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Meribear Productions, Inc. v. Frank

Supreme Court of Connecticut

May 15, 2018

MERIBEAR PRODUCTIONS, INC.
v.
JOAN E. FRANK ET AL.

          Argued Date: November 13, 2017

         Procedural History

         Action to, inter alia, enforce a foreign default judgment rendered against the defendants in California, and for other relief, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Fairfield, where the defendants filed an answer and special defense alleging that the judgment was not enforceable due to lack of personal jurisdiction by the California court; thereafter, the matter was tried to the court, Tyma, J.; judgment for the plaintiff, from which the defendants appealed to the Appellate Court, Gruendel, Alvord and Pellegrino, Js., which affirmed the trial court's judgment, and the defendants, on the granting of certification, appealed to this court. Reversed; judgment directed.

          Michael S. Taylor, with whom were James P. Sexton, and, on the brief, Matthew C. Eagan, for the appellants (defendants).

          Anthony J. LaBella, with whom, on the brief, was Deborah M. Garskof, for the appellee (plaintiff).

          Palmer, McDonald, D'Auria, Mullins and Kahn, Js. [*]

          OPINION

          McDONALD, J.

         A threshold jurisdictional issue in this case requires us to clarify the circumstances under which there can be an appealable final judgment when the trial court's decision does not dispose of counts advancing alternative theories of relief. The plaintiff, Meribear Productions, Inc., brought an action against the defendants, Joan E. Frank and George A. Frank, for common-law enforcement of a foreign default judgment, breach of contract and quantum meruit. Judgment was rendered in favor of the plaintiff against each of the defendants under different counts of the complaint. The Appellate Court affirmed the judgment on the merits, and this court thereafter granted the defendants' petition for certification to appeal from that judgment. Upon further review, it is apparent that the judgment was not final as to George Frank, and, therefore, the Appellate Court lacked jurisdiction over the defendants' joint appeal.

         The following facts were found by the trial court or are otherwise reflected in the record. The defendants, who are husband and wife, decided to sell their West-port home. They hired the plaintiff, a home staging services provider, to provide design and decorating services, which included the staging of home furnishings owned by the plaintiff, to make the residence more attractive to potential buyers. The plaintiff is a California corporation with its principal place of business located in Los Angeles. The staging agreement was signed only by Joan Frank, the owner of the property. George Frank signed an addendum to the agreement, which authorized the plaintiff to charge his credit card for the initial staging fee, which included the first four months of rental charges, and indicated his personal guarantee to the plaintiff, but he crossed out the phrase "any obligations that may become due."

         More than four months after the furnishings were delivered and staged in the defendants' home, the defendants defaulted on their payment obligations and failed to cooperate with the plaintiff's attempts to repossess the furnishings. The plaintiff filed an action against the defendants in a California Superior Court. The defendants did not appear or defend. The California court entered a default judgment against the defendants in the amount of $259, 746.10, which included prejudgment interest and attorney's fees.[1]

         Approximately one month later, the plaintiff commenced the present action in Connecticut seeking to hold the defendants jointly and severally liable under the foreign default judgment and to recover additional attorney's fees, costs, and postjudgment interest. In response to the defendants' assertion of a special defense that the judgment was void because the California court lacked personal jurisdiction over them, the plaintiff amended the complaint to add two counts seeking recovery against both defendants under theories of breach of contract and quantum meruit. Prior to trial, a prejudgment attachment in the amount of $259, 764.10, together with 10 percent postjudgment interest, pursuant to provisions of the California Code of Civil Procedure, was entered against the Westport real property owned by Joan Frank.

         In a trial to the court, the plaintiff litigated all three claims. In its posttrial brief, the plaintiff requested that the court give full faith and credit to the California judgment, plus postjudgment interest; "[i]n the alternative, " find that the defendants had breached the contract and award damages in the same amount awarded in the California judgment, plus interest, fees and costs; and, "[f]inally, in the event [that] neither request is . . . granted, " render judgment in the plaintiff's favor on the quantum meruit count in the same amount.

         The court issued a memorandum of decision finding in favor of the plaintiff on count one against George Frank and on count two against Joan Frank. The court acknowledged at the outset that the three count complaint was for "common-law enforcement of a foreign default judgment, and alternatively, for breach of contract and quantum meruit." Turning first to count one, the trial court determined that, as a result of the manner in which process was served, the California court lacked personal jurisdiction over Joan Frank but had jurisdiction over George Frank. In rejecting George Frank's argument that the exercise of jurisdiction did not comply with the dictates of due process, the court cited his admission "that he signed a guarantee of the staging agreement . . . that provides that Los Angeles is the appropriate forum." Consequently, the court stated that it would render judgment on count one for Joan Frank and against George Frank.

         In resolving the remaining counts, the court made no further reference to George Frank. As to count two, the court concluded that Joan Frank had breached the contract, that she could not prevail on her special defenses to enforcement of the contract, and that judgment would be rendered for the plaintiff and against Joan Frank. As to count three, the court cited case law explaining that parties routinely plead alternative counts of breach of contract and quantum meruit, but that they are only entitled to a single measure of damages. The court concluded: "The ...


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