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A Better Way Wholesale Autos, Inc. v. Gause

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

September 11, 2018

A BETTER WAY WHOLESALE AUTOS, INC.
v.
SHANNON GAUSE

          Argued May 29, 2018

         Procedural History

         Application to vacate an arbitration award, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Waterbury, where the defendant filed a motion to confirm the award; thereafter, the matter was tried to the court, M. Taylor, J.; judgment denying the application to vacate and granting the motion to confirm, from which the plaintiff appealed to this court. Affirmed.

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

          Richard F. Wareing, withwhom was Daniel S. Blinn, for the appellee (defendant).

          DiPentima, C. J., and Moll and Harper, Js.

          OPINION

          PER CURIAM

          The plaintiff, A Better Way Wholesale Autos, Inc., appeals from the judgment of the trial court denying its application to vacate an arbitration award and granting the motion to confirm that award in favor of the defendant, Shannon Gause. The plaintiff claims that the court erred because the arbitrator's award of punitive damages constituted a manifest disregard of the law pursuant to General Statutes § 52-418 (a) (4).[1] We affirm the judgment of the court.

         The record reveals the following undisputed facts. The arbitration arose from the defendant's March 8, 2014 purchase of a 2004 Cadillac SRX automobile from the plaintiff, an automotive dealer engaged in selling used cars. After purchasing the vehicle, the defendant discovered that the plaintiff had failed to disclose that the vehicle was a manufacturer buyback.[2] Upon this discovery, the defendant requested copies of the purchase order from the plaintiff but was denied. Subsequently, the defendant was forced to spend additional money to repair the vehicle's defects.

         The defendant brought an arbitration claim against the plaintiff on May 6, 2016, alleging violations of numerous state and federal laws in connection with the sale. In his decision, the arbitrator found that the vehicle did not have a windshield sticker or any other conspicuous display disclosing the vehicle's status as a manufacturer buyback, as required by General Statutes § 42-179 (g) (1) and § 42-179-9 of the Regulations of Connecticut State Agencies. The arbitrator also found that the purchase order for the vehicle failed to clearly and conspicuously disclose the vehicle's status as a manufacturer buyback, also required by § 42-179 (g) (1) and § 42-179-9 of the Regulations of Connecticut State Agencies. On the basis of these findings, as well as identifying a Federal Trade Commission violation and other defects, the arbitrator concluded that the plaintiff had violated the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act (CUTPA), specifically General Statutes § 42-110b (c). The arbitrator awarded the defendant $1279 in compensatory damages, $5000 in punitive damages, [3] and $10, 817.02 in attorney's fees and costs, amounting to a total award of $17, 096.02.

         The plaintiff subsequently filed an application to vacate and the defendant filed a motion to confirm the award with the Superior Court. In a memorandum of decision dated December 30, 2016, the court found that the factual and legal allegations the defendant made in her arbitration submission supported the award. The court determined that the arbitrator's decision did not ‘‘represent an egregious mis performance of duty or a patently irrational application of legal principles.'' Accordingly, the court concluded that there was no manifest disregard of the law and, subsequently, granted the defendant's motion to confirm the arbitration award and denied the plaintiff's application to vacate. This appeal followed.

         Before turning to the merits of the appeal, we must first address the defendant's claim that this appeal is moot because the plaintiff failed to oppose her motion to confirm the award. We reject this argument. ‘‘It is a well-settled general rule that the existence of an actual controversy is an essential requisite to appellate jurisdiction; it is not the province of appellate courts to decide moot questions, disconnected from the granting of actual relief or from the determination of which no practical relief can follow.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Shays v. Local Grievance Committee, 197 Conn. 566, 571, 499 A.2d 1158 (1985).

         ‘‘General Statutes § 52-417 provides that in ruling on an application to confirm an arbitration award, the court or judge shall grant such an order confirming the award unless the award is vacated, modified or corrected as prescribed in [General Statutes §§ 52-418 and 52-419. . . . The trial court lacks any discretion in confirming the arbitration award, unless the award suffers from any of the defects described in . . . §§ 52-418 and 52-419.'' (Emphasis omitted; footnotes omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1588 v. Laidlaw Transit, Inc., 33 Conn.App. 1, 3-4, 632 A.2d 713 (1993); see also General Statutes §§ 52-418 and 52-419. The plaintiff commenced this special statutory proceeding by filing an application to vacate pursuant to § 52-418 prior to the defendant's filing her motion to confirm. The motion to confirm would have been denied had the application to vacate been granted. Thus, the plaintiff could obtain practical relief through a reversal of the court's decision denying the application to vacate. Accordingly, the plaintiff's claim is not moot.

         We turn to the plaintiff's claim that the arbitrator's award of punitive damages constituted a manifest disregard of the law pursuant to § 52-418 (a) (4).[4] The arbitration in this case was an unrestricted submission.[5] Of the three grounds that our Supreme Court has recognized for vacating an award based on an unrestricted submission, the plaintiff argues only that ‘‘the award contravenes one or ...


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