Home, is a homemaker-companion agency that provides in-home care and assistance to elderly and/or disabled people. Caregivers provide a variety of services for clients, including cooking, light housekeeping, and medication assistance. In January or February, 2010, Robert Hendrickson, the defendants' power of attorney, sought out the plaintiff to provide care for the defendants, his mother and step-father, both of whom were suffering from physical ailments. On February 13, 2010, representatives of the plaintiff company, Hendrickson, and the defendants met at the defendants' home to discuss the defendants' needs for live-in, twenty-four hour care at the cost of $230 per live-in shift. The parties did not create or execute any contract or written understanding of agreement at that meeting. The defendants' live-in caregiver, an employee of the plaintiff, started work that afternoon at the defendants' home.

         The plaintiff's general business practice is to prepare a client service agreement after an assessment meeting and then to send it to the client, or their representative, to sign and return. Sometime around March 23, 2010, Hendrickson received at his home address a client Services Agreement that had been signed by the plaintiff's president on March 20, 2010 (service agreement). Hendrickson did not sign the agreement, and he did not send it back to the plaintiff. The plaintiff, through the live-in caregiver, continued to provide care to the defendants, and Hendrickson paid for the services on a periodic basis. After some time, the payments for the defendants' care became delinquent and the business relationship ended on January 27, 2012.[4] Hendrickson made three payments toward the balance owed after the relationship ended. The plaintiff filed this action on March 13, 2013, and at that time, the balance allegedly owed by the defendants was $21, 320.94.

         In its original four count complaint, the plaintiff alleged two counts of breach of a written contract on the basis of the service agreement, with one count based specifically on Hendrickson's actions, unjust enrichment, and tortious interference with a business relationship. In this complaint, the plaintiff cited Hendrickson as a defendant along with Ann Futterleib and Alfred Futterleib, and sought to recover the balance owed by the defendants as well as additional damages. On March 25, 2014, the plaintiff filed a motion to amend its complaint to remove Hendrickson as a defendant and remove any mention of the service agreement in its breach of contract count. The court granted this motion on April 3, 2014. In its three count amended complaint, [5]the plaintiff alleged: (1) breach of an oral contract; (2) unjust enrichment; and (3) tortious interference with employment relations. The defendants filed an amended answer on April 10, 2014, and alleged as special defenses that: (1) the plaintiff committed an unfair or deceptive practice by failing to meet statutory requirements to register its trade name; (2) the plaintiff's claims were barred by the doctrine of unclean hands because it failed to register its trade name and also because the plaintiff intentionally forged Hendrick-son's signature onto the purported service agreement;[6](3) the plaintiff's claims premised on an oral contract and unjust enrichment were barred by § 20-679 and General Statutes § 42-135a, a section of the Home Solicitation Sales Act; and (4) the plaintiff's claim based on oral contract was barred by General Statutes § 52-550, the statute of frauds.

         The four day trial to the court took place between April 3 and April 8, 2014. In its December 31, 2014 memorandum of decision, the court, Wiese, J., found that the parties had entered into an oral contract on February 13, 2010, because they ‘‘verbally agreed to the daily rate of the caregiver and . . . a Client Services Agreement would be prepared and mailed to the defendants for their approval and signature.'' The court found for the defendants on the plaintiff's tortious interference claim and, because the court found in favor of the plaintiff on its oral contract claim, it did not address the unjust enrichment claim. As for the defendants' special defense that the plaintiff's claims were barred by §§ 20-679 and 42-135a, the court found that the service agreement ‘‘was intentionally not returned to [the plaintiff]. It was left in an envelope by Mr. Hendrickson and he declined to take any action with regards to it. Through inadvertence, [the plaintiff] did not become aware of this fact at the time that services were provided to [the defendants].'' The court further found that Hendrickson's intentional failure to sign and return the service agreement constituted bad faith, which excused the plaintiff's noncompliance with the statutory requirement that the contract of service be in writing. As noted, the court rendered judgment for the plaintiff in the amount of $21, 320.94. This appeal followed. Additional facts and procedural history will be set forth as necessary.

         We first set forth the legal principles relevant to the claims at issue. At the time of the conduct in question, § 20-679, which governs contracts between home-maker-companion agencies and clients, provided in relevant part: ‘‘Not later than seven calendar days after the date on which a homemaker-companion agency commences providing homemaker services or companion services, such agency shall provide the person who receives the services, or the authorized representative of such person, with a written contract or service plan that prescribes the anticipated scope, type, frequency, duration and cost of the services provided by the agency. . . .'' General Statutes (Rev. to 2010) § 20-679. In addition, the statute required that the contract or service plan provide notice to the person receiving services: ‘‘(1) of the person's right to request changes to, or review of the contract or service plan, (2) of the employees of such agency who, pursuant to section 20-678 are required to submit to a comprehensive background check, and (3) that such agency's records are available for inspection or audit by the Department of Consumer Protection. . . .'' General Statutes (Rev. to 2010) § 20-679. The statute further provided that ‘‘[n]o contract or service plan for the provision of homemaker or companion services shall be valid against the person who receives the services or the authorized representative of such person, unless the contract or service plan has been signed by a duly authorized representative of the homemaker-companion agency and the person who receives the services or the authorized representative of such person. . . .''General Statutes (Rev. to 2010) § 20-679.[7]

         With these legal principles in mind, we turn now to our assessment of the defendants' claims on appeal.

         I

         The defendants first claim that the court erred in finding that Hendrickson acted in bad faith by not signing and returning the service agreement, and, therefore, that the plaintiff's noncompliance with § 20-679 was excused.[8] We assume, without deciding, that the court correctly incorporated a bad faith exception into the Homemaker-Companion Agencies Act because, even if the trial court was ...


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