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Mangiafico v. Town of Farmington

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

May 16, 2017

ENRICO MANGIAFICO
v.
TOWN OF FARMINGTON ET AL.

          Argued January 31, 2017

         Appeal from Superior Court, judicial district of Hartford, Scholl, J.

          Jon L. Schoenhorn, for the appellant (plaintiff).

          Kenneth R. Slater, Jr., with whom, on the brief, was Kelly C. McKeon for the appellees (defendants).

          Alvord, Keller and Beach, Js.

          OPINION

          ALVORD, J.

         The plaintiff, Enrico Mangiafico, appeals from the judgment of the trial court dismissing four of the five counts in his complaint and rendering summary judgment on the remaining count. In his complaint, the plaintiff alleged that the actions of the municipal defendants, the town of Farmington (town) and five individuals[1] sued in their official capacities (individual defendants), in placing his residential property on the town's blight list, issuing citations for blight violations, imposing daily fines for blight violations and recording liens on his property for failing to pay those fines, violated his due process rights, constituted an unconstitutional taking of his property, and inflicted severe emotional distress. The plaintiff sought declaratory and injunctive relief, a discharge of the municipal blight liens, and indemnification by the town for damages caused by the individually named defendants.

         On appeal, the plaintiff claims that the court improperly granted the defendants' motion to dismiss on the ground that he had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as provided by statute and the Code of the Town of Farmington (code). Further, the plaintiff claims that the court improperly granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment on his count seeking discharge of the municipal blight liens on the ground that he could not collaterally attack the validity of the assessments underlying those liens. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The following facts, as either alleged in the complaint or undisputed by the parties, and procedural history are relevant to the resolution of the claims on appeal. The plaintiff's residence, located on Lakeview Drive in Farmington, suffered catastrophic damage prior to 2009, rendering it uninhabitable for a lengthy period of time. The plaintiff's insurance carrier, which directed the demolition and rebuilding of the home, caused delays outside of the plaintiff's control. He brought an action against the insurance carrier, and a settlement was reached in August, 2011. In July, 2012, a group of residents in the plaintiff's neighborhood filed a complaint with the town manager concerning the appearance of the plaintiff's property. Shortly thereafter, a town official notified the plaintiff of the complaint.

         Prior to 2012, the town adopted chapter 88 of the code (blight ordinance) as one of its municipal ordinances. The provisions of chapter 88 address vacant blighted buildings that adversely affect property values within the town and that threaten the health, safety and general welfare of its residents. Section 88-4 of the blight ordinance sets forth procedures for placing properties on a blighted property list. The blight ordinance further allows the town manager, or his designee, to issue citations and to impose a penalty of not more than $100 per day for violations of the blight ordinance. Section 88-5 of the blight ordinance and chapter 91 of the code, titled ‘‘citation hearing procedure, '' provide property owners with an administrative procedure for contesting liability for the blight citations and assessments.

         On August 14, 2012, the town council voted to add the plaintiff's property to the town's blighted property list. No advance notice was provided to the plaintiff that such an action would be taken at that meeting. The town manager sent the plaintiff a letter on August 22, 2012, advising him that his property had been placed on the town's list of blighted properties. The letter further required the plaintiff to undertake certain improvements prior to October 1, 2012.

         Commencing on September 4, 2012, the town issued citations and imposed a penalty of $100 per day against the plaintiff for his alleged violations of the blight ordinance. Pursuant to § 88-5 of the blight ordinance, on October 15, 2012, the plaintiff requested and attended a hearing to challenge his liability. At that hearing, the building citation hearing officer reduced the amount of the plaintiff's fines, for the period of September 4 through October 15, 2012, from $4000 to $2000. The hearing officer further required the plaintiff to submit a building plan to municipal officials within thirty days of the hearing. The hearing officer refused, however, to consider the plaintiff's challenges to the designation of his property as a blighted building or the procedures involved in that designation. On February 5, 2013, a $2000 municipal real estate lien was placed on the plaintiff's property for his failure to pay the assessment entered by the hearing officer on October 15, 2012.

         For the period January 4 to February 19, 2013, the town imposed, on February 21, 2013, an additional $4700 in daily fines. On April 16, 2013, the town placed a second municipal real estate lien on the plaintiff's property for his failure to pay the $4700 assessed by the hearing officer on February 21, 2013. According to the plaintiff, he received no notice of the scheduled February 21, 2013 hearing nor was he given an opportunity to contest the designation of his property as blighted.

         On July 2, 2013, the plaintiff attended another hearing before the same hearing officer, seeking to challenge the blight designation of his property and the fines imposed for the alleged violations of the blight ordinance. The hearing officer reiterated his position that the plaintiff could not contest the blight designation at that administrative hearing, and he sought an explanation for the plaintiff's failure to complete construction pursuant to his submitted plan. On July 10, 2013, the hearing officer sent a letter to the plaintiff requiring specified improvements and construction to be completed by September 9, 2013, in exchange for the reduction or waiver of all accrued fines. The plaintiff did not appeal from the decisions of the hearing officer to the Superior Court pursuant to § 91-2 (G) of the town's citation hearing procedure ordinance or General Statutes § 7-152c (g).[2]

         The fines that remain and are at issue are those imposed from September 4 through October 15, 2012, in the reduced amount of $2000, and the fines imposed from January 1 through February 19, 2013, in the amount of $4700. On September 6, 2013, the plaintiff commenced the present action alleging that the defendants' conduct constituted a violation of his due process rights and a taking under the federal and state constitutions, and the intentional infliction of emotional distress. He sought declaratory and injunctive relief, damages, a discharge of the municipal real estate liens and indemnification by the town for the actions of the individually named defendants. On November 15, 2013, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss all five counts of the plaintiff's complaint on the ground that he failed to exhaust his administrative remedies pursuant to the code and the statutory remedy set forth in § 7-152c (g). The plaintiff filed an opposition to the motion on December12, 2013. The court heard argument on February 10, 2014.

         On May 20, 2014, the court issued its memorandum of decision dismissing four of the five counts of the plaintiff's complaint. The court concluded: ‘‘[T]he exhaustion doctrine requires not only that a party avail himself of any remedies before the administrative agency but that a party who has a statutory right to appeal from a decision of an administrative agency cannot, instead of appealing, bring an independent action to test the very issues which the appeal was designed to test. Here an appeal to the Superior Court from the decisions of the municipal hearing officer would have provided the plaintiff with a de novo hearing in which he could have contested the imposition of the fines as well as the designation of his property as blighted.'' The court further determined that none of the exceptions to the exhaustion doctrine applied in this case. With respect to count four, however, which sought a discharge of the municipal real estate liens, the court concluded that it had subject matter jurisdiction ‘‘to determine whether it can treat the antiblight lien as a property tax lien, and, if so, whether the antiblight lien may be discharged as such.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Accordingly, the court denied the defendants' motion to dismiss count four of the plaintiff's com-plaint.[3]

         On October 1, 2014, the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on the remaining count of the plaintiff's complaint, claiming that they were entitled to judgment as a matter of law because the underlying assessments were valid and final. The defendants argued that because the liens ‘‘were properly noticed and filed, the plaintiff cannot prevail on [count four] seeking to discharge the liens.'' In support of their motion, the defendants filed a memorandum of law and an affidavit by the town manager; see footnote 1 of this opinion; attesting to the procedure employed in securing and recording the liens. The plaintiff filed an objection to the defendants' motion on October 31, 2014. The court heard argument on November 17, 2014, and rendered summary judgment on count four in its memorandum of decision issued January 7, 2015. The court concluded: ...


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