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Pollansky v. Pollansky

Appellate Court of Connecticut

January 26, 2016

STEVEN POLLANSKY
v.
ANNA POLLANSKY ET AL

         Argued September 25, 2015

          Action to recover damages for, inter alia, breach of contract, and for other relief, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Hartford, where the named defendant, both individually and as administrator of the estate, filed a counterclaim; thereafter, the court, Wahla, J., granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment and rendered judgment thereon, from which the plaintiff appealed to this court.

          Reversed in part; further proceedings.

          SYLLABUS

         The plaintiff sought damages from the defendants, his mother, A, and his two sisters, claiming that he was entitled to an ownership interest in two parcels of real property that his late father, P, allegedly had orally promised to him. The plaintiff's complaint alleged breach of contract, unjust enrichment, quantum meruit and adverse possession. The trial court rendered summary judgment for the defendants, concluding that the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel precluded all of the causes of action and issues that the plaintiff had raised. The court based its decision on the judgment of the trial court in a prior summary process action that A had brought against the plaintiff. The court in that summary process action had rendered judgment for A and rejected the plaintiff's special defense that P had promised to convey to him an ownership interest in one of the properties. On appeal to this court, the plaintiff claimed, inter alia, that the second trial court improperly concluded that the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel precluded many of the issues he raised in this case because those issues had not been fully and fairly litigated in the prior summary process action.

         Held:

         1. The trial court properly determined that the plaintiff's breach of contract claim had been fully and fairly litigated, and was actually and necessarily decided, in the prior summary process action: contrary to the plaintiff's assertion that the summary process court had declined to rule on his claimed ownership interest in one of the properties, and that this case did not involve the same parties and privies as did the summary process action, the doctrine of res judicata barred the plaintiff's claim against A because the summary process court had ruled that he lacked an ownership interest in one of the properties when it found that he had failed to prove the allegations of his special defense; moreover, although the sisters were not parties to the summary process action and the court in this case rendered summary judgment for them under the doctrine of res judicata, the plaintiff's claim against them was barred by the doctrine of collateral estoppel, as the lack of mutuality of parties did not preclude the application of collateral estoppel, and permitting the plaintiff to raise against new parties an issue that had been conclusively determined in a previous trial on the merits would result in unnecessary and duplicative litigation that would undermine the principles of finality and judicial economy.

         2. The trial court properly determined that the doctrine of collateral estoppel barred the plaintiff's claim of adverse possession, the court in the prior summary process action having explicitly found that A and P had permitted the plaintiff to use the property at issue for recreational and business purposes, and, thus, the plaintiff's occupation of the property could not have been hostile for the fifteen year period required under the doctrine of adverse possession.

         3. The trial court improperly rendered summary judgment for the defendants on the plaintiff's claims of unjust enrichment and quantum meruit, as those claims were not actually determined in the prior summary process action: res judicata and collateral estoppel did not bar the plaintiff's claim for money damages because the limited nature of summary process actions precluded the summary process court from adjudicating his entitlement to noncontractual money damages, and that court's finding that he had performed services at one of the properties for many years was not essential to the denial of his special defense in the summary process action alleging that he had an ownership interest in the properties.

         Robert F. Cohen, with whom, on the brief, was Forest E. Green, for the appellant (plaintiff).

         Wayne C. Gerlt, for the appellees (defendants).

         Beach, Prescott and Bear, Js.

          OPINION

          [162 Conn.App. 637] BEAR, J.

          This appeal is the latest skirmish in the ongoing dispute between the plaintiff, Steven Pollansky, and his mother, the defendant Anna Pollansky,[1] concerning the plaintiff's claim of entitlement to real property allegedly promised to him by his father, Andrew Pollansky, many years ago. Anna Pollansky previously had initiated a summary process action against the plaintiff and his family seeking immediate possession of three parcels of property located in Coventry, which they occupied. The plaintiff's primary claim in the summary process action, raised by way of special defense, was that he occupied the Coventry property pursuant to an ownership interest that was orally promised to him by Andrew Pollansky. After a trial, the court in the summary process action rendered judgment in favor of Anna Pollansky, and this court affirmed that judgment. See Pollansky v. Pollansky, 144 Conn.App. 188, 71 A.3d 1267 (2013).

         The plaintiff subsequently instituted the present action against the defendants. In a four count complaint alleging breach of contract, unjust enrichment, quantum meruit, and adverse possession, the plaintiff claimed an ownership interest in the Coventry property, an ownership interest in his father's investment property in Mansfield, and money damages. The trial court rendered summary judgment in favor of the defendants, ruling that the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel precluded all of the causes of action and issues raised by the plaintiff in the present case. On appeal, the plaintiff asserts that the court improperly rendered summary judgment because (1) his breach of contract [162 Conn.App. 638] claim alleging his ownership interest was not litigated in the summary process action, thereby precluding application of the doctrine of res judicata; and (2) many of the issues raised in his remaining counts for unjust enrichment, quantum meruit, and adverse possession were not fully and fairly litigated in the summary process action, thereby precluding application of the doctrine of collateral estoppel. We reverse the judgment of the trial court in favor of the defendants on the plaintiff's counts of unjust enrichment and quantum meruit. We affirm the judgment in all other respects.

         Many of the relevant facts and procedural history were set forth by this court in Pollansky v. Pollansky, supra, 144 Conn.App. 188. " In the 1960s, [Anna Pollansky] and her late husband, Andrew Pollansky, jointly purchased three adjoining parcels of land in Coventry, totaling 84.5 acres . . . . Andrew Pollansky operated a sand and gravel business on the [Coventry] property until he retired in approximately 1992. The [plaintiff], the son of Andrew Pollansky and [Anna Pollansky], worked in his father's gravel business on the [Coventry] property from his teenage years until his father retired. After Andrew Pollansky retired, he and [Anna Pollansky] permitted the [plaintiff and his family] to access the [Coventry] property for recreational purposes and, as to the [plaintiff and his wife], for operation of their businesses . . . . [Anna Pollansky] and Andrew Pollansky gave the [plaintiff] permission to operate [his] businesses on the [Coventry] property, but there were no written agreements or leases to that effect. . . .

         " When Andrew Pollansky died in July, 2010, [Anna Pollansky] became the sole owner of the [Coventry] property. [Anna Pollansky], who was in her eighties at the time of [the summary process] trial, wished to sell or to rent the property to subsidize her income. [Anna Pollansky] asked the [plaintiff] to pay rent for the use of the [Coventry] property for [his] businesses, but the [162 Conn.App. 639] parties had not been able to come to any agreement on rent. As a result, [Anna Pollansky] asked the [plaintiff] to vacate the [Coventry] property so that she could sell or rent it to obtain additional income, but the [plaintiff] refused to do so.

         " [Anna Pollansky] brought a summary process action against the [plaintiff] seeking immediate possession of the [Coventry] property. [Anna Pollansky] claimed that, although the [plaintiff] once had the right and privilege to occupy the [Coventry] property, that right or privilege had terminated. The [plaintiff] alleged [the following as a special defense]: that Andrew Pollansky had granted [the plaintiff] an ownership interest in the [Coventry] property . . . .

         " The court found that [Anna Pollansky] proved her summary process action: that she was the owner of the [Coventry] property, that she continued to permit the [plaintiff] to operate a business on the [Coventry] property after her husband's death, that she terminated her permission when she asked the [plaintiff] to vacate the premises and served [him] with a valid notice to quit, and that the [plaintiff] remained in possession. The court found that the [plaintiff] had not proven [his] special [defense]. The court entered a judgment of immediate possession in favor of [Anna Pollansky]." Id., 189-91. This court affirmed the trial court's judgment in the summary process action. See id., 189.

         The following additional facts are relevant to our consideration of the issues raised in this appeal. The trial in the summary process action took place on January 6, 2012, and January 27, 2012. In his special defense in the summary process action, the plaintiff alleged that he occupied the Coventry property " pursuant to an ownership interest in the premises granted by Andrew Pollansky." In support of this special defense, the plaintiff testified that Andrew Pollansky promised to convey [162 Conn.App. 640] the Coventry property to him in exchange for services and improvements to the Coventry property. The plaintiff testified as to a variety of services he had performed over the years, including land clearing, grading, drainage, and business management services. He also testified that he had assisted his parents in a number of legal proceedings related to the Coventry property, including a tax foreclosure, a zoning application, and litigation with an abutting landowner. The plaintiff testified that Andrew Pollansky indicated to him on a number of occasions throughout his life that he would not have been able to keep the property if not for the plaintiff's efforts. The plaintiff's wife, Darby Pollansky, was called as a witness as well. Darby Pollansky testified, among other things, that Andrew Pollansky promised the Coventry property to the plaintiff on many occasions. Finally, the plaintiff testified at length as to his services on the Mansfield property. Specifically, he testified that the house regularly had been damaged by tenants, and that he had repaired the walls, painted, and performed carpentry services. The plaintiff claimed that he was never paid for any of his services. Anna Pollansky testified that, to her knowledge, Andrew Pollansky never promised the Coventry property to the plaintiff, but she admitted that the plaintiff worked on the Coventry property for thirty-six years. Additionally, she testified that she had paid the plaintiff whenever he did work at the Mansfield property.

         The court, Cobb, J., found the following facts in the summary process action. The plaintiff worked with Andrew Pollansky on the Coventry property from his teenage years until his father retired in 1992. The plaintiff, however, did not produce any written documents, including letters, deeds, contracts, or testamentary documents promising or granting the plaintiff an interest in the Coventry property. The only evidence adduced [162 Conn.App. 641] by the plaintiff concerning his father's promise to convey the Coventry property was his and Darby Pollansky's self-serving and hearsay testimony, which the court did not credit. Conversely, the court credited Anna Pollansky's testimony. Accordingly, it held that the plaintiff's father never promised to convey an ownership interest to the plaintiff, and it rendered judgment of immediate possession in favor of Anna Pollansky. The court did not make any findings or rulings concerning the Mansfield property.

         The plaintiff subsequently commenced the present action against the defendants.[2] In the breach of contract count of the complaint, the plaintiff made the following allegations. The plaintiff worked continuously and without compensation for decades at Andrew Pollansky's business on the Coventry property. The plaintiff also worked without compensation for decades at the Mansfield property. The plaintiff performed services at and made improvements to both of these properties pursuant to an oral agreement with Andrew Pollansky, whereby in consideration of his performance of these services, his father would convey the properties to the plaintiff. Notwithstanding the plaintiff's many years of performance, the defendants failed to convey the properties to him. The unjust enrichment count of the complaint incorporated many of the allegations in the breach of contract count and contained an additional allegation that the defendants, as Andrew Pollansky's heirs, were unjustly enriched by the plaintiff's uncompensated services for the benefit of and his improvements to the properties. The quantum meruit count incorporated many of the allegations of the prior counts and contained an additional allegation that the plaintiff was entitled to the reasonable value of his services. In the adverse possession count, the plaintiff alleged that [162 Conn.App. 642] he had obtained title to the Coventry and Mansfield properties by virtue of his " open, visible, notorious, adverse, exclusive, continuous, [and] uninterrupted" use of these properties for more than fifteen years. The defendants thereafter filed special defenses to the breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and quantum meruit counts of the plaintiff's complaint, alleging, inter alia, that the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel barred the plaintiff's claims.[3]

         In December, 2013, the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting, inter alia, that the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel barred all of the plaintiff's claims. Specifically, and with respect to the breach of contract count, the defendants asserted that the plaintiff raised and litigated in the summary process action the claim of his contractual right to an ownership interest in the Coventry property. Consequently, the defendants asserted that the plaintiff was foreclosed from raising his alleged ownership interest in the present case. The defendants also asserted that the plaintiff's claims for adverse possession, unjust enrichment, and quantum meruit could have been raised during the summary process action but were not, [162 Conn.App. 643] which precluded him from raising them in the present case. In his memorandum of law in opposition to the defendants' motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff claimed that neither res judicata nor collateral estoppel applied because the issues and claims in the two cases were not identical. Specifically, the plaintiff argued that (1) the inquiry in the summary process action was limited to who was entitled to possession, whereas in the present case the plaintiff alleged legal and equitable claims for title, and he sought damages representing the value of his services for and improvements to the Coventry property; (2) the money damages that the plaintiff sought in the present case were not available to the plaintiff in the summary process action, so they could not be adjudicated in that action; and (3) the burdens of proof differ in civil actions and summary process actions.

         The court, Wahla, J., on May 27, 2015, granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment. It concluded that the plaintiff's breach of contract claim was precluded by the doctrine of res judicata, reasoning that the summary process court had rendered a final judgment on the merits on the same cause of action and between the same parties in the summary process action. The court, Wahla, J., also concluded that the unjust enrichment, quantum meruit, and adverse possession counts were barred by the doctrine of collateral estoppel. Specifically, the court held that the plaintiff's allegations of services provided for and improvements to the Coventry and Mansfield properties were actually litigated in the summary process action. Further, the court held that the plaintiff could have raised his adverse possession claim in the summary process action, and that the plaintiff could have raised unjust enrichment and quantum meruit as equitable defenses in that action. On these bases, the court ruled that all of the plaintiff's claims relating to both the Coventry [162 Conn.App. 644] property and the Mansfield property were precluded.[4] This appeal followed.

         We begin with the applicable standard of review and legal principles. " Practice Book § 17-49 provides that summary judgment shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, affidavits and any other proof submitted show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the trial court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. . . . The party moving for summary judgment has the burden of showing . . . that the party is . . . entitled to judgment as a matter of law. . . . Our review of the trial court's decision to grant the defendant's motion for summary judgment is plenary. . . . In addition, the [162 Conn.App. 645] applicability of res judicata or collateral estoppel presents a ...


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