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Lichaj v. Sconyers

Appellate Court of Connecticut

March 1, 2016

CHESTER LICHAJ ET AL
v.
J. MICHAEL SCONYERS ET AL

         Argued October 26, 2015.

          Action to recover damages for vexatious litigation, and for other relief, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Litchfield, where the court, Pickard, J., granted the defendants' motions for summary judgment and rendered judgment thereon, from which the plaintiffs appealed to this court.

          SYLLABUS

         The plaintiff landowners, C and N, sought to recover damages from the defendant neighbors, their attorney, S, and his law firm, A Co., for vexatious litigation. The plaintiffs' deed provided that they had a right-of-way over the neighbors' property. After a disagreement as to whether the terms of the deed allowed C to plow the right-of-way, the neighbors brought an action against the plaintiffs seeking an injunction. The trial court denied the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment and, after a trial, enjoined C from performing maintenance on the right-of-way. The plaintiffs appealed and this court reversed the judgment, determining that the trial court had abused its discretion in granting the injunction. Subsequently, the plaintiffs commenced this vexatious litigation action, alleging that the prior injunction action was brought and maintained without probable cause. The trial court granted the motion for summary judgment filed by S and A Co., which argued there was probable cause as evidenced by the fact that the neighbors had prevailed at trial against C and their claim against N had survived summary judgment. The trial court reasoned that the denial of the motion for summary judgment in the prior action precluded a finding that there had not been probable cause to pursue that action. The plaintiffs appealed from the summary judgment in favor of S and A Co., claiming that the court erred when it granted the motion for summary judgment as to N because the denial of a motion for summary judgment in a prior injunction action should not be preclusive, but should be one factor to consider in the analysis of probable cause. Held that the trial court properly granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment in the vexatious litigation action as to N, this court having agreed with the alternative argument advanced by S and A Co. that, regardless of the effect of the denial of the motion for summary judgment in the injunction action, there was probable cause to pursue that action against N; the rights of N were affected by the injunction action even though she was not the party engaged in the maintenance activities at issue, as she was a co-owner of the property and that action sought a resolution of a dispute about the interpretation of the language in the plaintiffs' deed regarding the means of maintaining the right-of-way and, therefore, S had probable cause the bring the underlying action against N as a matter of law.

         John R. Williams, for the appellants (plaintiffs).

         Robert W. Cassot, with whom, on the brief, was Cristin E. Sheehan, for the appellees (named defendant et al.).

         Beach, Keller and West, Js. BEACH, J. In this opinion the other judges concurred.

          OPINION

Page 27

          [163 Conn.App. 420] BEACH, J.

          The plaintiffs, Chester Lichaj and Nicole Lichaj, appeal from the summary judgment rendered by the trial court in favor of the defendants J. Michael Sconyers and Ackerly Brown, LLP.[1] We affirm the judgment of the trial court granting the motion for summary judgment.

         The present action sounds in vexatious litigation. Chester Lichaj and Nicole Lichaj alleged, in their complaint, that David Welles, Lori Welles, and their attorney, [163 Conn.App. 421] Sconyers, previously brought a vexatious, meritless action against them. The trial court granted motions for summary judgment in favor of all the defendants; the plaintiffs appeal only as to Sconyers. The prior underlying action was tried to the court, which ruled in favor of the Welleses; this court reversed the trial court's judgment and remanded the case

Page 28

with direction to vacate the injunction and for further proceedings. Because the trial court in the present action considered the facts and procedural history of the prior action, we begin with a discussion of that action, as recounted in this court's appellate opinion.

         " [David Welles and Lori Welles] own and reside at 37 Ballyhack Road in West Cornwall. [Chester Lichaj and Nicole Lichaj] own and reside at 39 Ballyhack Road. Pursuant to a deed, [the Lichajes] have a right-of-way over the [Welles'] land for the purpose of gaining access to their property from Ballyhack Road. The fifty foot wide right-of-way extends from Ballyhack Road, over a portion of the [Welles'] land, to the [Lichajes'] residence, a distance of approximately 1400 ...


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