The state Department of Consumer Protection and the Attorney General’s Office are trying to make life easier for private sector lawyers.
State law requires anyone filing a lawsuit under the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act to send a copy to both the AG and the Consumer Protection commissioner. Until recently, that meant snail mail.
But now there’s a digital option.
Starting this month, any lawyer filing a CUTPA claim can now simply email a copy of the complaint to the following address to satisfy their requirement with both agencies: CUTPA@ct.gov.
The complaint document must be attached as a searchable PDF file, and the case caption should be included in the subject line of the email, according to state officials. Upon receipt, a copy of the submission will be forwarded directly to each agency, and an auto response email confirming receipt will be issued to the sender.
Law firms are also asked not to send general inquiries to the CUTPA email address.
“We think plaintiffs and their lawyers will have their burden eased,” said William M. Rubenstein, state Consumer Protection Commissioner. “We hope that members of the bar avail themselves of this option in order to save time and reduce costs to themselves, their clients, and the state.”
Rubenstein acknowledged that the new digital option also is a convenience for his agency as well as the Attorney General’s Office.
“We average 250 [CUTPA] complaints a year,” said Rubenstein. “They’re very labor intensive and time intensive to go through them in paper form.”
CUTPA allows anyone who believes they have been injured physically, financially or otherwise due to an unfair or deceptive trade practice to sue a company and collect damages. With a CUTPA claim, a judge can also decide to award punitive damages and attorney fees. A common CUTPA claim involves a product advertised as safe that ends up injuring someone.
Rubenstein explained there’s a reason for the agency wanting to review every lawsuit containing a CUTPA violation.
“It’s helpful for us in order to know what issues are being litigated in the private bar in case either of our agencies are interested in providing our agencies’ point of view on the law,” said Rubenstein. “We often get requests from members of the bar to either intervene or act as amicus in various matters that are pending in various lawsuits.”
Rubenstein further noted that he likes to look for trends or patterns in the kinds of complaints that are coming in. “The design of the act is to make sure the Attorney General’s Office and Department of Consumer Protection is on top of what’s going on out there that the private bar is picking up on,” said Rubenstein.
Though not wanting to divulge any details, Rubenstein said the agencies are currently investigating matters that derived from CUTPA complaints in lawsuits.
Anthony R. Minchella, of Minchella & Associates in Middlebury, who focuses on CUTPA claims, acknowledged that the new email method of sending CUTPA complaints to the state agencies would be helpful. “Yes, it’s a help because it makes it much easier to transmit the complaint,” said Minchella. “So I agree… that it will save time and reduce costs for our clients.”
Minchella said many lawyers use CUTPA as a “kitchen sink” count and toss it into a consumer-oriented lawsuit even when it may not be appropriate. However, he added, those with serious CUTPA claims shouldn’t count on Attorney General George Jepsen or Rubenstein noticing their digital filings.
“If an attorney really believes a particular case has broader CUTPA implications, one needs to pick up the phone and call the AG’s office, and not rely on submitting the complaint to get attention,” said Minchella. “That is not a product of the AG’s level of interest or competency, because the office does a great job. Rather, it’s a product of being overworked and understaffed, and also seeing thousands of cases that allege what I would call ‘fluff’ CUTPA claims.”
Rubenstein said he hasn’t received any CUTPA claims filed via email yet but the agencies were just beginning to spread the word.
“It is up and running,” said Rubenstein. “We’re just getting the word out now.”•