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Bruno v. The Travelers Companies

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

May 2, 2017

LISA BRUNO
v.
THE TRAVELERS COMPANIES ET AL.

          Argued Date January 11

         Appeal from Superior Court, judicial district of Danbury, Truglia, J.

          Lisa Bruno, self-represented, the appellant (plaintiff).

          Stephen E. Goldman, with whom, on the brief, was Jonathan E. Small, for the appellees (named defendant et al.).

          Keller, Mullins and Harper, Js.

          OPINION

          MULLINS, J.

         The plaintiff, Lisa Bruno, appeals from the judgment of the trial court, rendered in favor of the defendants, The Travelers Companies and The Travelers Home and Marine Insurance Company, [1] after the court (1) granted the defendants' second motion to strike counts three through nine of the plaintiff's amended complaint on the ground of absolute immu-nity, [2] and (2) granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment on counts one and two on the grounds that those counts were brought outside of the two year limitation period contained in the parties' contract of insurance.[3] On appeal, the plaintiff claims that the court's judgment was improper because (1) ‘‘absolute immunity implicates the court's subject matter jurisdiction, '' and, therefore, the court erred in allowing the defendants to raise that issue via a motion to strike, (2) the defendants were not immune to suit on the basis of an absolute privilege, and (3) the plaintiff's claims were not time barred.

         After review, we conclude that the litigation privilege provides an absolute immunity from suit and, thus, implicates the trial court's subject matter jurisdiction.[4]As such, the plaintiff's causes of action against the defendants are barred. We further conclude that the court should have dismissed the plaintiff's original complaint, rather than permit her to replead, after it determined that the doctrine of absolute immunity applied to her entire complaint. Accordingly, the form of judgment is improper, and we, therefore, reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand the matter with direction to render a judgment of dismissal.

         The trial court set forth the following relevant facts in its memorandum of decision as to the defendants' first motion to strike. ‘‘The plaintiff and . . . Stephen Bruno were divorced in 2008 by order of the Danbury Superior Court . . . . [In her complaint, ] [t]he plaintiff alleges that on February 24, 2014, a hearing was held in Danbury Superior Court in her dissolution of marriage action on a postjudgment motion brought by her former husband involving court-ordered alimony and support payments. The plaintiff alleges that an employee or representative of [the defendants] . . . appeared at this hearing in response to a subpoena issued by her former husband's attorney. The plaintiff further alleges that the defendants' employee made certain statements at this hearing and produced two letters issued by the defendants that he ‘caused to be entered into evidence, ' both of which, the plaintiff claims, were defamatory to her. The plaintiff alleges that the defendants intentionally and wrongfully allowed their employee to testify at the hearing and produce the letters in question, and that these actions have given rise to several causes of action against them for damages.

         ‘‘The plaintiff claims that as a result of the defendants' actions or, alternatively, as a result of the defendants' failure to contest the subpoena and take actions to block her former husband's efforts to compel their employee's testimony, they are liable to her . . . . The plaintiff seeks compensatory, general, punitive, and consequential damages from the defendants for these alleged transgressions.''

         On the basis of the aforementioned letters and the employee's testimony, both of which the plaintiff believed contained defamatory statements about her, the plaintiff commenced this action against the defendants in seven counts: (1) defamation by libel per se, (2) violation of the Connecticut Insurance Information and Privacy Protection Act, General Statutes § 38a-975 et seq., (3) negligent infliction of emotional distress, (4) intentional infliction of emotional distress, (5) violation of the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act, General Statutes § 42-110a et seq., (6) vicarious liability, and (7) negligence.

         The defendants, thereafter, filed a motion to strike each count that had been filed against them on the ground that they were entitled to absolute immunity due to the applicability of the litigation privilege. The plaintiff then filed a responsive pleading. Subsequently, the defendants filed a reply memorandum in which they argued, in part, that the court's subject matter jurisdiction was implicated by the doctrine of absolute immunity. On January 5, 2015, the court granted the defendants' motion to strike each count of the complaint on the ground of absolute immunity, concluding that the litigation privilege applied. The court, however, did not address the issue of subject matter jurisdiction.

         Given that the court had granted the defendants' motion to strike, the plaintiff exercised her option to replead and filed an amended complaint pursuant to Practice Book § 10-44. In her amended complaint, she alleged the following causes of action against the defendants: (1) breach of contract, (2) breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, (3) violation of the Connecticut Unfair Insurance Practices Act, General Statutes § 38a-815 et seq., (4) defamation by libel per se, (5) violation of the Connecticut Insurance Information and Privacy Protection Act, General Statutes § 38a-975 et seq., (6) intentional infliction of emotional distress, (7) violation of the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act, General Statutes § 42-110a et seq., (8) vicarious liability, and (9) negligence.

         In response to the amended complaint, the defendants filed a motion for judgment on all counts of the stricken complaint and requested, in the alternative, that the court strike counts three through nine of the amended complaint on the ground that it failed to cure the deficiencies in her original complaint. The defen- dants also requested summary judgment on the two new counts of the amended complaint, set forth as counts one and two, on the basis that they were time barred by the limitation set forth in the defendants' ...


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