Jenna Krepcio v. Daniel Ray

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Superior Court of Connecticut.

Jenna Krepcio v. Daniel Ray

085008383

-- May 19, 2011

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION

Facts and Procedural History

This action arises from the alleged sexual assault of the minor plaintiff on August 22, 2006.   In her revised eight-count complaint, filed March 18, 2011, the plaintiff alleges that several defendants are liable for injuries sustained as the result of this assault.   Scott Goldman Sr., the defendant for the purposes of this decision, moves to strike the plaintiff's claim for attorneys fees and punitive damages as to the claim made against him.

The defendant filed his motion to strike and memorandum in support on March 8, 2011.   The defendant's motion is directed at the plaintiff's second amended complaint, however, the allegations against the defendant in that complaint are the same as the allegations against him in the operative March 18, 2011 complaint.   As such, the court will rely on the latter.   The plaintiff filed her memorandum in opposition to the defendant's motion on March 23, 2011.

Discussion

“[A] motion to strike challenges the legal sufficiency of a pleading, and, consequently, requires no factual findings by the trial court ․ [The court must] construe the complaint in the manner most favorable to sustaining its legal sufficiency ․ [I]f facts provable in the complaint would support a cause of action, the motion to strike must be denied.”  (Internal quotation marks omitted.)  American Progressive Life & Health Ins. Co. of New York v. Better Benefits, LLC, 292 Conn. 111, 120, 971 A.2d 17 (2009).

The plaintiff's allegations against the defendant, contained in count six of the March 18, 2011 complaint, are as follows.  “At all times mentioned herein, the plaintiff ․ was a minor female under the age of 18 ․ At all times mentioned herein, Scott Goldman was an unemancipated minor ․ On or about August 22, 2006, while the minor plaintiff was visiting the home of ․ Daniel and Heidi Ray ․ William Metzermacher did sexually assault the plaintiff who at the time of said assault was fourteen years of age, thereby causing her great injury and damages ․ Scott Goldman was present at the time of the assault and negligently failed to act to stop said assault from occurring, instead Scott Goldman observed the assault of the minor plaintiff by ․ Metzermacher ․ The injuries and damages sustained by the plaintiff were the result of the acts of ․ Metzermacher and the negligence of Scott Goldman ․ At all times mentioned herein ․ Scott Goldman Sr. and Shannon Buckley f/k/a Shannon Goldman, were the parents and/or guardians of the unemancipated minor, Scott Goldman ․ The injuries and losses sustained by the minor plaintiff ․ are, therefore, the legal responsibility of the defendant, Scott Goldman Sr, pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes § 52–572.”

In the plaintiff's prayer for relief, she seeks:  “Fair, just, and reasonable damages;  Costs;  Attorneys fees;  Such other relief as the Court may deem necessary to the ends of justice;  and Punitive damages.”   The defendant argues that pursuant to § 52–572, the plaintiff is not entitled to attorneys fees and punitive damages.   As a result, the defendant asks the court to strike these claims for relief as they pertain to the count against him.

Section 52–572(a), in pertinent part, states:  “The parent ․ of any unemancipated minor ․ which minor ․ wilfully or maliciously cause[s] ․ injury to any person ․ shall be jointly and severally liable with the minor ․ for the ․ injury to an amount not exceeding five thousand dollars, if the minor ․ would have been liable for the ․ injury if they had been adults.”  “At common law parents were not liable for the torts of their children unless they themselves were independently negligent, as where they had entrusted a dangerous instrumentality to their children or had failed to restrain their children who they knew possessed dangerous tendencies ․ [General Statutes § 52–572] creates liability where none existed at common law, and the liability is absolute, in the sense that no negligence need be shown to exist on the part of the parents.   If the child is liable ․ the parents are jointly and severally liable with him.”  (Citation omitted.)   LaBonte v. Federal Mutual Ins. Co., 159 Conn. 252, 256, 268 A.2d 663 (1970).

Fortunately for the plaintiff, “[g]rounds other than those specified should not be considered by the trial court in passing upon a motion to strike.”   (Internal quotation marks omitted.)  Gazo v. Stamford, 255 Conn. 245, 259, 765 A.2d 505 (2001).   The Supreme Court has noted:  “The applicable statutory requirement for parental liability is that the minor wilfully or maliciously causes injury to a person ․ [T]his requirement is met where a minor intentionally aids another who intentionally injures a third person.”   (Citation omitted.)  Lamb v. Peck, 183 Conn. 470, 473, 441 A.2d 14 (1981);  see also Santagata v. Woodbridge, judicial district of New Haven, Docket No. CV 96 0384914 (December 26, 1997, Zoarski, J.T.R.) (granting parent's motion to strike because plaintiffs alleged that parent was responsible for the minor's negligent conduct and as a result, failed to allege a cause of action under § 52–572).

In the present case, the plaintiff's allegations against the defendant are undeniably based upon the alleged negligence of his son, Scott Goldman.   Specifically, the plaintiff alleges that the defendant's son “was present at the time of the assault and negligently failed to act to stop said assault from occurring ․ The injuries and damages sustained by the plaintiff were the result of the acts of ․ the negligence of Scott Goldman ․ The court is, however, limited to only the ground raised by the defendants' motion:  the legal sufficiency of the plaintiff's claim for attorneys fees and punitive damages pursuant to § 52–572.”  “Practice Book ․ § 10–39, allows for a claim for relief to be stricken only if the relief sought could not be legally awarded.”  Pamela B. v. Ment, 244 Conn. 296, 325, 709 A.2d 1089 (1998).

“The general rule of law known as the American rule is that attorneys fees and ordinary expenses and burdens of litigation are not allowed to the successful party absent a contractual or statutory exception ․ This rule is generally followed throughout the country ․ Connecticut adheres to the American rule.”  (Internal quotation marks omitted.)  ACMAT Corp. v. Greater New York Mutual Ins. Co., 282 Conn. 576, 582, 923 A.2d 697 (2007).   Furthermore, “[a]n award of multiple damages ․ is an extraordinary remedy that is available only when the legislature expressly provides for such damages by statute ․ Accordingly, as with attorneys fees, we require explicit statutory language to support an award of punitive damages.   Put simply, just as the legislature knows how to authorize an award of attorneys fees when it wishes to do so ․ it also knows how to authorize an award of punitive damages.”  (Citations omitted.)  Ames v. Commissioner of Motor Vehicles, 267 Conn. 524, 536, 839 A.2d 1250 (2004).

Section 52–572 does not allow for attorneys fees or punitive damages and in fact, expressly caps damages “to an amount not exceeding five thousand dollars.”   As a result, these items should be stricken from the plaintiff's prayer for relief as they pertain to count six.

Conclusion

For all of the foregoing reasons, the defendant's motion to strike the plaintiff's prayer for attorneys fees and punitive damages as to count six, which alleges liability pursuant to § 52–572, is hereby granted.

Martin, J.

Martin, Robert A., J.

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