Top 10 Supreme Court Decisions of 2019
“Top” is a word of some ambiguity. One definition is the size of the newspaper headline the day after the decision came out. On that basis, Soto v. Bushmaster Firearms International, LLC, 331 Conn. 53, clearly is the #1 case of the year because it was front-page news in the New York Times. A 4-3 majority held that a lawsuit against the manufacturer of the firearm used in the Sandy Hook massacre survived a motion to dismiss based on a federal immunity statute. The significance of Soto for a more-run-of the-mill litigator, however, is the expansive interpretation of Connecticut Consumer Protection Law (CUTPA) for commercial advertising.
A second headline producing case is Henning v. Commissioner of Correction, 334 Conn. 1, holding that the prosecutor has a duty to disclose false evidence even if the witness has no intent to lie. This is an important issue, but that is not why Henning made the headlines. It did so because the mistaken witness was the renowned Dr. Henry Lee.
A third such case is Feehan v. Marcone, 331 Conn. 436, holding that under the Connecticut Constitution, the House of Representatives has exclusive jurisdiction to decide any challenges to the state election results.
A fourth such case is Karas v. Liberty Ins. Co. (not yet officially reported), holding that coverage under most property policies is excluded for the crumbling foundation claims of homeowners in Eastern Connecticut unless the home is in imminent danger of falling down.
Finally, a fifth headline producing case is Bilbao v. Goodwin, 333 Conn. 599, holding that a contract to discard pre-embryos if the parties are later divorced was enforceable. This office represented the plaintiff.
For the general litigator in Connecticut, another definition of “top” is the intrinsic importance of the issue for other cases. I have 5 cases in that category.
For torts, the case of most general significance is Ventura v. East Haven, 330 Conn. 613, holding that whether an act is ministerial is an issue of law. For criminal law, (and perhaps for civil law as well), the case of most general significance is State v. Holmes, 334 Conn. 202, where the Supreme Court showed great concern that peremptory challenges can be issued for discriminatory reasons. The Court appointed a task force to address the issue.
For mortgage foreclosures, the case of general interest was U.S. Bank National Association v. Blowers, 332 Conn 656, holding that a bank’s wrongful conduct that increased the indebtedness is a proper basis for a special defense or counterclaim. In corporate law, the most important case is McKay v. Longman, 332 Conn. 394, approving the doctrine of reverse piercing of the corporate veil in certain cases.
Finally, case #10 is about an important issue in appellate procedure. Riley v. Travelers Home and Marine Ins. Co., 333 Conn. 60, holds that, if a defendant presents evidence after the court reserves decision on a motion for directed verdict at the end of the plaintiff’s case, the defendant waives the right to claim on appeal that the evidence the defendant presented should not be considered in later deciding the motion.