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Randazzo v. Sakon

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

April 17, 2018

MARY RANDAZZO
v.
JOHN ALAN SAKON

          Argued January 3, 2018

         Procedural History

         Action to recover damages for breach of contract, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Hartford, where the matter was referred to James J. Gadarowski, attorney fact finder, who filed a report recommending judgment for the plaintiff; thereafter, the court, Dubay, J., granted the plaintiff's motion for judgment and rendered partial judgment for the plaintiff in accordance with the report, from which the defendant appealed to this court; subsequently, the attorney fact finder filed a report concerning prejudgment interest; thereafter, the court, Wahla, J., rendered judgment for the plaintiff in accordance with the report, and the defendant filed an amended appeal. Appeal dismissed in part; affirmed.

          John A. Sakon, self-represented, the appellant (defendant).

          Thomas P. Moriarty, for the appellee (plaintiff).

          Alvord, Bright and Lavery, Js.

          OPINION

          BRIGHT, J.

         In this amended appeal, the defendant, John Alan Sakon, appeals from the judgment of the trial court, rendered in favor of the plaintiff, Mary Randazzo, acting as trustee for A&F Foods, a general partnership.[1]On appeal, the defendant claims that the trial court erred in accepting the findings and recommendations of the attorney fact finder, James J. Gadarowski (fact finder), and in rendering judgment in accordance with his recommendations. More specifically, the defendant claims that the court improperly: (1) concluded that the plaintiff's cause of action sounds in contract, rather than indemnification, and, therefore, applied the incorrect statute of limitations; (2) concluded that the statute of frauds, General Statutes § 52-550, was inapplicable to this case; and (3) accepted the finding that the town of Glastonbury (town) had imposed real estate taxes on the easement area. We dismiss the defendant's original appeal and, with respect to his amended appeal, we disagree with each of the defendant's claims and, therefore, affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         In his findings of fact and recommended award of damages, the fact finder set forth the following relevant background: ‘‘A long trek would best describe the trip undertaken to develop a large shopping center in Glastonbury . . . by the defendant. The center is to utilize approximately 13.5 acres of land. The process for the new center began in the 1980s when [the] defendant began to acquire properties and easements. In the 1990s a number of lawsuits concerning various issues related to the area to be developed were filed both in Connecticut and federal courts by [the] defendant. Finally, an agreement was reached in February, 1999, called the ‘global settlement' by the parties. The actual settlement document was signed on February 5, 1999, by various parties but was not submitted as evidence at the hearing. Based upon other correspondence and the documents prepared, signed, and recorded, the settlement, in general, provided for a ground lease from [the] plaintiff to [the] defendant for a parcel of land in the area to be developed; an easement . . . from [the] plaintiff to [the] defendant that would allow access from . . . Main [Street] over [the] plaintiff's property to [the] defendant's development;[2] payment of $100, 000 by [the] defendant . . . and the filing of withdrawals by [the] defendant of four . . . state lawsuits, a federal district court action, and an appeal to the [United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit].'' (Footnote added.)

         The parties also drafted an escrow process letter, dated February 9, 1999, signed by the plaintiff's attorney and by the defendant, which listed all documents necessary to consummate the global settlement agreement.[3]The letter indicated that the defendant would be submitting an application to the town's Plan and Zoning Commission (commission) for modification of an existing application involving the plaintiff's tenant, Valvoline, and giving the commission information on the easement, and it provided that if this application was not approved by the commission at its February 16, 1999 meeting, then the entire global settlement agreement was null and void, and all documents, including the easement agreement, would be destroyed and would not be binding on any party. The letter further provided that if the commission approved the application at its February 16, 1999 meeting, then all of the documents would become ‘‘immediately legally binding and effective upon the parties . . . [and] the mortgage, easement agreement and subordination agreement'' would be recorded. The fact finder found that the defendant and his attorney reviewed all of the documents, including the easement. Upon receiving the easement, the defendant submitted the modified application to the commission, and the commission approved the modified application at its February 16, 1999 meeting. Thereafter, the recordable documents were filed, funds were disbursed, and the settlement became final in accordance with the parties' agreement.

         Regarding the taxes due to the town for the land over which the defendant had obtained the easement from the plaintiff, the defendant, in a letter dated February 6, 2000, wrote to the plaintiff: ‘‘I agree that Randazzo is not responsible for any of the taxes. Since Valvoline and I share the easement, we each should be responsible for [half] its assessment where the easement is in common. Since Valvoline gains no benefit, I would be happy to pay the portion in full. I would also pay for any assessment of the sign easement area.'' When the defendant failed to reimburse the plaintiff for the taxes paid, the plaintiff refused to provide requested documentation to the defendant in connection with some financing he was seeking. The plaintiff demanded $4439.76 from the defendant to cover taxes for the grand list years of 1998-2001 assessed against the easement area. The defendant made the payment and sent a letter, dated May 3, 2001, to the plaintiff providing in relevant part: ‘‘I honestly believe that I have already paid all taxes that are my responsibility under the documents. Accordingly, this payment is made under protest and, inter alia, I reserve the right to contest the amount or validity of the imposition by appropriate proceedings . . . . I offered to assume the payment of taxes for the easement area solely in exchange for good relations between the parties. Given our history, I wish only to deal with the town in regard to property taxes.'' (Emphasis in original.) The town assessor at that time, Leon Jendrzejczyk, was asked by the plaintiff to calculate the taxes on the land underlying the easement separately, and he agreed to do so, showing his method of calculation.[4] The plaintiff, thereafter, utilized this method of calculation and sent yearly billings to the defendant seeking reimbursement of the amount due for taxes each year for the easement area. The defendant, however, did not pay these amounts.

         In 2010, the plaintiff commenced this breach of contract action against the defendant. In her revised complaint, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant failed to comply with the parties' agreement that he would reimburse her for the real estate taxes assessed on that portion of the plaintiff's land encumbered by the easement. The plaintiff sought reimbursement for the grand list years 2002 through 2010. The court referred the case to the fact finder, who recommended that judgment be rendered in favor of the plaintiff in the amount of $15, 529.45 plus ‘‘statutory interest.''[5] The trial court rendered judgment in accordance with this recommendation, and the defendant appealed. The plaintiff then filed a motion for clarification regarding the applicable rate of interest awarded and the date on which interest began to accrue. The trial court referred the motion to the fact finder, who clarified that the plaintiff was entitled to prejudgment interest under General Statutes § 37-3a at a rate of 10 percent per annum from the date each payment accrued to the date judgment was rendered.[6] The court, thereafter, rendered judgment in accordance with this clarification, and the defendant amended his appeal to include the new judgment.[7] Additional facts will be included as necessary.

         On appeal, the defendant challenges the factual conclusions reached by the fact finder, as well as the legal conclusions reached by the trial court. Our standard of review, therefore, is as follows. ‘‘Attorney fact finders are empowered to hear and decide issues of fact on contract actions pending in the Superior Court . . . . On appeal, [o]ur function . . . is not to examine the record to see if the trier of fact could have reached a contrary conclusion. . . . Rather, it is the function of this court to determine whether the decision of the trial court is clearly erroneous. . . . This involves a two part function: where the legal conclusions of the court are challenged, we must determine whether they are legally and logically correct and whether they find support in the facts set out in the memorandum of decision; where the factual basis of the court's decision is challenged we must determine whether the facts set out in the memorandum of decision are supported by the evidence or whether, in light of the evidence and the pleadings in the whole record, those facts are clearly erroneous. . . . A finding of fact is clearly erroneous when there is no evidence in the record to support it . . . or when although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed. . . .

         ‘‘Finally, we note that, because the attorney [fact finder] does not have the powers of a court and is simply a fact finder, [a]ny legal conclusions reached by an attorney [fact finder] have no conclusive effect. . . . The reviewing court is the effective arbiter of the law and the legal opinions of [a fact finder], like those of the parties, though they may be helpful, carry no weight not justified by their soundness as viewed by the court that renders judgment.'' (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Walpole Woodworkers, Inc. v. Manning, 126 Conn.App. 94, 98-99, 11 A.3d 165 (2011), aff'd, 307 Conn. 582, 57 A.3d 730 (2012). With this standard of review in mind, we now consider the defendant's claims.

         I

         The defendant claims that the court erred when it concluded that the plaintiff's cause of action sounds in contract, rather than indemnification, and that the court, therefore, applied the incorrect statute of limitations. The defendant argues that the court should have applied the three year statute of limitations set forth in General Statutes § 52-598a, [8] concerning actions for indemnification, rather than the six year statute of limitations set forth in General Statutes § 52-576 (a), [9] concerning actions on simple or implied contracts.[10] We disagree.

         ‘‘The determination of which statute of limitations applies to a given action is a question of law over which our review is plenary.'' Vaccaro v. Shell Beach Condo., Inc., 169 Conn.App. 21, 29, 148 A.3d 1123 (2016), cert. denied, 324 Conn. 917, 154 A.3d 1008 (2017).

         In his decision, the fact finder found that the plaintiff sent the defendant yearly bills for the amount of taxes related to the easement portion of her property, but the defendant refused to pay. In his supplemental decision, the fact finder stated that ‘‘it is clear that upon the facts, including that the plaintiff has not sought . . . indemnification by either judgment or settlement . . . § 52-598a would not apply to this situation. This, instead, is a claim under a contractual obligation and is governed by the six (6) year limit under the terms of . . . § 52-576 (a).'' The defendant objected to this finding, and the trial court overruled the objection.

         On appeal, the defendant first contends that there is no enforceable contract between the parties. This claim is without merit. The fact finder specifically found that there was a global agreement between the parties that involved many documents, including the easement agreement. He further found that the defendant and his attorney reviewed these documents, including the easement agreement. Furthermore, the fact finder found that there was no evidence that the defendant had disputed the wording of the easement, had sought the return of the $100, 000 that he had paid for the easement, or ever offered to return the easement to the plaintiff. The ...


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