Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of New Haven
May 10, 2022, Decided
DOCKET NO.: CV 20-6109798
2022 Conn. Super. LEXIS 547 *; 2022 WL 1487530
ERIN DAVIS v. CHRISTINE ADEOYE, ET AL.
Notice: THIS DECISION IS UNREPORTED AND MAY BE SUBJECT TO FURTHER APPELLATE REVIEW. COUNSEL IS CAUTIONED TO MAKE AN INDEPENDENT DETERMINATION OF THE STATUS OF THIS CASE.
special defense, allegations, pleaded, quotation, marks, motion to strike, vicarious, renting
Judges: [*1] James W. Abrams, Judge.
Opinion by: James W. Abrams
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION RE: PLAINTIFF’S MOTION TO STRIKE # 121
The plaintiff, Erin Davis, filed her original complaint on December 4, 2020, alleging negligence against the defendant, Christine Adeoye, arising from a car accident. On May 9, 2021, pursuant to Practice Book § 9-22, the plaintiff properly amended her complaint to cite ELRAC, LLC (ELRAC) as an additional party.1 In the amended complaint, the plaintiff seeks vicarious liability against ELRAC for the accident under a theory of vicarious agency liability. The plaintiff relies on the rebuttable presumption under General Statutes § 52-183 to allege that Adeoye was ELRAC’s agent or servant and was acting within the course of her employment during the accident. In response, ELRAC filed an answer asserting the Graves Amendment, 49 U.S.C. § 30106 as a special defense. The sole allegation ELRAC pleaded to support its special defense was: “[a] rental car owner or affiliate cannot be held vicariously liable for harm to persons or property that arises out of the use, operation or possession of a rented motor vehicle during the period of the rental. Title 49 U.S.C. § 30106 (a).” The plaintiff seeks to strike ELRAC’S special defense by motion dated December 23, 2021 and ELRAC filed its [*2] memorandum in opposition dated January 24, 2022. The court heard oral argument on March 31, 2022. “A motion to strike shall be used whenever any party wishes to contest . . . the legal sufficiency of the allegations of any . . . counterclaim . . . .” Practice Book § 10-39 (a) (1). “A counterclaim [is] . . . a cause of action existing in favor of a defendant against a plaintiff which a defendant pleads to diminish, defeat or otherwise affect a plaintiff’s claim . . . .” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Historic District Commission v. Sciame, 152 Conn. App. 161, 176, 99 A.3d 207, cert. denied, 314 Conn. 933, 102 A.3d 84 (2014). “Generally speaking, facts must be pleaded as a special defense when they are consistent with the allegations of the complaint but demonstrate, nonetheless, that the plaintiff has no cause of action. . . . The fundamental purpose of a special defense, like other pleadings, is to apprise the court and opposing counsel of the issues to be tried, so that basic issues are not concealed until the trial is underway.” (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Almada v. Wausau Business Ins. Co., 274 Conn. 449, 456, 876 A.2d 535 (2005).
The plaintiff argues that ELRAC’s special defense is inadequate because it does not allege facts sufficient to overcome the rebuttable presumption that Adeoye was ELRAC’s servant or agent acting within the scope of employment at the [*3] time of the accident. Furthermore, the plaintiff argues that ELRAC fails to allege facts sufficient to sustain a Graves Amendment special defense. ELRAC argues that paraphrasing the Graves Amendment makes its application to the present case “necessarily implied and fairly provable under the allegations.” D. Mem. Opp’n, 3, quoting Forbes v. Ballaro, 31 Conn. App. 235, 239, 624 A.2d 389 (1993). ELRAC concludes that its sole allegation paraphrasing the Graves Amendment allows the court to “infer that ELRAC . . . is engaged in the business of renting cars and will establish that the collision occurred during the period of a rental to the defendant operator as set forth in the pleading under challenge.” D. Mem. Opp’n, 3.
The Graves Amendment preempts state law vicarious liability, in relevant part, “for harm to . . . property that results or arises out of the use, operation, or possession of the vehicle during the period of the rental or lease, if—(1) the owner (or an affiliate of the owner) is engaged in the trade or business of renting or leasing motor vehicles; and (2) there is no negligence or criminal wrongdoing on the part of the owner (or an affiliate of the owner).” 49 U.S.C. § 30106 (a). In dicta, the Connecticut Supreme Court implied that a plaintiff’s failure [*4] to allege negligence or a criminal violation when asserting a vicarious cause of action against a vehicle lessor is enough to satisfy 49 U.S.C. § 30106 (a) (2) without affirmative allegations. See Tannone v. Amica Mutual Ins. Co., 329 Conn. 665, 679 n.5, 189 A.3d 99 (2018). Because the plaintiff fails to allege ELRAC’s negligence or criminal wrongdoing, only the elements in 49 U.S.C. § 30106 (a) (1) are in dispute on this motion.
“Each pleading shall contain a plain and concise statement of the material facts on which the pleader relies . . . .” Practice Book § 10-1. “A material fact has been defined adequately and simply as a fact which will make a difference in the result of the case.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Buell Industries, Inc. v. Greater New York Mutual Ins. Co., 259 Conn. 527, 556, 791 A.2d 489 (2002).2 A fact, inter alia, is “an event or circumstance”. Black’s Law Dictionary (5th Ed. 1983). “A motion to strike is properly granted if the complaint alleges mere conclusions of law that are unsupported by the facts alleged.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Santorso v. Bristol Hospital, 308 Conn. 338, 349, 63 A.3d 940 (2013). “[T]he total absence of any factual allegations specific to the dispute renders [the special defense] legally insufficient.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Smith v. Jackson, Superior Court, judicial district of Waterbury, Docket No. CV-14-6024411-S (August 21, 2015, Roraback, J.) (60 Conn. L. Rptr. 864, 865, 2015 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2191, *3).
The defendant’s [*5] Graves Amendment pleading lacks any factual allegations. The special defense contains no description of the “event or circumstance” that would “make a difference” in determining whether ELRAC “is engaged in the trade or business of renting or leasing motor vehicles.” Black’s Law Dictionary, supra; Buell Industries, Inc. v. Greater New York Mutual Ins. Co., supra, 259 Conn. 556; 49 U.S.C. § 30106. It contains only a statement of the law that the defendant seeks to raise as a special defense. Mere statements of law are inadequate because such pleadings do not “provide sufficient notice of the facts claimed and the issues to be tried . . . .” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) J.D.C. Enterprises, Inc. v. Sarjac Partners, LLC, 164 Conn. App. 508, 512, 137 A.3d 894, cert. denied, 321 Conn. 913, 136 A.3d 1274 (2016).
ELRAC argues that the court should infer from its citation to 49 U.S.C. § 30106 that there exists some set of facts that, if true, would indicate that ELRAC is engaged in the trade or business of renting or leasing motor vehicles. Practice Book § 10-1 makes clear that allegations consist of facts, not statements of legal issues that parties intend to assert later in litigation. At oral argument, ELRAC also argued that requiring factual allegations to establish a Graves Amendment defense is tantamount to a summary judgment standard “because [ELRAC would be] obligated to plead the statute has application here and prevents the [plaintiff’s] [*6] claim.” It is correct that fact pleading requires ELRAC to state facts that, if true, would show the statute has application here. However, that is not a summary judgment standard because it does not require the defendant to actually produce any evidence consistent with the facts it pleads to survive a motion to strike. See GMAC Mortgage, LLC v. Ford, 144 Conn. App. 165, 178, 73 A.3d 742 (2013) (“in order to successfully oppose a motion for summary judgment by raising an issue of material fact, the opposing party cannot rely solely on allegations that contradict those offered by the moving party . . . .”)
Because ELRAC has not pleaded any facts in its special defense that, if true, would entitle it to a Graves Amendment defense, the plaintiff’s motion to strike is hereby granted.
Juris No. 427017
James W. Abrams, Judge
End of Document
1 During the pendency of this motion, the plaintiff amended her complaint to include claims against another party not relevant to the analysis of her ELRAC claim. The operative complaint in this case is now the complaint filed March 1, 2022. The operative complaint contains allegations identical to those against ELRAC in the May 9, 2021 complaint and thus does not change the analysis on this motion to strike.
2 Although Buell was defining “material fact” in the context of summary judgment, there is no reason to think Practice Book § 10-1 intended a different definition. Other trial courts have used this substantive definition of “material fact” when evaluating the sufficiency of pleadings. See, e.g., Talbot v. Kirkwood, Superior Court, judicial district of Litchfield, Docket No. CV-03-0091504-S, 2004 Conn. Super. LEXIS 1219 (May 4, 2004, Bryant, J.) (deciding whether an allegation was a “material fact that is dispositive of the plaintiff’s claims.”)