Beverly
v.
Tarragon Mngt., Inc.

Connecticut Superior Court Judicial District of Fairfield at BridgeportSep 24, 2010
2010 Ct. Sup. 18959 (Conn. Super. Ct. 2010)
2010 Ct. Sup. 1895950 CLR 650

No. FBT CV 10 6006773

September 24, 2010


MEMORANDUM OF DECISION RE PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO STRIKE SPECIAL DEFENSES, #120


This matter was commenced by the minor plaintiff, Marquis Beverly, and his mother, Tiffany Aldridge, after Marquis was injured from a fall through a railing at his rented second-floor apartment. The plaintiffs brought this negligence action against the owner of the apartment, Manchester Tarragon, LLC alleging that the defendant failed to properly inspect, maintain and repair the subject railing. By way of special defense, the defendant has alleged that the minor plaintiff's injuries were caused by his mother's negligence. The plaintiffs filed a motion to strike the special defense on the ground that it is barred by the parental immunity doctrine. For the reasons set forth below, the motion to strike is GRANTED.

Discussion

The role of the trial court in ruling on a motion to strike is test the legal sufficiency of a pleading. RK Constructors, Inc. v. Fusco Corp., 231 Conn. 381, 384 (1994). A motion to strike is the appropriate pleading to challenge the sufficiency of a special defense. Practice Book § 10-39(a)(5). The court must "examine the [complaint] construed in favor of the [plaintiff] to determine whether the [pleading party has] stated a legally sufficient cause of action." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Dodd v. Middlesex Mutual Assurance Co., 242 Conn. 375, 378 (1997). "[I]f facts provable in the complaint would support a cause of action, the motion to strike must be denied . . . Moreover, [w]hat is reasonably implied [in an allegation] need not be expressly alleged." (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Lombard v. Edward J. Peters, Jr., P.C., 252 Conn. 623, 626 (2000).

For purposes of the motion to strike, the moving party admits all facts well pleaded. RK Constructors, Inc., supra at 383 n. 2. The same is not so of legal conclusions and a motion to strike may be granted if the complaint alleges "mere conclusions of law that are unsupported by the facts alleged." Novametrix Medical Systems, Inc. v. BOC Group, Inc., 224 Conn. 210, 215 (1992).

In this case, the defendant filed a special defense which provides:

If the plaintiff sustained any injury or damage as alleged said injury or damage was caused in whole or in part by the negligence, carelessness and heedlessness of the plaintiff, Tiffany Aldridge, who had an independent legal duty as a tenant in possession to use reasonable care to keep the area within the tendency reasonably safe and violated said duty in one or more of the following respects:

a. in that she failed to properly inspect the subject railings;

b. in that she failed to properly maintain the subject railings;

c. in that she permitted occupants of the property including small children to come in close proximity to the railing unsupervised when she knew or should have known it was unsafe and unreasonable to do so.

The plaintiff filed a motion to strike the special defense on the ground that it is barred by the parental immunity doctrine.

Connecticut recognizes the doctrine of parental immunity, a doctrine which, with a few exceptions, bars an unemancipated minor from bringing civil actions against his or her parent. The doctrine "affords special protection to acts of parental control, authority and discretion." Crotta v. Home Depot, Inc., 249 Conn. 634, 643 (en banc 1999). The Supreme Court, in Crotta, held that the parental immunity doctrine precluded a defendant in a negligence action from bringing a third-party complaint against the minor plaintiff's parent for purposes of apportionment, contribution or indemnification based upon the parent's allegedly negligent supervision of the minor plaintiff. Id. The Court reasoned that permitting the third-party complaint would "permit the defendants to accomplish indirectly that which could not be accomplished directly." Id. at 644.

After the Crotta decision, the vast majority of superior courts to determine whether the parental immunity doctrine forecloses a special defense which alleges negligence by the parent of a minor plaintiff, have held that it does. See, e.g. Lake v. Butt, 49 Conn. L. Rptr. 705 (April 28, 2010) (Lager, J.); Ray v. Walmart, 47 Conn. L. Rptr. 499 (April 9, 2009) (Holden, J.); Joiner v. Life Haven, Inc., 47 Conn. L. Rptr. 163 (January 22, 2009) (Keegan, J.); Lyons v. Morrocco, 36 Conn. L. Rptr. 616 (February 2, 2004) (Cohn, J.); Wright v. Rogers, Judicial District of New Haven, Dkt. No. 98-0417078, (August 4, 1999) (Lager, J.).

This court finds the reasoning of these decisions sound. Indeed, to allow this special defense of negligence would be to place at issue the nature and adequacy of the plaintiff's exercise of parental discretion. This is precisely what the doctrine of parental immunity is designed to prevent. Squeglia v. Squeglia, 234 Conn. 259 (1995). "The purpose of the doctrine is to preserve the integrity and unity of the family and to avoid unnecessarily injecting `the machinery of the state' into the day-to-day exercise of parental discretion." Id. at 265. "The doctrine of parental immunity is particularly applicable in the area of parental supervision and discretion with respect to the care and control of a minor child." Id. at 269. "[M]aintenance of the home environment typifies the day-to-day exercise of parental discretion that the state would rather not disrupt." Id. at 269. Thus, issues of parental supervision as well as maintenance of the home environment go to the very heart of the parental immunity doctrine.

Here, the special defense clearly alleges both negligent supervision and failure to provide a safe home environment. However, the defendant argues that the allegations of the special defense rely upon a separate and independent duty owed by the mother as the tenant of the apartment. It argues that the special defense is applicable irrespective of the fact that she is the plaintiff's mother. The defendant cannot simply label the mother "tenant," and label the minor plaintiff "invitee," ignoring the reality of the familial relationship so as to thwart the parental immunity doctrine. As indicated, if permitted to stand, the special defense puts directly in issue those matters sought to be protected by the doctrine. The defendant further argues that her separate claim against the defendant is a reason to permit the special defense. See, Sedgwick v. Halfpenny, Judicial District of Milford, Dkt. No. 99-065513 (August 15, 2000) (Shay, J.) [ 28 Conn. L. Rptr. 42]. This court disagrees. See, Lyons v. Morrocco, 36 Conn. L. Rptr. 616 (February 2, 2004) (Cohn, J.).

The motion to strike is GRANTED.

SO ORDERED