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Prime Locations of Ct, LLC v. Rocky Hill Development, LLC

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

August 30, 2016

PRIME LOCATIONS OF CT, LLC, ET AL.
v.
ROCKYHILL DEVELOPMENT, LLC, ET AL.

          Argued February 16, 2016

         Appeal from Superior Court, judicial district of Middlesex, Domnarski, J.

          Daniel J. Krisch, with whom was Matthew S. Car-lone, for the appellants (defendant Luke DiMaria et al.).

          Christopher A. Klepps, with whom were Kevin J. McEleney, and, on the brief, Richard D. Carella, for the appellees (plaintiffs).

          DiPentima, C. J., and Alvord and West, Js.

          OPINION

          DiPENTIMA, C. J.

         The defendants MPM Enterprises, LLC (MPM), and Luke DiMaria appeal from the judgment of the trial court rendered in favor of the plaintiffs, Prime Locations of CT, LLC (Prime Locations), Hasson Holdings, LLC (Hasson), SMS Realty, LLC (SMS), and C&G Holdings, LLC (C&G).[1] On appeal, the defendants argue that the court improperly (1) concluded that the plaintiffs had standing and (2) decided the case on a basis that was not pleaded, briefed or argued during the proceedings in the trial court. We agree with the defendants’ second claim, and reverse the judgment of the trial court.

         The following facts, as found by the trial court, and procedural history are relevant to this appeal. On September 27, 2004, Coles Brook Commerce Park Associates, LLC (Declarant), subdivided property located in the town of Cromwell into lots for the purpose of developing a business park. The Declarant also executed a declaration of easements, covenants and restrictions (declaration), [2] and incorporated the Coles Brook Commerce Park Owners Association, Inc. (Owners Association), for the purpose of maintaining, administering and enforcing the covenants and restrictions.

         Section 3.2 of article 3 of the declaration provided that each owner of a lot would be a member of the Owners Association. Each owner received a vote that was directly proportional to its percentage of ownership in the common elements of the business park.[3] Article 5 of the declaration created a Design Review Committee, which, pursuant to § 6.2 of article 6, was responsible for determining if the final drawings and specifications for structures on any lot conformed with the restrictions contained in the declaration. Specifically, § 6.3 provided: ‘‘No use shall be permitted which is offensive by reason of odor, fumes, dust, smoke, noise or pollution, which is excessively hazardous by reason of excessive danger or fire or explosion, or which violates any law or ordinance.’’

         DiMaria planned to build a crematorium on lot 2, which he had purchased from MPM in late September, 2012.[4] Members of the Owners Association were aware of DiMaria’s plans to build a crematorium prior to his purchase of lot 2 from MPM. On August 29, 2012, the Design Review Committee met to consider DiMaria’s plans.[5] It did not give its permission to build such a structure because it was not an approved use pursuant to § 6.3 of article 6 of the declaration.

         On August 1, 2012, Rocky Hill Development, LLC (Rocky Hill Development), MPM, and Rescue One, LLC (Rescue One), respectively the owners of lots 1, 2, and 7, filed an amendment to the declaration on the Cromwell land records. This amendment purported to withdraw lots 1, 2, and 7 from the Owners Association on the basis of their holding more than fifty percent of the votes of the Owners Association.[6]

         On August 6, 2014, the plaintiffs commenced this action against the MPM, DiMaria, Rocky Hill Development, and Rescue One, seeking a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief in a three count complaint.[7] In count one of the complaint, the plaintiffs alleged that for a variety of reasons, the August 1, 2012 amendment did not effectively amend the declaration.[8] For relief, they sought, inter alia, a declaratory judgment that the amendment was void ab initio and unenforceable, that the original declaration remained in full force and effect and that lots 1, 2, and 7 remained part of the Owners Association and subject to the declaration. In count two, the plaintiffs argued, in the alternative, that if the amendment was valid, then the court issue a declaratory judgment stating that MPM, DiMaria, Rocky Hill Development, and Rescue One, not be permitted to use the common area easement or the drainage easement. In count three, directed only to MPM and DiMaria, the plaintiffs sought a temporary and permanent injunction prohibiting the construction of an unapproved building on lot 2. DiMaria argued that, as a result of the August 1, 2012 amendment withdrawing lot 2 from the Owner’s Association, he did not need the approval of the Design Review Committee to build the crematorium on lot 2.

         The court held an expedited trial on October 2, 2014. After hearing evidence and reviewing the posttrial briefs, the court issued its memorandum of decision on December 19, 2014. It observed that the dispositive issue was the validity and effect of the August 1, 2012 amendment. The court concluded that although the owners of lots 1, 2, and 7 had a 54.15 percent vote, the declaration did not contain any language that permitted an owner to withdraw a lot from the Owners Association. It set forth the following rationale to support its conclusion that the amendment was invalid: ‘‘First, the declaration specifically provides that its provisions run with the lots and are binding upon all Owners. Second, there is a lack of authority in the declaration to remove lots from the Coles Brook Commerce Park community and/or the [Owners] Association. . . . Third, the declaration contains an express provision that every owner shall be a member of the [Owners] Association. The amendment is invalid because it violates the express terms of the Declaration. . . . MPM, Rocky Hill [Development] and Rescue One were not permitted, under the declaration, to modify the declaration to withdraw their lots from the [Owners] Association and to renounce their status as Owners as defined by the declaration.’’ (Citations omitted.)

         The court then rejected some of the arguments that had been presented by the plaintiffs. Specifically, the court was not persuaded by the plaintiffs’ contention that there had been an invalid vote because Rocky Hill previously left the Owner’s Association, and MPM and Rescue One alone lacked a majority vote. The court also concluded that, contrary to the plaintiffs’ claim, Coles Brook Commerce Park was not subject to the Common Interest Ownership Act, General Statutes§ 47-214 et seq.[9]

         Turning to the issue of injunctive relief, the court noted that the declaration provided that approval of the Design Review Committee was required for the construction of buildings and that certain offensive uses were prohibited. ‘‘It is undisputed that DiMaria has not submitted the plans for the crematorium structure to the [Design Review Committee]. It is also undisputed that after the [Design Review Committee] became aware of the DiMaria’s plans to build a crematorium, they held a meeting on August 29, 2012. At that meeting, the [Design Review Committee] declined to approve DiMaria’s use of lot 2 as a crematorium because it violated § 6.3 of article 6 of the declaration. . . . The court also finds that DiMaria has violated the restrictive covenants by constructing a structure or building upon lot 2 without the approval of plans or proposed use from the [Design Review Committee].’’

         The court then issued the following orders: ‘‘The court enters a declaratory judgment that the amendment to the declaration . . . is invalid and of no force and effect. . . . The defendant . . . DiMaria and his agents, heirs and assigns are ordered to immediately cease any construction or development activity upon lot 2 . . . until such time as he/they have obtained approval of plans and permission for use from the Design Review Committee . . . .’’

         On January 5, 2015, the defendants filed a motion to reargue and for reconsideration of the December 19, 2014 decision. Specifically, the defendants claimed that the decision addressed issues outside of the scope of the pleadings and was contradictory to the allegations of the complaint and the evidence presented at trial. The court denied this motion on January 15, 2015. This appeal followed.

         On January 26, 2015, the defendants moved to open the judgment and to dismiss the action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. They argued that because the declaration limited authority to commence a civil action to enforce a violation of the declaration to the Declarant and the Owners Association, and neither of those entities was a party to the action, the plaintiffs lacked standing to enforce a claimed violation of the declaration.

         On February 4, 2015, the plaintiffs filed an objection to the defendants’ motion to dismiss. Specifically, they argued that the lot owners had standing to enforce the restrictions contained in the declaration and that the defendants’ standing claim was untimely.

         On March 30, 2015, the court denied the defendants’ motion. The defendants then amended their appeal to include a challenge to the court’s denial of their motion to dismiss.

         I

         The defendants first claim that the court improperly denied their motion to dismiss, filed after judgment had been rendered in favor of the plaintiffs, for lack of standing. Specifically, they argue that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because the declaration authorized only the Declarant and the Owners Association to enforce the restrictions contained therein. We disagree.

         At the outset, we set forth the relevant legal principles regarding the doctrine of standing. ‘‘Standing is the legal right to set judicial machinery in motion. One cannot rightfully invoke the jurisdiction of the court unless he [or she] has, in an individual or representative capacity, some real interest in the cause of action, or a legal or equitable right, title or interest in the subject matter of the controversy. . . . When standing is put in issue, the question is whether the person whose standing is challenged is a proper party to request an adjudication of the issue . . . .’’ (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Styslinger v.Brewster Park, LLC, 321 Conn. 312, 316, A.3d (2016); see also Bongiorno v.J & G Realty, LLC, 162 Conn.App. 430, 437, 131 A.3d 1230, cert. denied, 320 Conn. 924, 133 A.3d 878 (2016). ‘‘We have long held that because [a] determination regarding a trial court’s subject matter jurisdiction is a question of law, our review is plenary. . . . In addition, because standing implicates the court’s subject matter jurisdiction, the issue of standing is not subject to waiver and may be raised at any time.’’ (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Property Asset Management, Inc. v.Lazarte, 163 Conn.App. ...


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