Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Mayer v. Historic District Commission of Thetown of Groton

Supreme Court of Connecticut

May 30, 2017

ROBERT MAYER ET AL.
v.
HISTORIC DISTRICT COMMISSION OF THETOWN OF GROTON ET AL.

          Argued January 18, 2017

          Thomas F. Collier, with whom was Frank N. Eppinger, for the appellants (plaintiffs).

          Michael P. Carey, for the appellee (named defendant).

          Harry B. Heller, for the appellees (defendant Steven Young et al.).

          Palmer, Eveleigh, McDonald, Espinosa, Robinson and Vertefeuille, Js.

          OPINION

          ROBINSON, J.

         The principal issue in this appeal is whether the statutory aggrievement principles of General Statutes § 8-8[1] extend to appeals from the decisions of historic district commissions brought pursuant to General Statutes § 7-147i.[2] The plaintiffs, Robert Mayer and Mary Pat Mayer, appeal[3] from the judgments of the trial court dismissing their appeals from two decisions of the named defendant, the Historic District Commission of the Town of Groton (commission), with respect to alterations to a barn located on real property owned by the defendants Steven Young and Caroline Young (applicants).[4] On appeal, the plaintiffs claim that the trial court improperly concluded that: (1) statutory aggrievement under § 8-8 does not extend to historic district commission appeals brought pursuant to § 7-147i; and (2) they had failed to establish that they were classically aggrieved with respect to each of the commission's two decisions. We disagree and, accordingly, affirm the judgments of the trial court.

         The record reveals the following relevant facts and procedural history. The plaintiffs own real property located at 50 Pearl Street in the Mystic River Historic District within the town of Groton (town). The applicants own abutting real property located at 52 Pearl Street. On May 1, 2012, the applicants sought a certificate of appropriateness from the commission that would allow them to remove nine feet, seven inches from the southern end of a historic barn located on their property, which would eliminate their need to obtain a variance from the town's lot coverage regulations in connection with plans to build an addition to their house. At a public hearing on May 15, 2012, the commission voted to grant that application for a certificate of appropriateness, despite the fact that the plaintiffs appeared and objected to the application. On May 25, 2012, the plaintiffs appealed from the commission's decision granting the certificate of appropriateness to the trial court pursuant to § 7-147i (first appeal).

         While the first appeal was pending before the trial court, on September 1, 2012, the applicants requested a second certificate of appropriateness from the commission to: (1) modify the barn by removing a portion not in public view, in accordance with an accompanying architectural drawing; and (2) ‘‘modify and expand [the] existing rear addition'' to the house. Specifically, the applicants sought the commission's approval of a proposal to reduce the overall footprint of the barn while leaving several of its facades intact, in order to make additional room for the contemplated addition. The commission held a public hearing on the second application on September 18, 2012. The commission then continued the hearing to a second session, held on October 16, 2012. At that hearing, the applicants withdrew the portion of the application seeking a certificate of appropriateness with respect to alterations to the main house. After some discussion, the commission found that it lacked jurisdiction over the remainder of the matter because ‘‘the portion of the [barn at issue did] not meet the definition of an exterior architectural feature that is open to view from a public street, way or place.'' On October 29, 2012, the plaintiffs appealed from the commission's finding of no jurisdiction to the trial court pursuant to § 7-147i (second appeal).

         The trial court held a hearing on both appeals on July 22, 2014. Following testimony by the plaintiffs to establish their aggrievement in each appeal, the defendants moved to dismiss both appeals for lack of statutory or classical aggrievement. The trial court subsequently issued separate memoranda of decision granting the motions of the defendants to dismiss the two appeals.

         In its memoranda of decision, the trial court first agreed with the defendants' claim that statutory aggrievement under § 8-8 (a) does not apply to historic district commission appeals brought pursuant to § 7-147i. Rejecting the contrary analysis in Peeling v. Historic District Commission, Superior Court, judicial district of Stamford-Norwalk, Docket No CV-06-4009772-S (November 1, 2006) (42 Conn. L. Rptr. 284), the trial court held that § 7-147i ‘‘is not ambiguous; it simply does not provide any alternative to proving actual aggrievement. The legislature could have but did not provide expressly, or incorporate the per se aggrievement provision in § 8-8 (a) (1) . . . .''

         The trial court then turned to classical aggrievement. With respect to the first appeal, the trial court acknowledged that the plaintiffs had pleaded that they were aggrieved. The trial court nevertheless concluded that the plaintiffs had ‘‘rested their case on aggrievement without presenting any evidence of such aggrievement or citing any evidence in the record, let alone any specific testimony or exhibit in the record, from which the court could find aggrievement as a matter of fact.'' The court further rejected the plaintiffs' reliance on the administrative record pursuant to State Library v. Freedom of Information Commission, 240 Conn. 824, 832- 33, 694 A.2d 1235 (1997), noting the plaintiffs' failure to cite specific references to the administrative record during their case-in-chief, and stating that even if it were to search the record, the plaintiffs had failed to establish ‘‘the possibility . . . that [they] have a specific personal and legal interest in the subject of the [commission's] decision which [had] been specially and injuriously affected . . . .''[5] Accordingly, the court rendered judgment dismissing the first appeal.

         With respect to the second appeal, the trial court concluded that the plaintiffs failed to plead that they were classically aggrieved by the commission's decision. The court also emphasized that the commission's decision to permit the applicants to remove a portion of the barn did not directly harm the plaintiffs, observing that they could not see that portion of the barn from their property, and there was no ‘‘claim, let alone credible evidence, '' that the removal of that portion of the barn ‘‘harmed the value [of the plaintiffs' property].'' The trial court reiterated that the possibility that the applicants might use the space to build an addition did not render the plaintiffs aggrieved. See footnote 5 of this opinion. Accordingly, the trial court rendered judgment dismissing the second appeal. These appeals followed. See footnote 3 of this opinion.

         On appeal, the plaintiffs claim that the trial court improperly concluded, with respect to both appeals, that: (1) the statutory aggrievement provided by § 8-8 (a) does not apply to historic district commission appeals brought pursuant to § 7-147i; and (2) they were not classically aggrieved. We address each of these claims in turn. Additional relevant facts will be set forth as necessary.

         ‘‘Before we address the merits of the parties' claims, we briefly set forth the law governing aggrievement . . . . [P]leading and proof of aggrievement are prerequisites to the trial court's jurisdiction over the subject matter of a plaintiff's appeal. . . . [I]n order to have standing to bring an administrative appeal, a person must be aggrieved. . . .

         ‘‘Standing . . . is not a technical rule intended to keep aggrieved parties out of court; nor is it a test of substantive rights. Rather it is a practical concept designed to ensure that courts and parties are not vexed by suits brought to vindicate nonjusticiable interests and that judicial decisions which may affect the rights of others are forged in hot controversy, with each view fairly and vigorously represented. . . .

         ‘‘Two broad yet distinct categories of aggrievement exist, classical and statutory. . . . Classical aggrievement requires a two part showing. First, a party must demonstrate a specific, personal and legal interest in the subject matter of the decision, as opposed to a general interest that all members of the community share. . . . Second, the party must also show that the agency's decision has specially and injuriously affected that specific personal or legal interest. . . . Aggrievement does not demand certainty, only the possibility of an adverse effect on a legally protected interest. . . .

         ‘‘Statutory aggrievement exists by legislative fiat, not by judicial analysis of the particular facts of the case. In other words, in cases of statutory aggrievement, particular legislation grants standing to those who claim injury to an interest protected by that legislation.'' (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Moutinho v. Planning & Zoning Commission, 278 Conn. 660, 664-65, 899 A.2d 26 (2006).

         I

         We begin with the plaintiffs' claim that the trial court improperly concluded that the statutory aggrievement principles of § 8-8 (a) do not apply to appeals from historic district commission decisions brought pursuant to § 7-147i. The plaintiffs contend that the language of § 7-147i, which provides that ‘‘[p]rocedure upon such appeal shall be the same as that defined in section 8-8, '' is plain and unambiguous and, as such, affording them the statutory aggrievement provided by § 8-8 (a) is consistent with the purpose of that statute, because they are ‘‘distinct from other property owners due to [their] obvious interest as ‘the property next door.' '' The plaintiffs argue that the legislature has, for more than ten years, acquiesced in the Superior Court's construction of §§ 7-147i and 8-8 (a) in Peeling v. Historic District Commission, supra, 42 Conn. L. Rptr. 284, which held that statutory aggrievement applies in historic district commission appeals. The plaintiffs further argue that the ‘‘ ‘[e]xcept as provided' '' by § 7-147i language in § 8-8 ‘‘applies only to the various time periods for appeals in the listed legal proceedings'' set forth in § 8-8 (b), and ‘‘does not exclude statutory aggrievement in § 7-147i.''

         In response, the commission contends that the trial court properly determined that statutory aggrievement does not apply in appeals from historic district commissions pursuant to § 7-147i. The commission argues that, even if § 7-147i is deemed to incorporate all of § 8-8 (a), the plain language of § 8-8 (a) confers statutory aggrievement only on persons aggrieved by decisions of planning commissions, zoning commissions, zoning boards of appeal, or combined planning and zoning commissions. Citing a Connecticut land use treatise; see T. Tondro, Connecticut Land Use Regulation (2d Ed. 1992), pp. 547-48; the commission contends that this limited provision of statutory aggrievement in § 8-8 (a) plainly and unambiguously provides that parties appealing from decisions of other types of land use agencies must prove classical aggrievement. Accordingly, the commission argues that the Superior Court's decision in Peeling is both dictum and wrongly decided. We agree with the commission and conclude that § 8-8 (a) does not afford statutory aggrievement in historic district commission appeals brought pursuant to § 7-147i.

         Whether §§ 7-147i and 8-8 (a) combine to provide statutory aggrievement in historic district commission appeals presents a question of statutory construction over which we exercise plenary review. Gonzalez v. O & G Industries, Inc., 322 Conn. 291, 302, 140 A.3d 950 (2016). ‘‘When construing a statute, [o]ur fundamental objective is to ascertain and give effect to the apparent intent of the legislature. . . . In other words, we seek to determine, in a reasoned manner, the meaning of the statutory language as applied to the facts of [the] case, including the question of whether the language actually does apply. . . . In seeking to determine that meaning, General Statutes § 1-2z directs us first to consider the text of the statute itself and its relationship to other statutes. If, after examining such text and considering such relationship, the meaning of such text is plain and unambiguous and does not yield absurd or unworkable results, extratextual evidence of the meaning of the statute shall not be considered. . . . When a statute is not plain and unambiguous, we also look for interpretive guidance to the legislative history and circumstances surrounding its enactment, to the legislative policy it was designed to implement, and to its relationship to existing legislation and common law principles governing the same general subject matter . . . . The test to determine ambiguity is whether the statute, when read in context, is susceptible to more than one reasonable interpretation.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Id., 302-303.

         We begin with the text of the statutes. Section 7-147i provides in relevant part that: ‘‘Any person or persons severally or jointly aggrieved by any decision of the historic district commission or of any officer thereof may, within fifteen days from the date when such decision was rendered, take an appeal to the superior court for the judicial district in which such municipality is located . ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.