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Williams v. Bean

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 29, 2017

DAVE WILLIAMS and REBA WILLIAMS, Plaintiffs and Counter Defendants,
RANDALL BEAN, ELIZABETH BLACK BEAN, et al., Defendants and Counter Claimants.



         Dave Williams and Reba Williams (collectively, “Plaintiffs, ” “Counter Defendants” or “Williamses”) brought this action against Randall Bean, Elizabeth Black, Christopher Bean, and Matthew Bean (collectively, “Defendants, ” “Counter Claimants, ” or “Beans”) in the Connecticut Superior Court for the Judicial District of New London. ECF No. 1-2. The Beans removed this case to this Court. ECF No. 1. The Beans then filed Counterclaims against the Williamses. ECF No. 26. The Williamses filed a motion to dismiss the Counterclaims. ECF No. 30. Defendants then filed Amended Counterclaims. ECF No. 41. The Court agreed to consider the original motion to dismiss, ECF No. 30, as applying to the Amended Counterclaims, and allowed the parties to file supplemental briefing as to the new allegations in the Amended Counterclaims. ECF No. 49; ECF No. 50. The Williamses then filed a supplemental motion to dismiss as to the new allegations in the Amended Counterclaims. ECF No. 57.

         As the parties briefed the motion to dismiss as to the Counterclaims and the Amended Counterclaims, the parties indicated that the Williamses would be requesting that Ms. Williams's deposition transcript and all exhibits to that deposition be designated Confidential under the Court's Standing Protective Order, ECF No. 11, and that the parties would, therefore, be filing documents under seal pending the resolution of a dispute over whether the documents should, in fact, be sealed. See, e.g., 4/7/2017 Motion to Seal at 1-2, ECF No. 39 (“Defendants object to Plaintiffs' designation of the entire transcript of Reba Williams' deposition and all exhibits thereto being designated Confidential . . . Defendants assume that the designations of the deposition transcript and exhibits were made because Plaintiffs believe they implicate a legitimate expectation of privacy. Defendants disagree . . . Defendants plan to meet and confer with counsel for Plaintiffs regarding this matter, and then seek relief from the Court if such meet and confer does not yield positive results.”). On July 24, 2017, the Court provisionally granted the most recent motion to seal pending the resolution of the underlying dispute over whether Ms. Williams's deposition and the attached exhibits should be sealed. ECF No. 64.

         For the reasons that follow, the Court here GRANTS in part and DENIES in part the Williams' Motion to Dismiss the Beans' Counterclaims.

         As explained below, the Court ORDERS that all documents must be unsealed.


         This matter is a dispute between neighbors. The Williamses allegedly reside in Greenwich, Connecticut. Amend. Countercl. ¶ 14, ECF No. 40. The Beans allegedly reside in Boston, Massachusetts. Id. ¶ 13. Matthew Bean and Christopher Bean are the adult children of Mr. Bean and Ms. Black. Id. ¶¶ 20-21.

         On October of 2014, Mr. Bean and Ms. Black allegedly purchased a home at 28 Water Street in Stonington, Connecticut (the “Bean Property”). Amend. Countercl. ¶ 22. The house on the Bean Property was built around 1870 and in need of repair at the time. Id. The Bean Property allegedly had, as a defining characteristic, uninterrupted views of Montauk Point, Fishers Island, and the Fishers Island Sound (“Water Views”). Id. ¶ 23. The Beans allegedly purchased the Bean Property primarily because of the Water Views and the property's waterfront location. Id. ¶ 24. The Beans allege that they began moving into the Bean Property on June 5, 2016. Id. ¶ 77.

         The Williamses allegedly own two houses in Stonington that immediately surround the Bean Property (collectively, the “Williams Properties”). Amend. Countercl. ¶ 48. One house, located at 24 Water Street, is immediately next door to the Bean Property (“24 Water Street”). Id. ¶ 49. The second house, located at 29 Water Street, is located directly across the street from the Bean Property (“29 Water Street”). Id. One of the Williams Properties has a dock. Id. ¶ 42.

         Defendants allege that the Williamses “have a history of antagonistic relations with the Stonington community as detailed in an article published by the New London Day in March 2011.” Amend. Countercl. ¶ 50. Defendants further allege that the Williamses filed two separate lawsuits in or around 2009 against the previous owners of the Bean Property, alleging a property line dispute. Id. ¶¶ 51-52. The Beans allege that the previous owners of the Bean Property sold them the property “well below their initial asking price, in part, because of the Williams' harassing actions.” Id. ¶ 53.

         A. Design Plan and Stonington Planning and Zoning Commission

         Before the Beans purchased the Bean Property, they allegedly met with an architect to determine what renovations they could make to the existing house under the Town of Stonington Planning and Zoning Commission (“Stonington P&Z”) Guidelines. Amend. Countercl. ¶ 25. An experienced architect allegedly assisted them in developing a renovation design (the “Design Plan”) that included installing predominantly south and southwest-facing windows to “take advantage of south facing solar gain, the natural light, and the Water Views.” Id. ¶ 26. The Design Plan allegedly placed as few windows as feasible on the north side of the home because of the absence of any solar gain or natural light from that direction. Id. ¶ 27. Overall, the Design Plan allegedly added windows and changed the usage of certain spaces, but did not change the footprint or height of the existing house on the Bean Property. Id. ¶ 28.

         Before submitting the Design Plan to the Stonington P&Z, the Beans allege that they asked the real estate agents for the Bean Property to inquire as to whether the Williamses, as the owner of the properties next door and across the street from the Bean Property, had any objections. Id. ¶ 29. The real estate agent allegedly reported that the Williamses did not object to the Design Plan. Id. ¶ 30.

         On March of 2015, the Beans allegedly worked with the Stonington P&Z officer to submit their design plan for approval. Id. ¶ 31. Many in the Stonington community allegedly supported the plan, with around 50 neighbors either sending letters of support to Stonington P&Z or planning to attend the plan review hearing in support. Id. ¶ 32. Two households allegedly objected to the Design Plan. Id. ¶ 33. The Williamses were, allegedly, not among these objectors. Id. The Stonington P&Z allegedly approved of the Design Plan unanimously. Id. ¶ 35.

         Following the Stonington P&Z's approval of the Design Plan for the Bean Property, the individuals who had allegedly opposed the Design Plan, Martina Durner and Larry Alstiel and Paul Koushouris (collectively, the “Design Plan Objectors”), allegedly filed two lawsuits against “the Town of Stonington, Stonington Planning & Zoning, Stonington Zoning Board of Appeals, and the Bean Family.” Id. ¶ 36. Ms. Durner and Mr. Alstiel allegedly contacted multiple neighbors, including the Williamses, in an effort to build support for Ms. Durner and Mr. Alstiel's lawsuit. Id. ¶ 37.

         In November of 2015, the Beans allegedly agreed to a stipulated settlement with the Design Plan Objectors that the Beans, moving forward, would not make changes to the Design Plan for a period of ten years. Id. ¶ 38. The Williamses allegedly named Ms. Durner and Mr. Alstiel as principal witnesses in the matter currently pending before the Court. Id. ¶ 39.

         B. Dock Permit

         In or around August of 2015, the Beans allegedly filed an application for a dock permit to build a short dock on the Bean Property. Id. ¶ 41. They allegedly sent notifications to their immediate neighbors, including the Williamses. Id. Mr. Williams allegedly opposed the Defendants' dock permit application. Id. ¶ 42. The opposition letter from the Williamses allegedly stated, in relevant part, that “[w]hen we brought our home, 24 Water Street, six years ago, we were informed that no more docks would be permitted in the Commons to the Point area.” Id. ¶ 43. The Stonington Harbor Marine Commission allegedly approved the Beans' dock permit application unanimously, with a 10-0 vote, roughly one month later. Id. ¶ 44.

         The Beans allegedly proceeded to make a necessary dock permit application to the State of Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (“DEEP”). Amend. Countercl. ¶ 45. On February 29, 2016, DEEP allegedly granted tentative approval for the dock permit for the Bean Property. Id. The Beans allege that, around the time of DEEP's February 29, 2016, tentative approval for their dock permit application, the Williamses began to harass them. Id. ¶ 47. On March 28, 2016, DEEP allegedly gave formal approval for the dock permit, and the Beans began preparing to construct the dock. Id. ¶ 68. The Williamses allegedly appealed the decision to DEEP, which allegedly denied their appeal. Id. ¶ 69.

         C. Allegedly Harassing Activities by Mr. Williams and Ms. Williams

         1. Correspondence with Individuals

         On August 31, 2015, Ms. Williams allegedly sent an e-mail to a neighbor Lynn Young that read, in part, “Mr. Bean plans to build high enough to see over our hedge. If he does and peers into our privacy, we'll know he's a peeping tom.” Amend. Countercl. ¶ 34.

         On February 9, 2016, Ms. Williams allegedly sent an e-mail to another neighbor, stating that the renovated Bean Property “ruin[ed] the look of Water Street, ” and called Mr. Bean a “barbarian.” Amend. Countercl. ¶ 40.

         On March 4, 2016, Ms. Williams allegedly sent another e-mail to someone named “Josie, ” stating in relevant part that Mr. Bean “told the world he'd build to see into our yard and he's done it.” Amend. Countercl. ¶ 55 n. 3.

         In or around March 6, 2016, Mr. Williams allegedly sent an e-mail to neighbor Betty Richards that read, in relevant part: “Reba wants me to send this on. For her, the dock does it. Can't live with that and all else next door. We'll have to move.” Amend. Countercl. ¶ 46.

         Ms. Williams allegedly also sent an e-mail to Mr. Alstiel on March 7, 2016, stating that Mr. Bean “had said he planned to build so high he could see over our hedge into our garden.” Amend. Countercl. ¶ 59.

         On April 5, 2016, Ms. Williams allegedly sent an e-mail to neighbor Spike Lobdell, which stated that “Mr. Bean was telling people how he was going to build a tall place which would overlook ours, including our garden - ruining our privacy. He did what he said he would.” Amend. Countercl. ¶ 70 n. 4.

         On July 18, 2016, Ms. Williams allegedly sent an e-mail to neighbor Annette Blaugrund, stating that Mr. Williams and Ms. Williams “were being ‘spied upon' by the Bean Family.” Amend. Countercl. ¶ 85.

         On July 20, 2016, Mr. Williams allegedly sent identical e-mails to five neighbors, Tom Hausman, Al Razzano, Heidi Reavis, Betty Richards and Mary Fitzgibbons. Amend. Countercl. ¶ 86. This e-mail allegedly stated that “the Beans were snooping on the Williams” and further stated that “last week a young man from next door began taking photographs of us in our garden.” Id.

         On October 20, 2016, Ms. Williams allegedly sent an e-mail to Ms. Young, stating that “‘just like [previous owner of the Bean Property] Hobbs, ' the Bean Family ‘won't stop.'” Amend. Countercl. ¶ 107. This e-mail allegedly went on to accuse one Defendant of “staring at Ms. Williams” and further stated that the Williamses only sued the Beans “because the Beans refused twice to agree to stay out of our property.” Id. The Beans allege that the allegations about them in this e-mail are false. Id. ¶ 108. The Beans further allege that these accusations are likely to harm their reputations and damage them in their professional endeavors. Id. ¶ 109. The Beans further allege that these accusations are likely to harm Christopher Beans's reputation and damage him in his nascent professional endeavors. Id. ¶ 110.

         2. Correspondence with Multiple Recipients

         a. The March 4, 2016 E-mail to Multiple Stonington Residents

         On March 4, 2016, at a time when the Beans allege that they had yet to meet the Williamses, the Beans allege that they learned that the Williamses had circulated a disparaging email about them to numerous residents of Stonington. Amend Countercl. ¶¶ 54-55. In this e-mail, the Williamses allegedly accused the Beans of stating they were “friends” with Mr. Williams and Ms. Williams. Id. ¶ 55. This e-mail further alleged that Mr. Bean and Ms. Black told an unidentified third party that they had designed the Bean Property “so that they could look into the Williams' garden.” Id.

         On March 5, 2016, Ms. Black allegedly responded to this e-mail by sending Mr. Williams an e-mail that stated, in relevant part, that “we have never indicated in writing or conversation that we are ‘friends with you or your wife, ” and that “we have never, in writing or conversation, indicated that the reason for this purchase was so that we could look at your gardens, ” and “I can assure you that we have absolutely no intention of interfering with your privacy and look forward to being cordial and respectful neighbors.” Amend. Countercl. ¶ 57.

         Ms. Williams allegedly responded to Ms. Black's e-mail with a March 7, 2016, e-mail to neighbor Ms. Richards, stating that, just as in prior years when they had been “made miserable” by the previous owner of the Bean Property, whom Ms. Williams referred to as “Horrible Hobbs, ” it was happening again. Amend. Countercl. ¶ 58. Ms. Williams's e-mail allegedly said that Ms. Black's was “lying” in Ms. Black's March 5, 2016, e-mail. Id.

         Ms. Williams allegedly responded to Ms. Black's March 5, 2016, e-mail in March 7, 2016, e-mail stating, in relevant part:

I have no interest in the past. All that I care about is recent behavior of your husband. You imply that I have misstated facts about him. I have huge amounts of backup from people who detest you both. Should I have to go to court for anything -- they have all offered support. At one time I thought you were innocent, and didn't know anything about your husband's behavior. I now know better.

Amend. Countercl. ¶ 60 (emphasis in original). The Beans allege that they have no knowledge of what “behavior” Ms. Williams was referring to and the Beans alleged that they were “baffled and alarmed.” Id. ¶¶ 61-62. Mr. Bean allegedly contacted the Stonington Police Department to express his concerns about Ms. Williams's e-mail.

         On March 8, 2016, Mr. Bean allegedly sent an e-mail to both the Williamses, explaining, among other things, that “I want to make abundantly clear that at no stage did we ever make any comments with regard to you, nor would we have any reason to, ” and that “[w]e hope to be cordial neighbors.” Countercl. ¶ 64. Mr. Bean allegedly invited the Williamses to ask any questions about the renovation plans at the Bean Property and further invited the Williamses for drinks. Id. The e-mail emphasized that the Beans “possess only goodwill with regard to you, and a “hope that you will come to feel the same way.” Id.

         Roughly an hour later on March 8, 2006, Ms. Williams allegedly responded with an email stating that:

As a consequence of your constantly forcing yourself in our lives we are leaving Stonington. We do not want to live next door to you. Do not contact us again. You will always be the person who has forced me away from a house and garden I love.

Amend. Countercl. ¶ 65.

         b. E-mails to the “Private Lives” E-mail List

         On March 14, 2016, Ms. Williams allegedly sent an e-mail to an e-mail group called “Private Lives.” Amend. Countercl. ¶ 67. This e-mail allegedly accused Mr. Bean of improperly obtaining approval for renovations to the Bean Property, and further allegedly that the renovations were “out-of-code.” Id.

         On May 26, 2016, Ms. Williams allegedly sent another e-mail to “Private Lives, ” stating that “Mr. Bean had said that ‘[t]his house under renovation is going to be so tall I will be able to look right into the Williams' garden.'” Amend. Countercl. ¶ 74. She allegedly further stated that “[t]the renovations to the Bean Property were ‘designed for spying' on the Williams, and again suggested that the members of the Bean Family are peeping toms.” Id. Neighbor Susan Kinsolving allegedly responded to Ms. Williams's May 26, 2016, e-mail, writing that the Williamses should “shin[e] very bright lights back at ...

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