STRAZZA BUILDING & CONSTRUCTION CO. v. JENNIFER G. HARRIS, TRUSTEE et al., SC 20660

Judicial District of Stamford-Norwalk

 

     Res Judicata; Privity; Whether General Contractor Was in Privity with Subcontractor; Whether Girolametti v. Michael Horton Associates, Inc. Presumption of Privity Was Inapplicable.  Jennifer G. Harris is the trustee of the Jennifer G. Harris Revocable Trust, which owns real property in Greenwich.  Harris hired the plaintiff to renovate the property, and the plaintiff in turn hired subcontractors including Robert Rozmus Plumbing & Heating, Inc.  Harris eventually terminated the plaintiff after disputes between the parties.  The plaintiff claimed that it was owed for labor and materials billed prior to the termination.  The plaintiff and its subcontractors filed mechanic's liens against Harris, and the plaintiff commenced an action against Harris seeking to foreclose on its lien and alleging contract-based claims.  Harris commenced a separate action against Rozmus seeking to reduce or discharge its mechanic's lien.  The trial court in that action held that the mechanic's lien was not valid where the lienable fund for the plaintiff's contract was entirely exhausted by the credits owed to Harris against the various mechanic's liens and where Rozmus could only recover to the extent that the plaintiff could recover.  Harris thereafter filed a motion for summary judgment in the plaintiff's action, claiming that the finding in the Rozmus action that the lienable fund had been exhausted was entitled to preclusive effect under the doctrine of res judicata, or claim preclusion.  The plaintiff argued that it could not be bound by a holding in an action in which it had not been a party and that there was insufficient privity between it and Rozmus for res judicata purposes.  The trial court agreed with the plaintiff and denied the motion for summary judgment, from which Harris appealed.  The Appellate Court (207 Conn. App. 649) affirmed the judgment of the trial court.  It disagreed with Harris that the trial court failed to properly consider the presumption of privity set forth in Girolametti v. Michael Horton Associates, Inc., 332 Conn. 67 (2019), where the Supreme Court held that subcontractors were in privity with a general contractor, such that arbitration between the general contractor and property owners had a res judicata effect in the owners' subsequent action against not only the general contractor but also the subcontractors.  The Appellate Court concluded that Girolametti was distinguishable because the presumption of privity in that case arose from the "flow down" obligation owed by a general contractor to a subcontractor and that there was no corresponding "flow up" obligation that extended from a subcontractor to a general contractor.  The Appellate Court further agreed with the trial court that, under the functional relationship test to establish privity, there was a genuine issue of material fact about whether the plaintiff's interests were adequately represented in Harris' action against Rozmus where Rozmus' lien was significantly less than the plaintiff's lien and where the trial court's decision in that action considered renovations in which Rozmus was not involved.  In this certified appeal by Harris, the Supreme Court will decide whether the Appellate Court properly determined that there was a genuine issue of material fact on the question of privity where the trial court in Harris' action against Rozmus found that no money was due to the plaintiff and where Rozmus was statutorily subrogated to the plaintiff's rights.  The Supreme Court will also decide whether the Appellate Court properly determined that the presumption of privity set forth in Girolametti was inapplicable.