About the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act (CUTPA)
The Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act, or "CUTPA," prohibits unfair competition and unfair and deceptive acts and practices in trade and commerce. Adopted in 1973, CUTPA provides for the recovery of attorneys' fees and expenses, and under certain conditions, provides for punitive damages.
The language of the Act is primarily general, and there are many possible applications and interpretations of the law. In essence, the law states that “any "person" who suffers an "ascertainable loss of money or property, real or personal, as a result of the use or employment of a method, act or practice prohibited by [CUTPA] may bring an action to recover actual damages. "Person" is defined as "a natural person, corporation, limited liability company, trust, partnership, incorporated or unincorporated association, and any other legal entity."
The Act does specify that certain acts or practices constitute a violation of CUTPA -- “per se CUTPA violations.” For example, any violation of the Home Improvement Act is deemed to violate CUTPA, and the Department of Consumer Protection has issued regulations defining what constitutes an unfair trade practice.
Complaints Under CUTPA
A person who wants to bring an action under CUTPA must mail a copy of the complaint to both the Commissioner of Consumer Protection and the Connecticut Attorney General. The complaint must also allege that the acts complained of were done in the conduct of trade or commerce, and must show legally sufficient specificity to allow evaluation of the legal theory of the claim.
CUTPA authorizes the Department of Consumer Protection to investigate complaints. In this regard, the Commissioner may issue subpoenas, administer oaths, and conduct hearings. Further, the commissioner and his representatives may (1) enter and investigate any establishment at reasonable times, (2) check invoices and records, (3) have access to and copy documents, (4) execute investigative demands, and (5) take certain other investigatory actions.
If the Commissioner has reason to believe that someone has violated CUTPA, he may conduct a hearing after giving a notice that states the charges. Testimony must be taken under oath. The Commissioner has the power to issue subpoenas to compel the appearance of witnesses or the production of documents (CGS § 42-110d).
CUTPA Actions and Penalties
A person may seek both actual damages and injunctive relief for violations of CUTPA. If after the hearing, the commissioner is of the opinion that a violation has occurred, he must state in writing his findings of fact and is authorized by law to issue a cease and desist order. In cases involving less than $5,000, he may also order restitution.
The Commissioner of Consumer Protection and the Connecticut Attorney General may seek temporary restraining orders or temporary or permanent injunctive relief. The commissioner’s order may be appealed to the Superior Court in accordance with the Uniform Administrative Procedure Act.
Courts may issue restraining orders; award actual and punitive damages, costs, and reasonable attorneys fees; and impose civil penalties of up to $5,000 for willful violations and $25,000 for violation of a restraining order.
While courts have discretionary authority to award punitive damages for violations of CUTPA, the Act does not establish the circumstances for which punitive damages are to be awarded.
Finally, someone who has suffered an ascertainable loss of money or property, real or personal, because of a CUTPA violation may sue to recover actual damages.