Can You Seek Damages if You Lose Business Based on an Opponent’s Conduct During Litigation?

Ordinarily, if someone acts in bad faith, or with malice, and interferes with a contract causing lost profits, a party can potentially bring a claim in court for tortious interference with contractual relations. However, the claim is likely unavailable if the basis for the claim arises from a pending litigation case. For example, assume you have a valuable business contract, and the contract gets cancelled because of something an opponent claimed during a litigation proceeding?  A recent appellate court case case confirms that immunity applies to bar claims of interference with contractual relations when the actionable conduct arises out of a litigation case.  Litigation can be very disruptive to ongoing business relationships.  There could be situations where a party in a litigation case loses business because of something someone does or says during a proceeding in litigation, such as a court hearing.  Unfortunately, some litigants might do this intentionally as a way to gain advantage in a case.   In contrast, some other litigants might seek to raise a claim of interference or infliction of emotional distress even if the conduct in question was fair game in the course of the case.  The courts in Connecticut essentially come down on the side of barring subsequent claims of this type that are based on conduct during a litigation proceeding.  The reason is policy based, in part, because the courts do not want witnesses and litigants to fear reprisals for raising legitimate facts and arguments in court. Essentially, although there is a risk of litigants unfairly seeking to harm an opponent through deliberate efforts, the risk is outweighed by the importance of candor and truth seeking in court proceedings. There are other ways to address improper, baseless or unethical conduct by opponents during a litigation proceeding.  However, if an opponent resorts to filing a separate lawsuit for interfering with a business relationship or for infliction of emotion distress, the case likely will be opposed by a motion to dismiss based on immunity.

 

You Must Prove Damages With Reasonable Certainty In Business Lawsuits

Determining if you have provable damages is often the first step in analyzing whether to pursue a business lawsuit as a shareholder, partner, or member of a limited liability company.  Likewise, if you have been sued as a result of a partnership or shareholder dispute, reviewing the exposure or possible damages you face is an important part of determining an appropriate litigation strategy.  The question that must be answered is, how will the plaintiff prove to a judge or jury that the damages allegedly sustained are real, quantifiable, and reasonably certain.

In Connecticut, the party that brings the lawsuit has to prove damages with reasonable certainty.  A plaintiff must put forth evidence to afford a judge or jury a sufficient basis for estimating the alleged damages with reasonable certainty.  In other words, there must be evidence for the court or jury to calculate damages.  You cannot simply state “I have lost money” or “I have damages.”  There must be proof beyond speculation or your own subjective belief.

On the other hand, Connecticut law does not require exactitude or precision.  There are no hard and fast rules as to the level of proof required, but it must rise to the level of reasonable certainty or a reasonable estimate.  The level of proof may differ depending on the case facts, and that type of damages at issue.

For example, lost business opportunities may be harder to prove for business attorneys than other types of damages.  A recent appellate court case highlighted some of the evidentiary issues with lost profits.  In System Pros, Inc v Kasica, two equal shareholders of a company went through a lawsuit involving dissolution of their corporation and a trial on other tortious conduct.  At the trial level, the plaintiff shareholder convinced a trial court that he had damages for lost earning opportunities due to wrongful conduct of the other shareholder defendant.  To support his case, he admitted in evidence a series of documents and calculations as to wages he would have earned as a consultant if he was not locked out of the business.  The trial judge was persuaded and awarded damages.

However, the appellate court reversed on the issue and found that the plaintiff did not prove that he would have been hired as a consultant for any specific opportunities.  The appellate court decided:

Although the plaintiff presented ample evidence regarding the nature of the opportunities for employment that were not communicated to him, his testimony as to whether he would in fact have secured such employment resorted to conjecture and subjective opinion, which cannot constitute the basis for an award of damages

The appellate court decided that plaintiff left the trial court to speculate as to the lost opportunities based on plaintiff’s own opinion and assumptions.   The appellate court determined there were too many unknowns as to whether plaintiff would have profited from the opportunities he claimed he was denied by the defendant. The court highlighted that plaintiff needed to establish not only that there were opportunities, but that he was qualified for the positions and would have obtained the positions.

The Systems Pros case serves to highlight the various levels of proof that may be required to recover damages in a shareholder lawsuit.  To summarize, to establish damages for a shareholder in a business lawsuit, an attorney will need to offer evidence at trial showing a reasonable estimate of damages beyond speculation and personal opinion.

Do Members of LLCs Owe A Fiduciary Duty To Each Other in CT?

A limited liability company is essentially a combination or mix of a corporation and a partnership.  The LLC as an entity provides the flexibility of a partnership with the ability to govern and create ownership interests similar to a corporation.  The legislature codified the framework for LLCs in Connecticut in Title 34, Chapter 613 of the General Statutes.  The statutory frameworks permits the owners or members of LLCs to include specific governance provisions in a document called an “operating agreement.” Many times members use an attorney to draft the operating agreement. The operating agreement may cover a variety of topics including:

  • duties and rights of members and managers
  • finance
  • distributions
  • ownership and transfer of property
  • admission and withdrawal of members
  • lawsuits by and against the company
  • merger, consolidation and conversion
  • dissolution

If the members of an LLC fail to address any of these issues, the provisions for the Connecticut general statutes apply as a default.  With some exceptions, the statutory framework basically provides for simple majority control. The failure to address these issues typically results in significant control in the majority member.  So, if a minority member wants some aspect of control on these topics, the member would be well advised to take care of it by using an attorney to negotiate or draft provisions in the operating agreement with protections as part of the admission process.

Notwithstanding the above, members holding a minority ownership interest in an LLC continue to have rights that may provide some protection depending on the circumstances and the operating agreement.  In particular, a minority owner might be permitted to assert claims in a lawsuit for  breach of fiduciary duty or breach of statutory duty to address various inequities and unfair management of an LLC.  A minority interest holder might seek to apply these rights in various situations such as:

  • freezing out of the minority owner from affairs of the business
  • unfairly devaluing the member’s ownership interest
  • operating the company in bad faith
  • depriving the member of books and records of the LLC
  • use of deception and fraud in a buy-out of a member
  • unfair expulsion of a member
  • inequitable assignment of membership interest or sale of business
  • improper dissolution or valuing of membership interests
  • self dealing with excessive guaranteed payments or distributions

The outcome of these claims might depend on whether the court acknowledges a fiduciary duty exists between members of an LLC or between a member-manager of an LLC and the other owners.  The existence of a fiduciary duty is significant because it requires the utmost good faith and loyalty.  It also might help the attorney because it shifts the burden of proof in a civil case requiring the member owing such a duty to prove good faith and fair dealing.  As a result, the question in many disputes involving minority ownership of LLCs is whether a fiduciary duty exists.

In Connecticut, by case law, a court may deem a fiduciary duty to exist when there is “justifiable trust confided on one side and a resulting superiority and influence on the other.”  The relationship is broadly defined to permit courts to consider new situations.  It is generally a relationship “characterized by a unique degree of trust and confidence.”  The superior position of one party typically will permit a great opportunity for abuse of confidence.

At the outset, a fiduciary duty is likely to be found to exist if the operating agreement includes such duties for members or managers.  As such, an individual that is offered a minority stake in an LLC might want to insist that the operating agreement impose a fiduciary duty on the manager or controlling members.  In addition to an operating agreement, a claim for breach of duty may be found in General Statutes Section 34-141.  The statute states in relevant part:

 A member or manager shall discharge his duties under section 34-140 and the operating agreement, in good faith, with the care an ordinary prudent person in a like position would exercise under similar circumstances, and in the manner he reasonably believes to be in the best interests of the limited liability company, and shall not be liable for any action taken as a member or manager, or any failure to take such action, if he performs such duties in compliance with the provisions of this section.

Further, there are a series of trial court cases in Connecticut where lawyers have argued this point and judges have recognized a fiduciary duty between managers and/or controlling members of an LLC and the other members.  The reasoning is based, in part, on the law dealing with partnerships and the fiduciary duty owed to each partner.  There is some dispute as to the existence and extent of this duty, but the Connecticut Supreme Court has chosen to keep an open definition of a fiduciary relationship.  Nevertheless, until such duties are further codified or deemed to exist as a matter of law, a controlling member or manager might opt to have such duties disclaimed in an operating agreement.

A fiduciary duty may or may not be desirable depending on your ownership interest or your role in the LLC.  The take away here is that an operating agreement is the best method to clearly define the duties of members and managers.  The operating agreement can include specific provisions on the extent and nature of the duties of a manager or member of an LLC.  In the absence of a specific provision in the operating agreement stating otherwise, members or managers may be deemed a fiduciary with respect to other members.  Although not required, a lawyer familiar with LLCs can assist in ensuring valuable rights are in an agreement or bringing a lawsuit when rights are violated.

Lost Profits Must Be Reasonably Certain for Breach of Contract Claims

The burden to prove damages is always on the Plaintiff, or the party that brings the lawsuit.  Many times I receive calls from prospective clients who believe they have significant amount of damages.  However, under Connecticut law damages are only recoverable to the extent that the evidence affords a sufficient basis for estimating their amount in money with “reasonable certainty.”  Proving damages in a business lawsuit does not require exactitude but a litigant cannot base a claim solely on subjective opinion.

Although there is no precise formula to prove the amount of damages, a court will not permit an award of damages based on speculation or conjecture.  In certain cases, assumptions are permitted, but the assumptions must be reasonable and relate to the facts of the case.  As a result, before proceeding with a breach of contract case, an attorney will want to explore if the prospective client can prove damages.  Without provable damages, there is likely no case worthy to pursue if money damages are at issue.

The damages also must relate to the specific cause of action in the case.  There are different elements of recoverable damages for different types of cases.  Some cases carry with it statutory damages, and other cases are governed by Connecticut’s common law or history of court decisions.

One category of frequently claimed damage for breach of contract is loss of future profits or loss of anticipated profits.  Generally, in a breach of contract case, you seek to put the injured party in the same financial position they would have been but for the breach.  In a lost profit case, a party in litigation will claim that “but for” the breach of contract, the party would have earned a projected amount of money.

Connecticut case law clearly provides for the availability of an award of lost profits in general breach of contract cases.  Courts construe lost profits as an element of available compensatory damages.  The mere fact, however, that lost profit damages are available generally, does not mean lost profit damages are recoverable in all cases. To determine whether lost profits are available, the parties will need to look to the terms of the contract and whether lost profits were reasonably contemplated by the parties.  Contracts also frequently contain disclaimers or exclusions of lost profit damages even if the parties contemplated that such damages might occur.

Additionally, although lost profit damages are potentially available, it does not necessarily follow that sufficient evidence exists to reliably prove anticipated profits from a business deal gone bad.  Courts will sometimes permit owners of a business to testify as to anticipated profits, but usually only when the owner has knowledge and familiarity with an established history of profits sufficient to project anticipated future profits.  In most cases, the parties need to retain experts to review relevant financial data and to provide an opinion on lost profits.

Litigants and their attorneys typically use economists or accountants as experts to prove lost profits in business cases.  Expert fees can add considerable expense to a case as the expert will likely have to review significant amounts of financial data and the factual details concerning the business deal.  The expert expense may be necessary to incur in many cases to successfully prove damages.  An expert’s opinion on lost profits must also pass a reliability test.  If challenged by an opponent, the expert will have to establish that the method of establishing a damages figure was reliable.  Courts will use a series of factors to consider the reliability of methods and the arguments raised by lawyers to exclude such opinions from trial.

In conclusion, readers should understand that lost profits are available as a potential element of damages in most breach of contract cases in Connecticut.  However, the fact that such damages are potentially available does not establish a right to recover.  The burden to prove lost profit damages remains with the Plaintiff, and must be shown with reasonable certainty and not subjective opinion, conjecture or surmise.

Supreme Court Offers Another Reminder on Personal Liability for Corporate Officers

 Can an officer of a corporation face personal liability in a business transaction?  The Connecticut Supreme Court clearly stated that personal liability exists for corporate officers in certain circumstances.  The case is Coppola Construction Company, Inc. v. Hoffman Enterprises Limited Partnership. The sole issue on appeal was "whether a corporate principal or officer may be held personally liable for the tort of negligent misrepresentation in connection with statements made by that principal or officer that, under the apparent authority doctrine, also created binding contractual liabilities for the corporate entity."

 In the Hoffman case, the lower court had stricken a complaint alleging that the Defendant Jeffrey Hoffman was personally liable.  However, the Appellate Court overruled the decision and the Supreme Court affirmed finding that the plaintiff’s complaint properly alleged personal liability against Hoffman.

The decision included significant issues surrounding the doctrine of apparent authority, and pleading matters in the alternative in the complaint. However, for purposes of this post, the focus is confirming once again that officers of a corporation can be found personally liable for torts, such as misrepresentation and fraud.  To properly allege an action for negligent misrepresentation, a plaintiff must allege that:

  • the defendant made a misrepresentation of fact
  • the defendant knew or should have known that is was false
  • the plaintiff reasonably relied on the misrepresentation
  • some pecuniary harm resulted to the plaintiff

The Court in the Hoffman case went on to state that in Connecticut it is "black letter law that an officer of a corporation who commits a tort is personally liable to the victim regardless of whether the corporation itself is liable."  The Court then listed a whole series of other cases where courts have found that the officer could be liable for torts regardless of whether there was a contractual remedy that also existed against the company.

I posted about this case because many people believe that a corporation or limited liability company will shield them from all types of lawsuits.  This is a common misunderstanding of the law.  I have posted about this same issue in the context of limited liability companies.  The bottom line is that a business entity will not always protect an officer or owner in all situations.  Two situations include torts and circumstances where the protective veil afforded by the entity is pierced. The Hoffman case serves as an another example of an officer facing personal liability despite the corporate entity.   

What To Do If You Suspect Your Business Partner Is Stealing – Some Basics

In any case involving theft by a business partner or business dispute, it is very important to have an understanding of the basic issues and legal framework. Although these cases often involve complex problems, you cannot determine a good course of action without starting with the basics.

 

Here are 5 of the basic issues and what to do if you anticipate a business dispute with a partner or small business in Connecticut.

1. Figure out the type of entity you formed for your business

Principals of small or closely held companies or partnerships typically start off their businesses by choosing an entity such as a Limited Liability Company (LLC), Limited Liability Partnership (LLP), or Corporation (C Corp. or S Corp.). This may seem like a "no brainer" but you might be surprised that many partial business owners (typically minority owners) do not know the exact type of business entity they own.  

To determine what type of entity you formed look for documents such as Articles of Organization, Articles of Amendment, Certificate of Incorporation, Organization and First Report, Certificate of Amendment, Certificate of Limited Liability Partnership, or Statement of Partnership Authority. These are the so called "incorporating" documents or "originating" documents filed with the Secretary of State. These documents clarify the type of entity chosen and the original incorporators or members of the entity. These documents are available to the public and are available for searching at the Secretary of State website www.concord-sots.ct.gov . If you cannot find your documents, try searching the Connecticut Commercial Recording Division website.

2. Figure out the structure and control of your entity.

The structure and operations of an entity often are governed by formal documents in most cases, or by default rules in others. Formal documents may include bylaws, resolutions, shareholder agreements, stockholder agreements, voting agreements, or operating agreements. These documents likely detail your ownership and management rights.

Of course, we see many cases where these agreements do not exist or were never finalized. It remains important to find what you have to show any agreement, even if informal. Maybe you exchanged some emails or you drafted a memorandum of understanding or informal partnership agreement. However, if you do not have a formal or informal agreement, Connecticut General Statutes can operate as a fall back or default to govern the operation and management of corporate entities. You can review the basic statutory laws of Corporations on the Connecticut General Assembly Website www.cga.ct.gov/current/pub/titles.htm . For example, Connecticut statutory laws for Corporations are found in Title 33.

3. Get access to the books and records of the business.

Many times, clients come to us after the business partnership has fallen apart, become insolvent, or dissolved. In many of these instances, one of the partners has access to all the records, and the other partner does not. Your rights to obtain company records may be spelled out in the agreements or documents mentioned in # 2 above. Alternatively, inspection rights for books and records are provided by statutory law. For example, Connecticut General Statutes § 33-946 – 950 permits inspections of books and records by shareholders and directors. However, many times feuding business owners end up having to file a so called "books and records" lawsuit in Connecticut state court to get access to the corporate books and records.

Getting access to the company financials is important. At minimum, you should seek to obtain summary financials, such as income statements, profit and loss statements, or trial balances. However, the ideal is to have access to the actual raw data. This means getting access to bank account(s) (including web access), loan accounts, credit accounts, and the company accounting journals. Getting access to this data may depend on whether the accounting software is server based, such as Peachtree, or cloud based such as QuickBooks online.

4. Identify all sources where records might be stored

>Businesses generate all kinds of data and records. Increasingly, this data is completely digital and electronically stored on a computer, server, or at third party sites such as Rackspace or Boxnet. Additionally, emails seemingly become critical in every case that ends up in litigation. You need to identify where emails and other electronic means of communication (text or instant message) might exist such as the company email servers or third party sites (i.e. Google, Microsoft, Comcast, or Verizon).

Once you identify the locations of the records, you may need to try to preserve this information so you have it in usable form in the event of a dispute. Correctly copying digital records may require an expert in computer forensics. You also may want to involve an attorney so that you understand the full extent of your obligations to preserve evidence and gain protections from discovery.

If your dispute requires a lawsuit to resolve, you many need to act quickly to subpoena records from third party providers before records become lost, destroyed or deleted. If you suspect key evidence exists in emails, you may need to subpoena Internet service providers or third parties that provide applications over the Internet such as Google. Generally, to get the authority to issue a subpoena, an attorney will need to bring a lawsuit concerning the dispute or a lawsuit seeking permission to seek "discovery" of these documents to help build a case.  This is known as a bill of discovery. 

5. Seek help from professionals.

Various professionals, such as forensic accountants, computer forensic experts, fraud investigators, and attorneys can assist in most business disputes. It is a good idea to consider a conference with a professional to review your concerns. Also, you should always consider having your attorney lead the investigation as the involvement of an attorney can add a layer of protection when your opponent later seeks to obtain the results of your investigation.

Is It Fair to Claim That The Current US Supreme Court Is Pro-Business?

The New York Times this past Sunday had an article detailing how many times the Roberts court ruled in favor of business interests (61%).  Debra Weiss of the ABA Journal writes about the article and some other findings noting that the Roberts court ruled in favor of the same side supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 13 out 16 cases last term.  The Chamber’s interest is advocated by the National Chamber Litigation Center. 

The Times article also cited to a new study prepared for the Times by Northwestern University and the University of Chicago. The study allegedly supports a conclusion that the rate of success for business interests is increasing on the current Supreme Court.  For a different view of things, read Ted Frank on the PointofLaw blog calling it a "myth" that Supreme Court is pro business. Chris Lehmann at The Awl has another take and provides a good history of some of Roberts’ own cases before the Supreme Court when he was in private practice.

There are good points on both sides of the debate on this issue. Both sides have advocacy groups citing to data to support one view or another.  I think it is too simplistic to call a court pro-business or anti-business.  Although plenty of information is available to debate the issue, the cases before the Supreme Court are too varied in facts and law to draw a simple conclusion that a court is pro-business.     

 

Constructive Trusts In Connecticut For Fraud and Unjust Enrichment

In business litigation in Connecticut, attorneys many times seek to impose a constructive trust over assets or income connected to wrong doing, breach of fiduciary duty, or fraud by business partners or agents.  In a decision to be officially released on November 23, 2010, the Appellate Court upheld a trial court’s  imposition of a constructive trust over certain assets of a business.  The case is Trevorrow v. Marcuccio, and you can download it here.

A constructive trust is not a real trust.  Rather, it is a judicially created trust and thus the term "constructive."  It arises when one party unjustly holds title or rights to property, such as assets or profits of a business partnership or corporation.  The wrongdoing may involve simply retaining property, misappropriating property, or converting the property into another form.  The trust is imposed against the wrongdoer who will be deemed to hold title of the property for the benefit of the innocent party.  In Trevorrow, the Appellate Court stated:

the issue raised by a claim for a constructive trust is, in essence, whether a party has committed actual or constructive fraud or whether he or she has been unjustly enriched

Typically, you see attorneys seeking constructive trusts in cases involving fraud, duress, breach of fiduciary duty, or some type of commission of a wrong.  However, the Trevorrow court clarified that the equitable remedy of a constructive trust is not only available in cases of actual or constructive fraud, but it is also available in cases where one party has been unjustly enriched at the expense of another even without a finding of wrong doing. 

In short, in Trevorrow, there was no finding of fraud or unethical conduct.  Rather, the court simply found that one person in the business relationship would have been unjustly enriched if permitted to keep the property. The Trevorrow case also serves as reminder that the trial court’s enjoy discretionary equitable powers to impose constructive trusts if proper facts are present.

Does A Limited Liability Company Protect Its Members From Personal Tort Liability?

Not always.  An individual member of an LLC or an officer of a corporation may be individually liable for their own torts.  This rule is well settled and the Connecticut Supreme Court reaffirmed it in Strum v. Harb Development, which will be officially released on August 31, 2010.  

Business owners often chose to a form a business entity to operate under, such as a limited liability company (LLC), limited liability partnership, or professional corporation.  In basic terms, the entity operates as an individual for legal purposes. There are many reasons to form a business entity. One of the more common reasons is to limit your personal liability and protect your assets.  The idea is, if you make a mistake in business, the entity is responsible, not you personally.  

Many times, a properly formed and maintained business entity, like an LLC or corporation, can provide a shield or "veil" of protection for an individual member or officer.  However, the protection is not absolute, and there are many instances where you can be personally liable in business despite the formation and operation of a business entity.    Two of the most common methods of establishing personal liability are "piercing the corporate veil" and individual responsibility for torts, such as breach of fiduciary duty, negligence, fraud, and misrepresentation. 

In the Strum case, the Connecticut Supreme Court addressed the later situation involving personal liability for torts (I will do a post on veil piercing soon). The Strum case involved a homeowner alleging poor workmanship and breach of a construction contract for new home construction.  The plaintiff homeowners in the case brought a lawsuit against not only the entity, Harb Development, LLC, but also its principal member, John Harb.   The plaintiffs alleged, among other claims, that Mr. Harb was personally liable for negligence.  Mr. Harb moved the trial court to strike the allegations against him personally seeking protections of his LLC, Harb Development.   His attorney argued that absent facts sufficient to pierce the veil of protection of the LLC, Mr. Harb personally was immune from liability.

At the lower level, the trial court granted the motion to strike primarily on the grounds that there were no facts in the complaint to pierce the veil of the LLC.  Although the Supreme Court ultimately found that there were insufficient facts alleged in the complaint to establish the negligence claim against Mr. Harb personally, the Court rejected the argument that Mr. Harb could not be personally liable for negligence merely because he was a member of an LLC. 

The Supreme Court noted that Connecticut’s common law provides for personal liability of officers of a corporation for torts personally committed (such as negligence) that injure third parties provided  the injured party can show a legal duty, breach of that duty, causation, and damages.   As such, if an officer of a corporation commits a tort in business, the officer may be personally liable even if the corporation is also responsible.  The Strum case makes clear that this common law rule applies even in the absence of facts sufficient to pierce the corporate veil.  This same common law rule also applies to members of an LLC. 

The Strum case serves as a reminder to business owners that formation of a business entity will not protect you from personal liability in all circumstances.  Liability for individual torts and piercing the veil of a business entity are two common scenarios where business owners may face personal liability despite the shield that a business entity may provide.  Whether a business owner can face personal liability for negligence, fraud, or misrepresentation involving the business will often depend on the facts of the case. 

Computer Fraud and Abuse Act In Connecticut

Previously, I have posted about non-compete agreements and the duty of loyalty for employees.  Many times, businesses do not have written contracts to protect confidential and proprietary information from not only competitors and vendors, but also their own employees.  Without a contract, the common law of Connecticut concerning breach of fiduciary duty is one of the ways attorneys can seek to protect business clients against improper use of confidential information.

Another method for attorneys to seek to protect their clients’ confidential information stored on a computer system or network is through the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA).  The CFAA is largely a criminal statute, but is being used more frequently in civil cases on behalf of businesses faced with loss or theft of confidential and proprietary information and trade secrets.   The CFAA, 18 U.S.C. 1030, essentially provides for civil liability for unauthorized access to protected computers with intent to defraud or cause damage.  There are civil enforcement provisions that allow private actions for recoverable loss related to prohibited conduct if a series of factors can be proved in court.

Recently, Peter J. Toren wrote an excellent article in the New York Law Journal  where he detailed methods in which the CFAA might be useful for attorneys to protect client trade secrets and other confidential information.   Peter listed the six factors necessary for proof of damages.  Peter also noted some of the limitations of the CFAA when it comes to employee theft of trade secrets and described the narrow and broad views taken by different courts when interpreting improper access of a protected computer without authorization. Peter further provides some useful tips for businesses on how to construct a policy in light of the different court interpretations of improper access. 

Lee Berlik, publisher of the Virginia Business Litigation Blog, also has a recent post about the series of hurdles necessary for attorneys to prove loss or damages under the CFAA.  Lee’s post describes a threshold of $5,000 in value that must fit into the categories of potential loss defined in the CFAA.  Similar to Peter’s article, Lee also describes how a case was unsuccessful in court because of insufficient facts to show loss under the CFAA.

In Connecticut federal courts, the reported cases under CFAA, largely have been unsuccessful for a variety of reasons, many of which Peter’s article details.  Some cases were dismissed for failing to meet damages thresholds (Register.com v. Verio, 356 F.3d 393 (2004)) , while another case was dismissed because the facts were insufficient for unauthorized access (Cenveo, Inc. v. Rao, 659 F. Supp. 2d 312 2009)).   However, in a recent case, in the federal district court, Judge Vanessa Bryant issued an order of sanctions and for production of electronic devices for forensic inspection in a case based, in part, and the CFAA. (Genworth Financial Wealth Mngmt. Inc., v. McMullan). 

The takeaway here is that the CFAA provides another potential basis for a business to protect its confidential and proprietary information when the information resides on a computer system or network.  Of course, there are a series of factors that must be met before liability can be established.  Some of these factors may not apply and eliminate the CFAA as a method of recovery as we have seen in several reported cases.  However, the CFAA should be considered and evaluated in any case involving unauthorized access of confidential information through a computer system as it provides an additional basis for potential recovery.  Also, advanced planning with sound internal policies might provide a business with a better chance of success under the CFAA.

I will do a post soon on another statute, Connecticut’s Computer Crime Act, that may provide additional remedies for improper access of a computer system or network.