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Emeritus Senior Living v. Lepore

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

June 26, 2018

EMERITUS SENIOR LIVING
v.
DENISE LEPORE

          Argued February 13, 2018

         Procedural History

         Action to recover unpaid rent, and for other relief, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of New Haven, Housing Session, where the court, Aval-lone, J., denied the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment; thereafter, following a hearing, the court rendered judgment for the defendant; subsequently, the court denied the plaintiff's motion to reargue, and the plaintiff appealed to this court. Reversed; further proceedings.

          K. Scott Griggs, with whom, onthe brief, was Gerardo Schiano, for the appellant (plaintiff).

          Sheldon, Keller and Elgo, Js.

          OPINION

          KELLER, J.

         The plaintiff, Emeritus Senior Living a/ k/a Brookdale Woodbridge, [1] appeals from the judgment of the trial court in favor of the defendant, Denise Lepore, in this action filed by the plaintiff to collect the unpaid balance due for assisted living services it had provided to the defendant's now deceased mother, Louise Rolla. The plaintiff claims that the court erred by finding that the residency agreement, to the extent it holds the defendant personally liable, as Rolla's representative, for unpaid amounts owed by Rolla to the plaintiff, is void and unenforceable because it is (1) unconscionable and (2) against public policy.[2] We agree and, accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the trial court.[3]

         The following factual allegations and procedural history are relevant to this appeal. The plaintiff operates an assisted living facility in Woodbridge. On December 21, 2014, the defendant executed a residency agreement (agreement) with the plaintiff for the residence and care of her mother, Rolla.[4] The defendant signed the agreement on behalf of her mother as a representative and with power of attorney for her mother. The agreement provides in relevant part: ‘‘If this agreement is signed by a representative on your behalf, you and the representative shall be jointly and severally obligated to the community for payment of any fees or costs owing by you pursuant to this agreement. The community reserves the right to charge you, or your representative if not paid by you, for such fees and costs. If we take action to collect past due fees and costs, you and your representative will be liable for our costs of collection, including but not limited to the cost of demand letters, attorneys fees and court costs.''

         Initially, the defendant made regular payments to the plaintiff for her mother's care and residence. After March 11, 2016, however, the defendant stopped making payments to the plaintiff. In response, the plaintiff served Rolla and the defendant, in her capacity as Rolla's representative, with a notice to quit possession for nonpayment of rent on July 28, 2016. The plaintiff commenced an eviction summary process action against Rolla and the defendant on August 8, 2016, in the New Haven Superior Court, Housing Session. Rolla and the defendant did not appear in that action or file responsive pleadings therein. On August 31, 2016, the court rendered a judgment of possession for the plaintiff and on September 8, 2016, the court issued an execution to enforce that judgment. The plaintiff, however, did not execute on its right to possession because Rolla suffered from severe dementia and the plaintiff lacked the authority to place her in a different facility. As the defendant had power of attorney, she was the person with the authority to move her mother to a different facility. The plaintiff attempted to contact the defendant to discuss Rolla's relocation, but the defendant did not respond.

         On October 24, 2016, the plaintiff filed a complaint in the present action, seeking to recover ‘‘all sums payable and due'' under the residency agreement, which the plaintiff claimed to amount to $47, 310.02 at the time. The defendant, appearing without counsel, filed an answer on November 15, 2016, in which she referred to purported defects in the service of process. On December 9, 2016, the plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment as to liability, arguing that there was no genuine issue of material fact as to whether the defendant must pay all unpaid sums owed for the residence and care services provided to her mother. The defendant did not file a memorandum in opposition to the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment or a counter motion for summary judgment in her favor.

         The court, Avallone, J., held a hearing on the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment on January 17, 2017. At the hearing, the court denied the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and, sua sponte, rendered judgment for the defendant, finding that the agreement was unenforceable because it was unconscionable and against public policy. The court, ruling from the bench, stated in relevant part: ‘‘I find it unconscionable to accept [the plaintiff's] position that you have . . . a multipage complicated agreement which starts off naming who the parties are, and then in one paragraph entitled payment, your client establishes joint and several liability on [the defendant]. And I'm telling you I find that unconscionable. I find it against the public policy of the state of Connecticut that it isn't delineated specifically that the representative . . . is paying for this. This is the only paragraph in which . . . financial responsibility falls on the representative.'' The court reiterated: ‘‘This [agreement is] against public policy of the state of Connecticut. It is unconscionable that this language is intended to hold this person responsible.'' On January 27, 2017, the plaintiff filed a motion to reargue and to open or set aside the judgment, which the court denied on January 30, 2017. This appeal followed.

         I

         The plaintiff claims that the court erred in finding that the residency agreement is unenforceable due to unconscionability.

         We first set forth our standard of review of a claim that a contract is unenforceable due to unconscionability. ‘‘The question of unconscionability is a matter of law to be decided by the court based on all the facts and circumstances of the case. . . . Thus, our review on appeal is unlimited by the clearly erroneous standard. . . . This means that the ultimate determination of whether a transaction is unconscionable is a question of law, not a question of fact, and that the trial court's determination on that issue is subject to a plenary review on appeal. . . . The determination of unconscionability is to be made on a case-by-case basis, taking into account all of the ...


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