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Connecticut Supreme Court Ruling in Soto v. Bushmaster Firearms International, et al. Expands Scope of CUTPA

The Connecticut Supreme Court issued a ruling  in Soto v. Bushmaster Firearms International, et al. that may greatly expand the reach of Connecticut’s principal consumer protection and business litigation statute, the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act (“CUTPA”), to include business conduct not previously generally understood to be subject to CUTPA. CUTPA is Connecticut’s version of the Federal Trade Commission Act, but unlike the FTC Act, CUTPA provides for private litigation, in addition to government enforcement. The implications of the Soto decision for companies that do business in Connecticut are profound and far-reaching.

The plaintiffs in the Soto suit were administrators of the estates of several victims of the mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012. They alleged that certain advertising and marketing by the firearms manufacturers was “unethical, oppressive, immoral and unscrupulous” within the meaning of CUTPA, and that the advertising and marketing promoted the illegal offensive use of the rifle used in the killings.

Importantly, the Court held the following: (1) plaintiffs in a CUTPA action need not have a “commercial relationship,” i.e., a business relationship with the defendants; (2) personal injuries are a type of harm cognizable under CUTPA; (3) the Connecticut Product Liability Act does not preclude a CUTPA claim based on the allegedly wrongful marketing of a firearm; and (4) that continuous advertising by defendants to the time of filing permits claims to survive despite CUTPA’s three year statute of limitations.

Each one of these separate CUTPA holdings expands the scope of CUTPA beyond its current contours. Moreover, the evisceration by the Court of the commercial relationship test will, in our view, broaden the reach of CUTPA so dramatically that we expect to see an explosion of new types of CUTPA claims against businesses.

CUTPA gives private litigants significant incentives. It provides not only for compensatory damages, but also, in the discretion of the court, for punitive damages and attorney’s fees. This is in addition to CUTPA investigations and suits undertaken by Connecticut’s government enforcers, the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection, and the Connecticut Office of the Attorney General.

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Robert Langer Corporate litigation attorney Wiggin Dana
Partner

Bob is recognized as one of the country’s foremost authorities on antitrust, consumer protection, and trade regulation law. He possesses unparalleled experience in counseling, litigation, and regulatory investigations in the field, and he is co-author of the definitive treatise on unfair trade practices and antitrust legal practice.

A Partner in the firm's Litigation Department and Co-chair of the firm's Antitrust and Consumer Protection Practice Group, Bob’s experience includes class actions and representing clients in both federal and state courts and before the Federal Trade...

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Jonathan Freiman Lawyer Wiggin Dana Law Firm
Partner

Jonathan represents companies, foundations, universities, individuals, and sovereign nations in complex disputes, including appeals, disputes over art and artifacts, and complex transnational litigation.

He represents clients in appellate and post-trial matters nationwide, having handled appeals in almost every federal circuit court and in state appellate courts from Florida to California to New York. He has successfully vindicated clients’ most important intellectual property interests on appeal, including defeating a Nobel Prize winner in litigation over the ownership of the patent on the Nobel-winning technology. His victories in major commercial matters include reversals in eight-figure cases in the Supreme Courts of California, Georgia, and Connecticut, where he reversed what was then the largest class-action or commercial judgment ever issued in the state.

Jonathan represents clients in major disputes involving art and artifacts, where his work has included the successful defense of title to one of Van Gogh's most famous paintings, representation of a museum in a dispute over Incan artifacts claimed by a Latin American nation, and representation of investors in an art investment fund. He counsels clients on the investigation and resolution of claims involving provenance and cultural property, and assists museums outside the U.S. in understanding, defending and resolving claims involving U.S. law.

He represents sovereign nations and former sovereign officials in pursuing or defending claims in the United States. He vindicated a former president of Mexico wrongly accused of violations of international human rights law, represented a foreign sovereign nation claiming RICO violations against a U.S. company, and currently represents the government of Germany and a Berlin-based consortium of public museums in a case alleging that a major collection of medieval art was obtained through duress in the Nazi era.

Among other recognitions, Chambers USA ranks Jonathan in its highest band, noting that clients have described him as "absolutely brilliant," "a fiercely bright appellate lawyer who handles high end problems," "a very cost-effective resource in contentious matters," and "probably the very best appellate advocate I have ever seen."

After graduating from Yale Law School, where he was Senior Editor of the Yale Law Journal and received a fellowship in legal ethics and awards from the Florida Supreme Court and the Cuban-American Bar Association, Jonathan clerked for the late Judge Louis H. Pollak, former Dean of Yale Law School, and then went on to co-found a clinical program at Yale, teaching there for five years while directing the project's litigation work and serving as a senior human rights fellow.

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