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Stone v. East Coast Swappers, LLC

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

July 2, 2019


          Argued January 31, 2019

         Procedural History

         Action to recover damages for, inter alia, a violation of the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act, and for other relief, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Hartford, where the court, Huddleston, J., granted in part the defendant's motion to strike; thereafter, the matter was tried to the court, Noble, J.; judgment for the plaintiff, from which the plaintiff appealed to this court; subsequently, the court, Noble, J., issued an articulation of its decision. Affirmed.

          William J. O'Sullivan, with whom was Michelle M. Seery, for the appellant (plaintiff).

          Juri E. Taalman, with whom, on the brief, was Joseph R. Serrantino, for the appellee (defendant).

          Alvord, Bright and Norcott, Js.


          ALVORD, J.

         The plaintiff, Thomas G. Stone III, appeals from the judgment of the trial court, rendered after a trial to the court, finding that the defendant, East Coast Swappers, LLC, had violated the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act (CUTPA), General Statutes § 42-110a et seq., and awarding the plaintiff compensatory damages, but declining to award punitive damages and attorney's fees. On appeal, the plaintiff claims that the court erred when it failed to award him attorney's fees. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The following facts, as found by the trial court, and procedural history are relevant to our resolution of this appeal. Patrick Keithan, at the time, the plaintiff's son-in-law, purchased a 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution in February, 2010, from a dealership in Savannah, Georgia. Keithan was in the military service and stationed in Georgia. He financed the purchase of the car, in part, through a loan from Wachovia Dealer Services, Inc., [1]in the amount of approximately $24, 362.49.

         Shortly thereafter, the car's engine experienced performance issues, for reasons not disclosed at trial. Keithan towed the car from Georgia to Windsor Locks, Connecticut, where the defendant, a motor vehicle repair shop, was located. The defendant first replaced the car's turbocharger for $2000, which Keithan paid for by credit card. Following the replacement of the turbocharger, the engine still was found to be inoperable. Keithan returned to Georgia to fulfill his military service obligations and left the car with the defendant.

         Keithan ultimately decided that he wanted the defendant to install a Buschur Racing short block.[2] Paul Scott, a co-owner of the defendant, drafted an estimate for this work, which he forwarded to Keithan. The estimate, dated August 17, 2010, referenced the purchase of the Buschur Racing short block and its installation, and estimated a cost of $9028.89.

         The plaintiff loaned Keithan $9000 to pay the defendant. The plaintiff's wife prepared a promissory note for the loan, which contemplated the title and car being held by the plaintiff while the note remained unpaid. The note, dated September 14, 2010, was executed by Keithan and his wife, the plaintiff's daughter. Keithan's wife then forwarded a check to the defendant in the amount of $9028.89.

         On October 11, 2010, the defendant shipped the car's engine to Buschur Racing, which performed the requested work on the engine and returned the modified engine to the defendant. The modified engine, however, was never installed in the car.[3] As Scott started to prepare the modified engine for installation, his foreman came to him with an additional parts request to discuss with Keithan. These were components that the foreman had learned were damaged as he took the original engine apart to prepare it for transmittal to Buschur Racing. When this request was communicated to Keithan, [4] he did not want to pay the extra money. The car continued to remain in the defendant's possession.

         Keithan never repaid the plaintiff any portion of the loan. The plaintiff first attempted to obtain title to the car to identify him as a second position lienholder by filing a title application with the Motor Vehicle Division of the Georgia Department of Revenue.[5] In February and April, 2011, the plaintiff traveled from Maryland, where he resided, to the defendant's location in Connecticut. Scott refused to allow the plaintiff to look at the car or the modified engine. On September 1, 2011, Victoria L. Abalan, a co-owner of the defendant, sent a letter to Keithan, in which she indicated that she had been contacted by the plaintiff and had received a copy of the plaintiff's title application. The letter from Abalan to Keithan referenced the sum of $14, 151.71 being owed to the defendant, which represented the costs of additional shipping, engine parts, [6] and storage over the previous year.

         The plaintiff filed an action against Keithan in Maryland and obtained a judgment in the amount of $10, 348. This judgment permitted him to eventually secure a lien on the car subsequent in right to that of Wells Fargo Auto Finance (Wells Fargo). See footnote 1 of this opinion. The lien was reflected in a certificate of title, dated June 29, 2012, which was issued by the Georgia Department of Revenue.

         On July 13, 2012, the defendant filed a ‘‘Notice of Intent to Sell'' or an ‘‘Artificer's Lien''[7] with the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles, which claimed a lien of $1792. In December, 2012, the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles issued to the defendant a form H-76, an ‘‘Affidavit of Compliance and Ownership Transfer, '' for use in providing valid title to a purchaser for a vehicle subject to an artificer's lien.

         In December, 2012, extensive communications took place between the plaintiff, the plaintiff's wife, and the defendant's owners, regarding the plaintiff obtaining the car in satisfaction of his lien. During these communications, the plaintiff informed the defendant that he had secured status as a second position lienholder on the Georgia ...

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