Alert08.30.2019

A Superior Court Judge Applies Soto v. Bushmaster Firearms International, LLC, 331 Conn. 53, 202 A.3d 262 (2019), to Conclude that the Absence of a Commercial Relationship did not Preclude a CUTPA Claim

A Judge of the Connecticut Superior Court has concluded that, under the doctrine of Soto v. Bushmaster Firearms International, LLC, 331 Conn. 53, 88-100, 202 A.3d 262 (2019), the absence of a commercial relationship between two neighbors did not preclude a CUTPA claim concerning a property dispute, although the Court did go on to strike the CUTPA claim for failure to allege conduct in trade or commerce under the primary line of business test. 

In Caesar, LLC v. Cassarino, Superior Court, judicial district of Tolland at Rockville, Docket No. TTD-CV18-5010735-S, 2019 WL 4015668 (2019), the Plaintiff sued for adverse possession claiming entitlement to approximately 3,400 square feet of the Defendant’s land. The Defendant filed a counterclaim alleging that the Plaintiff had run a home renovation business and had been storing its vehicles and equipment on the property despite the Plaintiff’s protests. The Plaintiff claimed that this was conduct in trade or commerce and therefore constituted a violation of the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act, General Statutes §42-110b, et seq. The Defendant moved to strike the counterclaim, arguing that there was no commercial relationship between the parties and, in any event, that the allegedly offending conduct was not in the primary line of its business. 

Citing Soto, supra, 331 Conn. at 88-100, Judge Farley of the Superior Court made quick work of the commercial relationship argument, noting that under Soto there no longer is a requirement of a commercial relationship between the parties to a potential CUTPA claim. However, Judge Farley went on to strike the claim on other grounds, noting that parking vehicles and equipment on the Plaintiff’s property was incidental to the Defendant’s business and, therefore, not in the primary line of the Defendant’s business. Accordingly, Judge Farley concluded that the allegedly offensive conduct was not the type of conduct “in trade and commerce” that is covered by CUTPA. 

The decision appears to be the first application of the elimination of the commercial relationship test under Soto, suggesting that lower courts are taking notice of the effect of that decision.   Notably, the action would have failed for failure to identify a commercial relationship if it had been brought prior to Soto

At the same time, the trial court’s election to strike the CUTPA claim on other grounds shows a continuing understanding on the part of the trial court that not all conduct should be actionable under CUTPA, even if the conduct is tangentially related to conduct in trade or commerce. This suggests that trial courts may begin to turn to the primary line of business test as a means for rejecting CUTPA claims where, previously, they relied upon the absence of a commercial relationship to do so.

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