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Town of Woodbridge v. Weiss

Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of New Haven, New Haven

August 20, 2015

Town of Woodbridge
v.
Eden Weiss

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION RE MOTION FOR CONTEMPT (#119)

Robin L. Wilson, J.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The plaintiff, Town of Woodbridge (plaintiff), commenced this action by service of writ, summons and complaint on the defendants, Eden Weiss and Denise Weiss a/k/a Denise L. Merrill on May 18, 2009, with a return date of June 16, 2009. The plaintiff claimed a violation of the zoning ordinances of the Town of Woodbridge in that the defendants were improperly storing on their property unregistered vehicles and campers. Pursuant to § 8-12, the plaintiff requested a permanent injunction and that fines be imposed for defendants' violation of said zoning ordinances.

The matter was tried to the court, Wilson, J., on February 17, 2010, and on June 14, 2010, the court issued a permanent injunction which reads as follows: " The defendants are permanently enjoined from continuing to store any unregistered vehicles and campers on their property located at 100 Ford Road, Woodbridge, Connecticut and shall remove said vehicles and campers within 30 days from the date of entry of judgment." Memorandum of Decision, p. 8 ¶ 1. In accordance with § 8-12, the court further ordered that a civil penalty in the amount of $2, 500 be paid within thirty days from the date of entry of judgment, and that the defendants further pay a civil penalty in the amount of $20.00 per day commencing November 25, 2008 through February 17, 2010, a total of 449 days, which was the number of days that had elapsed since the issuance of the plaintiff's cease and desist order through the date of trial, which amounted to $8, 980, and which was to be paid within 30 days from the date of entry of judgment.

On January 9, 2012, the plaintiff filed a motion for contempt, requesting the court to enter an order of contempt against the defendant Eden Weiss[1] for his failure to comply with the court's June 14, 2010 order in failing to remove unregistered vehicles and campers from his property. The plaintiff requests the following relief: 1) that the defendant be cited to show cause why he should not be adjudged in contempt for violation and be punished therefore; 2) that the defendant be compelled to remove any and all unregistered vehicles and campers on his property located at 100 Ford Road, Woodbridge, Connecticut; 3) that the defendant be held in contempt of his violation and punished by fine or imprisonment, or both, pursuant to the powers of the court under Practice Book § 1-16 from the date of this motion until such time where the defendant complies with the court's order; or in the alternative; 4) that the court permit the Town of Woodbridge to enter the property to remediate any and all violations of the Town ordinances and lien the property for the cost of same; 5) that the plaintiff be awarded reasonable attorneys fees and costs associated with this motion.

In its motion for contempt, the plaintiff claims that subsequent to the issuance of the court's June 17, 2010 order, the defendant, Eden Weiss removed some of the stored vehicles from the premises, however, since August 6, 2011, the defendant again began storing unregistered vehicles and campers on his property located at 100 Ford Road, Woodbridge, Connecticut, and has continued to do so as of the date of the motion for contempt, in direct violation of the court's order. In support of its motion the plaintiff attached photographs of what they claim to be the defendant's property with various vehicles parked on the property. The dates of the photographs are 9/7/11, 10/27/11, 10/28/11, 11/18/11 and 11/29/11. The contempt hearing was scheduled on this court's August 10, 2015 short calendar. The defendant did not appear, nor did he file an objection.

The only evidence actually offered into evidence by the plaintiff in support of its motion were fifteen recent photographs all dated August 6, 2015, of what is purported to be the defendant's property located at 100 Ford Road, Woodbridge, Connecticut, with various claimed unregistered vehicles stored on said property. The plaintiff did not offer the previously taken photographs attached to its motion nor did the plaintiff introduce any testimony to authenticate the photographs or to establish that the property and vehicles depicted in the photographs are owned by the defendant and that the vehicles depicted in the pictures are in fact unregistered.

DISCUSSION

LEGAL STANDARD OF REVIEW

" The interests of orderly government demand that respect and compliance be given to orders issued by courts possessed of jurisdiction [over] persons and subject matter. One who defies the public authority and willfully refuses his obedience, does so at his peril. United States v. United Mine Workers, 330 U.S. 258, 303, 67 S.Ct. 677, 91 L.Ed. 884 (1947). [A]n order issued by a court with jurisdiction . . . must be obeyed by the parties . . ." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Rocque v. Design Land Developers of Milford, Inc., 82 Conn.App. 361, 366, 844 A.2d 882 (2004).

" Contempt is a disobedience to the rules and orders of a court which has power to punish for such an offense." (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Wilson v. Cohen, 222 Conn. 591, 596 n.5, 610 A.2d 1177 (1992). " Civil contempt is committed when a person violates an order of court which requires that person in specific and definite language to do or refrain from doing an act or series of acts . . . Whether an order is sufficiently clear and unambiguous is a necessary prerequisite for a finding of contempt . . ." (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted; emphasis original.) In re Leah S., 284 Conn. 685, 695, 935 A.2d 1021 (2007). If a court order is found to be sufficiently clear and unambiguous, the court must then determine whether a violation of the court order was wilful or excused by a good faith dispute or misunderstanding. See Eldridge v. Eldridge, 244 Conn. 523, 526-27, 710 A.2d 757 (1998).

Criminal contempt is conduct directed against the authority and dignity of the court, while civil contempt is conduct directed against the rights of the opposing party. Board of Education v. Shelton Education Ass'n, 173 Conn. 81, 85, 376 A.2d 1080 (1977). " A contempt is considered civil when the punishment is wholly remedial, serves only the purposes of the complainant, and is not intended as a deterrent to offenses against the public . . . Sanctions for civil contempt may be either a fine or imprisonment; the fine may be remedial or it may be the means of coercing compliance with the court's order and compensating the complainant for losses sustained." Id.; see also DeMartino v. Monroe Little League, Inc., 192 Conn. 271, 278, 471 A.2d 638 (1984). As the purpose of the sanctions in the present case is [remedial] and to compensate the plaintiff, the court concludes that the contempt in the present case is properly classified as civil, rather than criminal. Edmond v. Foisey, supra, 111 Conn.App. 769-70; see, also, e.g., Ullmann v. State, 230 Conn. 698, 709, 647 A.2d 324 (1994) (" it is the nature of the relief itself that is instructive in determining whether a contempt is civil or criminal").

" A finding of indirect civil contempt must be established by sufficient proof that is premised on competent evidence presented to the trial court and based on sworn testimony . . . A trial-like hearing should be held if issues of fact are disputed . . . Due process of law requires that one charged with contempt of court be advised of the charges against him, have a reasonable opportunity to meet them by way of defense or explanation, have the right to be represented by counsel, and have a chance to testify and call other witnesses in his behalf, either by way of defense or explanation . . . Because the inability of [a party] to obey an order of the court, without fault on his part, is a good defense to a charge of contempt . . . the [party] [has] the right to demonstrate that his failure to comply with the order of the court was excusable." (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Edmond v. Foisey, supra, 111 Conn.App. 770.

" [T]he inability of a party to obey an order of the court, without fault on his part, is a good defense to the charge of contempt . . . The contemnor must establish that he cannot comply, or was unable to do so." Id., 772; Keeney v. Buccino, 92 Conn.App. 496, 513-14, 885 A.2d 1239 (2005); National Loan Investors, L.P. v. World Properties, LLC, 79 Conn.App. 725, 738 n.13, 830 A.2d 1178 (2003), cert. ...


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