The Connecticut Supreme Court will hear a variety of cases in its third session on matters ranging from negligence and breach of contract to free speech and negligent entrustment.
Among other items, the justices will hear a disputed $4.25 million medical malpractice verdict. They will also hear criminal rights cases and one case in which a homeowner is seeking to display signs critical of a contractor.
As it gets ready to tackle and hear new cases, the court will have several new faces. Gov. Dannel Malloy recently nominated Appellate Judges Maria Kahn and Raheem Mullins to replace Justices Dennis Eveleigh and Carmen Espinosa, respectively. The two justices stepped down recently; Eveleigh reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 and Espinosa took senior status. The Connecticut General Assembly has yet to approve Malloy’s picks, leaving the court in need of a rotating cast of Appellate Court judges to fill slots until the full court is seated.
The state’s high court will hear 17 cases from Nov. 6 through Nov. 17. Arguably, the case that is getting the most attention stems from a lawsuit pitting Sandy Hook families against the makers of AR-15 rifles, like the one used in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. The case will be heard en banc Nov. 14, with one of the main arguments boiling down to negligent entrustment. The families claim gun manufacturers knew their product was dangerous, but showed negligence in selling it anyway.
Here is a preview of three other cases of note the high court will hear beginning next month:
State v. Taupier, 11 a.m., Nov. 6
The key issue in the case deals with free speech and whether a defendant must have specific intent to communicate a threat. In this case, the justices will look at whether a strongly worded, threatening email constitutes a true threat.
Edward Taupier made news in October 2015 when he was convicted of threatening a Superior Court judge overseeing his divorce case.
The 52-year-old Cromwell resident sent an email to several people in which he appeared to threaten to shoot Judge Elizabeth Bozzuto.
The Associated Press covered testimony in the case, including that the email included information about Bozzuto’s home, the distance to her master bedroom from a nearby cemetery and ammunition that could be used to shoot her.
Based on the email, Taupier was charged with first-degree threatening, disorderly conduct and breach of peace. Taupier and his attorneys claimed the email did not constitute a threat and was free speech not punishable by law.
The trial court disagreed. Specifically, the lower court ruled a reasonable recipient of the email would most likely interpret it as a genuine threat of violence. The high court will decide whether the trial court was correct.
Milford Zoning Enforcement v. Arisian, 11 a.m., Nov. 7
The key legal issues in this case deal with whether municipalities are authorized to regulate signs that convey a message, and whether regulating those signs violates free speech rights.
Unhappy with construction work performed on her home, Eileen Arisian displayed three signs on her property critical of the contractor who performed the work.
The town brought action seeking to have Arisian remove the signs, claiming a municipality can regulate any sign that publicly conveys a message. The town also separately claimed Arisian had been occupying the premises illegally by not obtaining a certificate of occupancy. The town sought to have Arisian enjoined from continuing to live there.
The court held that Arisian was within her rights to put up the signs since state statute only authorizes municipalities to regulate “advertising signs.”
The lower court also ruled in Arisian’s favor on the certificates for occupancy. The court found Milford’s reason for not issuing zoning certificates—an alleged lot-size violation—was not subject to normal administrative enforcement procedures.
The high court will rule solely on the sign issue. Arisian argues the Supreme Court should affirm the lower court’s judgment that signs are protected free speech, even if towns are able to regulate them.
Leigh v. Schwartz, 10 a.m., Nov. 9
The key legal issues in this case is whether the plaintiff was improperly permitted to present a res ipsa loquitur theory through expert testimony. In addition, the court will look at whether the trial court improperly admitted prior patient injury evidence.
This case stems from a $4.25 million jury settlement Gregory Leigh won in 2015 after a botched surgery by Dr. Daniel Schwartz.
Leigh lost the use of his shoulder following a medical procedure performed by Schwartz. Leigh filed the medical malpractice case claiming the doctor negligently damaged a spinal nerve while operating to remove a lymph node. Attorneys from Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder, Leigh’s law firm, said the damage caused “permanent catastrophic injuries.”
Schwartz appealed, claiming the lower court wrongly upheld the verdict. Schwartz and his attorneys claim Leigh’s expert witness at trial testified that he inferred from the very occurrence of the injury that Schwartz was negligent. Res ipsa loquitur is an evidentiary principle that permits a jury to infer negligence when no direct evidence of negligence has been introduced.
Schwartz and his attorneys claim the trial court improperly allowed evidence to be introduced that showed Schwartz had, in a prior surgery, damaged a patient’s spinal accessory nerve. The high court will rule on whether the trial court erred in denying the defense’s motion to reduce the verdict.