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LLC v. Rinaldi

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

July 24, 2018

HILARIO'S TRUCK CENTER, LLC
v.
LAURA RINALDI ET AL.

          Argued April 10, 2018

         Procedural History

         Action to recover damages for, inter alia, breach of contract, and for other relief, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Danbury, where the court, Truglia, J., granted the motion to dismiss filed by the defendant Nationwide Insurance Company, and rendered judgment thereon, and the plaintiff appealed to this court. Affirmed.

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

          Rene G. Martineau filed a brief for the appellee (defendant Nationwide Insurance Company).

          Sheldon, Keller and Prescott, Js.

          OPINION

          PRESCOTT, J.

         The principal issue in this appeal is whether a company that provided automobile towing services to an insured motorist has standing as a third-party beneficiary to bring a direct breach of contract action against the insurance company that provided automobile liability coverage to the insured. We conclude, under the circumstances of this case, that the company is not an intended third-party beneficiary of the insurance contract and therefore lacks standing to bring a direct action against the insurer.

         The plaintiff, Hilario's Truck Center, LLC, appeals from the judgment of the trial court granting the motion to dismiss filed by the defendant, Nationwide Insurance Company (Nationwide), as to counts one and three of the complaint. Those counts alleged breach of contract on the basis of Nationwide's refusal to pay for towing services provided to the defendant Laura Rinaldi.[1] The plaintiff claims on appeal that the court improperly granted Nationwide's motion to dismiss because the plaintiff is a third-party beneficiary to the insurance contract between Nationwide and Rinaldi and therefore has standing to bring claims directly against Nationwide for breach of contract.[2]

         The following facts and procedural history, as recited by the trial court in its memorandum of decision, are relevant to the resolution of this appeal. On March 17, 2015, Rinaldi was involved in a motor vehicle accident on Route 34 in Newtown. Rinaldi's vehicle left the roadway, traveled over a rock wall, rolled over, and landed in a wooded area some distance from the road. Newtown Police responded to the scene and, shortly thereafter, requested the plaintiff's services to recover and tow Rinaldi's vehicle. Removal of the vehicle required a heavy duty wrecker and a flatbed truck. The plaintiff provided these services, as well as ‘‘a crush wrap to protect the vehicle'' while it was towed from the accident scene. The plaintiff submitted invoices for its towing services to Nationwide. At the time the court issued its decision, neither defendant had paid the plaintiff for its services, and Rinaldi's vehicle was stored on the plaintiff's property.

         The plaintiff commenced the underlying action against the defendants to recover for the towing and vehicle recovery expenses that it incurred as a result of Rinaldi's motor vehicle accident. The plaintiff brought a three count complaint. The first count alleges breach of an implied contract against both defendants.[3] Specifically, the plaintiff alleges that ‘‘[t]he law implies a contractual obligation to pay the cost of services rendered on the automobile owner, '' and that the defendants breached this implied contract by refusing to pay the plaintiff for its services.

         The second count sounds in unjust enrichment against Rinaldi. It alleges that Rinaldi ‘‘received the benefit of having the vehicle removed from the scene and towed to the plaintiff's storage facility'' and continues ‘‘to enjoy the benefit of the plaintiff's recovery, towing and storage services for [her] vehicle despite not paying the plaintiff just compensation for [its] services, to the plaintiff's detriment.''

         The third count alleges breach of contract against Nationwide on the theory that Nationwide is liable for money damages to the plaintiff because it is a third-party beneficiary of Rinaldi's insurance contract with Nationwide. The third count incorporates by reference the allegations of the first two counts and further alleges that, despite being properly notified of the plaintiff's claims for services provided to Rinaldi, Nationwide wrongfully has refused to pay the plaintiff's invoice for those services.

         In response to the complaint, Nationwide filed a motion to dismiss on the basis that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because the plaintiff did not have standing to bring claims directly against it. In its memorandum in support of the motion to dismiss, Nationwide claimed that the plaintiff lacked standing because it is not a party to the insurance contract between Nationwide and Rinaldi and neither party intended to assume a direct obligation to the plaintiff.[4]Additionally, Nationwide argued that the contract at issue excludes coverage for towing expenses, and, therefore, even if the plaintiff had standing to bring an action pursuant to the contract, Nationwide is not liable for the cost of the towing services rendered by the plaintiff.

         The plaintiff filed an objection to the motion and a memorandum in support of the objection. Following oral argument on the motion, the court, Truglia, J., granted the motion to dismiss in a written memorandum of decision. In that decision, the court concluded that the plaintiff was not a third-party beneficiary to the contract and, therefore, did not have standing to sue Nationwide for breach of the insurance contract. This appeal followed.

         The plaintiff claims on appeal that the trial court improperly granted Nationwide's motion to dismiss because the plaintiff is a third-party beneficiary to the insurance contract between the defendants and, therefore, ...


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