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A Better Way Wholesale Autos, Inc. v. Rodriguez

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

September 12, 2017

A BETTER WAY WHOLESALE AUTOS, INC.
v.
KIARA RODRIGUEZ ET AL.

          Argued April 17, 2017

          Kenneth A. Votre, for the appellant (plaintiff).

          Daniel S. Blinn, for the appellee (named defendant).

          Proloy K. Das, with whom was Melissa A. Federico, for the appellee (defendant American Credit Acceptance, LLC).

          Mullins, Beach and Harper, Js.

         Syllabus

         The plaintiff sought to vacate an arbitration award rendered in favor of the defendant R and the defendant finance company in connection with the plaintiff's sale of a used vehicle to R, who had initiated the arbitration process seeking rescission of her purchase and sale agreement, as well as her financing agreement, for an alleged warranty violation. During the pendency of the arbitration process, R settled with the finance company, which subsequently brought cross claims against the plaintiff for, inter alia, alleged violations of their dealer agreement. The arbitrator entered an award in favor of the defendants, ordering, inter alia, that the finance company return the vehicle to the plaintiff. Thereafter, the trial court denied the plaintiff's application to vacate the arbitration award and granted the defendants' motions to confirm the award. From the judgment rendered thereon, the plaintiff appealed to this court. The plaintiff claimed, inter alia, that the parties' submission to the arbitrator was restricted, and that because title to the vehicle was never at issue, the arbitrator exceeded his authority in ordering the finance company to return the vehicle to it.

         Held:

1. The trial court properly denied the plaintiff's application to vacate the arbitration award: given the plain language of the arbitration agreement, which provided that any claim or dispute between R and the plaintiff arising out of the purchase or condition of the vehicle was to be settled by way of binding arbitration, and given that arbitration was commenced pursuant to that agreement, which contained no restrictions on the issues that could be decided by the arbitrator, the submission to the arbitrator was unrestricted and, thus, possession and title to the vehicle was at issue from the onset of the arbitration and was within the scope of the submission; moreover, the arbitrator, by ordering the return of the vehicle to the plaintiff, did not exceed his power by rendering an award that was beyond the scope of the unrestricted submission, as the submission permitted the arbitrator to decide any claim or dispute between R and the plaintiff arising out of the purchase or condition of the vehicle, or arising out of the contract or resulting relationship, R specifically requested on the form submitted demanding the arbitration that the contract be cancelled and that the purchase of the vehicle be revoked, and, therefore, it would be nonsensical to conclude that the arbitrator had the authority to cancel the contract and to revoke the purchase but that he did not have the authority to decide what happened to the vehicle that was the subject of the purchase and the contract.
2. The plaintiff's claim that the trial court improperly ordered it to pay the attorney's fees and costs of the finance company in defending the arbitrator's award was not reviewable, the plaintiff having failed to brief the claim adequately.

         Procedural History

         Application to vacate an arbitration award, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Waterbury, where the matter was removed to the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut; thereafter, the matter was remanded to state court, where the defendants filed separate motions to confirm the award; subsequently, the matter was tried to the court, M. Taylor, J.; judgment granting the motions to confirm and denying the application to vacate, from which the plaintiff appealed to this court. Thereafter, the court granted the named defendant's motion for attorney's fees. Affirmed.

          OPINION

          MULLINS, J.

         The plaintiff, A Better Way Wholesale Autos, Inc. (A Better Way), appeals from the judgment of the trial court denying its application to vacate an arbitration award and granting the motions to confirm the arbitration award filed by the defendants, Kiara Rodriguez and American Credit Acceptance, LLC (finance company). A Better Way also appeals from the court's judgment modifying the arbitration award to include attorney's fees and costs to the finance company for its defense of the award in the Superior Court. On appeal, A Better Way claims that the trial court erred in (1) denying its application to vacate the award on the ground that the arbitrator's decision was beyond the scope of the parties' submission, and (2) ordering A Better Way to pay the attorney's fees and costs of the finance company in defending the arbitrator's award in the Superior Court.[1] We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The following facts, as set forth by the trial court in its January 14, 2016 memorandum of decision and procedural history inform our review. ‘‘The underlying arbitration between the parties arises from the sale of a used 2006 Toyota Scion [vehicle] by A Better Way to . . . Rodriguez. In this dispute, Rodriguez included [the finance company] as a defendant in its role as the assignee of the financing agreement in her retail installment sales contract with A Better Way.

         ‘‘Rodriguez initiated the arbitration process by a written demand, dated June 4, 2014, for damages and the rescission of her purchase and sale agreement with A Better Way, as well as her financing agreement with [the finance company]. In the demand letter, she [stated that she] ‘revokes her acceptance of the vehicle, ' asserting, inter alia, a warranty violation. Importantly, the vehicle was left in the possession of A Better Way. She previously had written to A Better Way on March 21, 2014, stating that ‘[i]f you are unable to fix my car, then I would like to cancel the sale . . . .' [Rodriguez'] letters were submitted, along with her demand for arbitration, to the American Arbitration Association on June 27, 2014. . . . In accordance with the agreement of the parties, the arbitration was conducted by the American Arbitration Association, with Attorney John R. Downey serving as arbitrator.'' (Citation omitted.)

         ‘‘Rodriguez made her submission to arbitration pursuant to an arbitration clause with A Better Way which, in relevant part, provides: ‘Any claim or dispute, whether in contract, tort, statute or otherwise (including the interpretation and scope of this . . . clause, and the arbitrability of the claim or dispute), between you and us or our employees, agents, successors or assigns, which arises out of or relates to your credit application, purchase or condition of this vehicle, this contract or any resulting transaction or relationship (including any such relationship with third parties who do not sign this contract) shall, at your or our election, be resolved by neutral, binding arbitration and not by a court action.' . . . Although the arbitration submission was made by Rodriguez pursuant to her retail installment sales contract with A Better Way, she included [the finance company] as a defendant because it was specifically identified in her contract as the assignee of the financing agreement.''[2] (Citation omitted.)

         ‘‘During the pendency of the arbitration process, Rodriguez settled with [the finance company] and, based upon alleged violations of their Dealer Agreement, [the finance company] brought cross claims against A Better Way.[3] . . . In its proposed findings and orders filed after the conclusion of the arbitration hearing, [the finance company] proposed the return of the [vehicle] to A Better Way. . . .

         ‘‘On May 12, 2015, Attorney Downey entered an Award of Arbitrator in favor of Rodriguez and [the finance company]. . . . The award provides for the following payments to Rodriguez: (1) [Truth in Lending Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1601 et seq. (TILA)] statutory damages of $1000; (2) [Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act, General Statutes § 42-110a et seq. (CUTPA)] damages of $1000; (3) punitive damages of $2000; and (4) attorney's fees of $12, 500. The award also provides for the following [as to the finance company]: (1) arbitration costs of $3700; (2) legal fees of $25, 000; and (3) [the finance company's] return of the [vehicle] to A Better Way.'' (Citations omitted; footnotes altered.)

         A Better Way, specifically pursuant to General Statutes § 52-418, [4] filed an application to vacate the portion of the award that ordered the finance company to return the vehicle to A Better Way on the grounds that ‘‘[t]he parties to the arbitration did not state that possession of the vehicle was at issue in any of the pleadings before the arbitrator . . . [and] the submission did not include a determination of the ownership of the vehicle.'' A Better Way contended that the arbitrator, therefore, had exceeded his powers in determining ownership of the vehicle.[5] Rodriguez and the finance company each filed a motion to confirm the award; the finance company moved pursuant to the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. § 9, and Rodriguez moved pursuant to General Statutes § 52-417. The finance company also requested that it be reimbursed $28, 245.92 for the legal fees and costs it ...


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