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Brennan-Centrella v. Ritz-Craft Corp. of Pa.

United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

April 15, 2019, Argued; November 5, 2019, Decided

Docket Nos. 18-729-cv(L), 18-867-cv(XAP)

Opinion

 [*107]  POOLER, Circuit Judge:

Following a jury trial in the United States District Court for the District of Vermont (John M. Conroy, M.J.), Mary Brennan-Centrella and Carmine Centrella were awarded damages against Ritz-Craft Corp. of Pennsylvania after a jury found that the company violated the Vermont Consumer Protection Act in selling and constructing a modular home that the couple purchased for their retirement, and Ritz-Craft appealed. After trial, the Centrellas moved to alter the judgment to include prejudgment interest. The district court denied their motion, and the Centrellas cross-appealed. The cross-appeal raises a novel question of state law: whether a court may grant prejudgment interest to private litigants who are awarded compensatory damages under the Vermont Consumer Protection Act, Vt. Stat. Ann., tit. 9, § 2461(b). Because this question presents a determinative issue of state law on which [**3]  there is no clear and controlling precedent, we certify this question to the Vermont Supreme Court.

We resolve the remaining claims in this appeal and cross-appeal by a separate summary order filed today.

BACKGROUND

Mary Brennan-Centrella and Carmine Centrella purchased a modular home that was constructed in Isle La Motte, Vermont, where the couple intended to retire. The Centrellas were particularly interested in purchasing an energy-efficient home that would meet Vermont's energy code, and they approached their search for a modular home builder with this concern at  [*108]  the fore. After researching options, the Centrellas entered into a contract with Mountain View Modular Homes, Inc. ("Mountain View"). Mountain View was an affiliated builder for Ritz-Craft Corporation of Pennsylvania, Inc. ("Ritz-Craft"), meaning that, among other things, Ritz-Craft supplied modular units for Mountain View's builders.

The Centrellas thoroughly researched Ritz-Craft construction before purchasing their home and discovered that Ritz-Craft represented that its modular homes were energy efficient. In particular, the Centrellas reviewed information about Ritz-Craft on Mountain View's website, which included several [**4]  sections detailing Ritz-Craft homes.2 In one such section, Ritz-Craft represented that it was an Energy Star partner that was "committed to using energy efficient building methods and materials" to create environmentally friendly homes. Supp. App'x at 12. Energy Star-qualified new homes are substantially more energy efficient than homes built to the minimum code. The website further represented that a Ritz-Craft home would be "built to ALL applicable Local and State codes and verified by a 3rd party prior to shipment." Supp. App'x at 14. Ritz-Craft's own website informed consumers that "it is important to note that all Ritz-Craft homes are inherently Green and energy efficient due to our detailed construction methods." Ex. F to Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. at 1, Centrella v. Ritz-Craft Corp. of Pa., No. 2:14-cv-111 (D. Vt. Feb. 16, 2016), ECF No. 63-7.3

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942 F.3d 106 *; 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 33012 **; 2019 WL 5700348

MARY BRENNAN-CENTRELLA, CARMINE CENTRELLA, Plaintiffs-Counter-Defendants-Appellees-Cross-Appellants, v. RITZ-CRAFT CORP. OF PENNSYLVANIA, Defendant-Cross-Claimant-Appellant-Cross-Appellee.1

Subsequent History: Affirmed by Brennan-Centrella v. Ritz-Craft Corp., 788 Fed. Appx. 799, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 33002 (2d Cir. Vt., Nov. 5, 2019)

Prior History: Following a jury trial in the United States District Court for the District of Vermont (John M. Conroy, M.J.), Mary Brennan-Centrella and Carmine Centrella were awarded damages against Ritz-Craft Corp. of Pennsylvania after a jury found that the company violated the Vermont Consumer Protection Act in selling and constructing a modular home that the couple purchased for their retirement, and Ritz-Craft appealed. After trial, the Centrellas moved to alter the judgment to include prejudgment interest. The district court denied their motion, and the Centrellas cross-appealed. The cross-appeal raises a novel question of state law: whether a court may grant prejudgment interest to private litigants who are awarded compensatory damages under the Vermont Consumer Protection Act, Vt. Stat. Ann., tit. 9, § 2461(b) [**1] . Because this question presents a determinative issue of state law on which there is no clear and controlling precedent, we certify this question to the Vermont Supreme Court.

We resolve the remaining claims in the appeal and this cross-appeal by a separate summary order filed today.

Centrella v. Ritz-Craft Corp. of Pa., Inc., 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 22308 (D. Vt., Feb. 12, 2018)

Disposition: Question certified to the Vermont Supreme Court.

CORE TERMS

prejudgment interest, damages, ascertainable, modular, energy, private litigant, compensatory damages, consumer protection, state law, consumer, remedies, quotation, marks, award damages, certify, heating, parties

Civil Procedure, Appeals, Appellate Jurisdiction, Certified Questions, Remedies, Judgment Interest, Prejudgment Interest, Antitrust & Trade Law, Consumer Protection, False Advertising, State Regulation, Deceptive & Unfair Trade Practices, Governments, Legislation, Interpretation