AARON MANOR, INC. v. JANET A. IRVING, SC 18788

Judicial District of Middlesex

 

Attorney's Fees; Whether Defendant was a "Consumer" who was Entitled to an Award of Attorney's Fees Pursuant to General Statutes 42-150bb. In 2002, the defendant's father was admitted to the plaintiff's skilled nursing care facility, at which time the defendant signed a "Patient/Resident Admissions Agreement" and other documents as the "responsible party" for her father. After the defendant's father passed away, the plaintiff brought this action, alleging that the defendant had failed to pay for services rendered in accordance with the admissions agreement. The trial court found in favor of the defendant, and the defendant subsequently filed a motion for attorney's fees pursuant to General Statutes 42-150bb, which provides in part that "[w]henever any contract or lease . . . to which a consumer is a party, provides for the attorney's fee of the commercial party to be paid by the consumer, an attorney's fee shall be awarded as a matter of law to the consumer who successfully prosecutes or defends an action or a counterclaim based upon the contract or lease." The trial court granted the defendant's motion and awarded her attorney's fees in the amount of $36,000. On appeal, the plaintiff argued, among other things, that the defendant was not entitled to an award of attorney's fees because she was not a "consumer" within the meaning of 42-150bb. The Appellate Court (126 Conn. App. 646) agreed, noting that 42-150bb defines "consumer" as "the buyer, debtor, lessee or personal representative of any of them." The court rejected the defendant's claim that she was a "consumer" because she was the "personal representative" of her father, who was the "buyer" of the plaintiff's services. In doing so, it noted that, although 42-150bb does not define the term "personal representative," other statutes and certain dictionaries define that term as a person who manages the legal affairs of another because of incapacity or death, such as a conservator or an executor. The court determined that the defendant did not fall within that definition, emphasizing that she never held her father's power of attorney, never was appointed as conservatrix of his person or estate and never was named as executrix or administratrix of his estate. The court added that although the defendant had signed the admissions agreement as the "responsible party," the terms "responsible party" and "personal representative" are not synonymous. It also concluded that it would be inappropriate to expand the definition of "personal representative" to include "responsible party" given that 42-150bb is in derogation of the common law and therefore should be strictly construed and that the award of attorney's fees under 42-150bb is mandatory. Based upon the foregoing, the Appellate Court reversed the trial court's judgment as to the award of attorney's fees. In this appeal, the Supreme Court will determine whether the Appellate Court's decision was correct.