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Firstlight Hydro Generating Co. v. Stewart

Supreme Court of Connecticut

May 1, 2018

FIRSTLIGHT HYDRO GENERATING COMPANY
v.
ALLAN STEWART ET AL.

          Argued November 7, 2017

         Procedural History

         Action for, inter alia, a temporary and permanent injunction ordering the defendants to remove certain structures from the plaintiff's real property, and for other relief, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Danbury, where the case was tried to the court, Truglia, J.; judgment in part for the plaintiff, from which the defendants appealed. Affirmed.

          Neil R. Marcus, with whom were Barbara M. Schel-lenberg and Alexander Copp, for the appellants (defendants).

          John L. Cordani, Jr., with whom, on the brief, was Richard L. Street, for the appellee (plaintiff).

          Palmer, McDonald, Robinson, D'Auria, Mullins and Kahn, Js.

          Opinion

          MULLINS, J.

         This appeal arises from an action in which the plaintiff, FirstLight Hydro Generating Company, alleged that the defendants, Allan Stewart and Donatella Arpaia, were trespassing on property that the plaintiff owned along the shore of Candlewood Lake (lake). The trial court rendered judgment for the plaintiff in part.[1] On appeal, the defendants claim that (1) there was insufficient evidence to prove the plaintiff's ownership of the subject property, and (2) the trial court abused its discretion by ordering injunctive relief that was overly broad and exceeded the scope of the relief sought by the plaintiff. We conclude that there is sufficient evidence to support the trial court's finding that the plaintiff owned the subject property and, thus, that the trial court properly found that the defendants had trespassed on the plaintiff's property. We further conclude that the scope of the trial court's injunctive relief is not overly broad. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The following relevant facts and procedural history are set forth in the trial court's memorandum of decision. ‘‘The plaintiff is a public utility corporation with a principal office located in New Milford . . . that operates hydroelectric power generation facilities in this state pursuant to licenses from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. . . .

         ‘‘One of the plaintiff's facilities is a pumped storage hydroelectric power facility . . . known as the Rocky River development. [The lake], which covers an area of approximately 5650 acres in New Milford, Danbury, New Fairfield, Sherman and Brookfield, serves as the reservoir for the Rocky River [development]. . . .

         ‘‘The plaintiff's predecessor in interest, the Connecticut Light & Power Company (CL&P), began construction on [the lake] in 1920 and completed it in 1927. CL&P acquired title to the lands forming the bed and shoreline of [the lake] through a series of conveyances during the 1920s and thereafter. . . . The natural elevation of the . . . lake is approximately 200 feet above sea level. When the lake was created, CL&P purchased all of the land constituting the shoreline of the lake sufficient to allow it to raise the water level in the lake by an additional 230 feet. The elevation of approximately 440 feet above sea level, i.e., the maximum height of the lake's surface when completely flooded, was memorialized as part of [a document known as the] ‘1927 Rocky River datum.' This elevation is . . . commonly referred to as the ‘440 [foot] contour elevation line' or sometimes more simply as the ‘440 contour.' ...

         ‘‘In . . . 2000, CL&P conveyed all of its right, title, and interest in and to the Rocky River [development] to the plaintiff, then known as Northeast Generation Company, by way of a quit claim deed . . . . This quit claim deed conveyed all of the land comprising the bed and shoreline of [the lake] . . . excepting therefrom prior conveyances from CL&P to other grantees . . . .

         ‘‘In 1934, CL&P conveyed a portion of the land it had acquired to complete [the lake] and its surrounding shoreline to Oenoke Holding Corporation [by deed]. . . . The 1934 deed describes the eastern and western boundaries of the tract conveyed . . . by reference to the ‘[1927] Rocky River datum more particularly described in an instrument recorded [on page 213 of volume 12] of the New Fairfield land records.' The 1934 deed also delineates the [tract conveyed] by a complete metes and bounds description with reference to permanent surveyors' marks. The 1934 deed also refers to ‘[a monument on the] 440 [foot] contour elevation line.' ...

         ‘‘The 1934 deed makes clear that the land conveyed to Oenoke Holding Corporation was, and is, immediately contiguous to the land retained by CL&P along the 440 foot contour elevation line. The 1934 deed also grants to Oenoke Holding Corporation and its successors and assigns rights of use and access to the waters of [the lake]. The . . . waters referred to in the 1934 deed cover the adjacent land retained by CL&P at the time of the 1934 conveyance. . . .

         ‘‘In . . . 1961, the Bogus Hill Development Corporation recorded a subdivision map [relating to] a portion of the land deeded to Oenoke Holding Corporation by CL&P. . . . [L]ots 51 and 52 [of that subdivision] were conveyed to Arthur Namm by warranty deed . . . . The legal description contained in the deed to Namm describes the southerly boundary [those lots] as running along ‘[the 440 foot contour elevation line of the 1927] Rocky River datum [and] thence along . . . said 440 foot contour elevation line [following a series of specific courses and distances].' The identical metes and bounds description set forth in [this] deed is shown on . . . town of New Fairfield map no. 1026 . . . .

         ‘‘Lots 50, 51, and 52 on map no. 1026 were later reconfigured to form, in part, lot 52 and parcel C, as shown on . . . town of New Fairfield . . . map no. 1903. . . .

         ‘‘Neither map [no.] 1026 nor map [no.] 1903 delineates the southerly boundary of [these tracts] by reference to ‘the 440 contour' or a similar reference. Each map contains the same metes and bounds description contained in the warranty deed from [the] Bogus Hill Development Corporation to Namm. . . .

         ‘‘The defendants are the owners of a residential parcel of land commonly known as 24 Sunset Drive, New Fair-field . . . . The defendants' parcel is a waterfront tract that is directly adjacent to the shoreline of [the] lake owned by the plaintiff. The defendants received title to their property by warranty deed from Diana Horowitz . . . .

         ‘‘The legal description in the defendants' deed describes the land conveyed to them as lot . . . 52 and parcel C, as shown and delineated on . . . map no. 1903. . . .

         ‘‘The defendants also received title to a second tract of land, [comprised of] 0.03 acres, as shown on [town of New Fairfield map no. 2580] . . . . The second parcel conveyed to the defendants was land [formally] owned by CL&P, the plaintiff's predecessor in interest, [and is] immediately contiguous to the southerly boundary of lots [51 and 52] as shown on map no. 1026. . . .

         ‘‘The defendants are the owners of the land and improvements located within the lines of record title, as shown on [a map created by Paul Hiro, a licensed surveyor, that was admitted into evidence as plaintiff's exhibit seven].[2] More specifically, the defendants are the owners of the land . . . delineated by the bold lines on said map. . . .

         ‘‘The plaintiff is the owner of all of the land immediately contiguous to the southerly border of the defendants' land as shown on said map, comprising the shoreline and intertidal zone adjacent to the defendants' property, and the plaintiff is entitled to exclusive possession and control over it. . . .

         ‘‘In 2013, contractors representing the defendants approached representatives of the plaintiff seeking permission to make improvements to the defendants' property. The defendants required the plaintiff's permission because a portion of the improvements were to be located partially or entirely on the plaintiff's land. The plaintiff granted the defendants permission to install certain improvements, including landscaping, that would be built on the plaintiff's land by way of a permit dated December 6, 2013. . . . The defendants signed the December 6, 2013 permit, thereby agreeing to the scope of the work allowed and all of the other terms, conditions and limitations of the permit. . . .

         ‘‘Shortly thereafter, the defendants' representatives again approached the plaintiff seeking permission for additional improvements to be built partially or entirely on the plaintiff's land. The plaintiff granted a second permit to the defendants for the additional work, dated [May] 13, 2014. . . . Stewart signed the May 13, 2014 permit in July, 2014, thereby agreeing to the scope of the work allowed and all of the other terms, conditions and limitations of the permit. . . .

         ‘‘Each permit issued by the plaintiff expressly prohibits ‘any excavation, flooding, grading or filling except as described' in the permits, and ‘construction of any structures, fixtures or improvements except as described' in the permits. . . .

         ‘‘[Over the course of a year, the plaintiff determined that the defendants were continuously performing work in violation of the permits, even after being warned by the plaintiff to discontinue the work.] On July 30, 2014, Brian Wood, the plaintiff's land management administrator, on behalf of the plaintiff, held an on-site meeting with the defendants. At this meeting, Wood advised the defendants that they had to immediately cease all work on the property because they were constructing a significant portion of it on the plaintiff's land in violation of the permits. Wood advised the defendants that they had to have their property surveyed and the lot lines staked or otherwise marked, and that they had to bring their construction into compliance with the permits. The defendants agreed to obtain [an updated] survey from . . . Hiro . . . and to cease all further work on the premises. . . .

         ‘‘The defendants commissioned an updated survey from Hiro, [but did not provide] Wood or any other person representing the plaintiff with a copy of the updated survey. . . .

         ‘‘Wood visited the site again on September 23, 2014, to review compliance with the permits. Once again, Wood found the defendants' contractors at work on the plaintiff's property. Wood also found on this occasion that extensive additional work had been done on the plaintiff's property in violation of the permits, including the installation of a water fountain.'' (Footnotes added and omitted.)

         The plaintiff subsequently commenced the present action, alleging, inter alia, trespass. The plaintiff sought injunctive relief requiring the defendants to remove all structures from the plaintiff's property that were not authorized by the permits issued to the defendants. At trial, the defendants claimed that the plaintiff could not establish its ownership or possessory interest in the property on which the defendants were building.

         After trial, the court concluded as follows: ‘‘The court finds that the plaintiff has proven by a preponderance of the evidence that (1) the . . . line separating the plaintiff's property and the defendants' property is delineated by the 440 . . . contour as originally established by the 1927 Rocky River datum and 1934 deed, and (2) the plaintiff, as successor in interest to [CL&P], is the owner of all of the land immediately contiguous to the southerly boundary of the defendants' property.'' The trial court further found ‘‘that the plaintiff has sustained damages by virtue of the substantial permanent unauthorized improvements constructed by the defendants on the plaintiff's land.''

         The trial court thereafter issued a permanent mandatory injunction as follows: ‘‘1. The defendants are ordered to remove immediately those portions of the following structures that are located partially or entirely on the plaintiff's land shown as being outside the prop- erty boundary defined in bold as the ‘440 contour [elevation] line per . . . map no. 1903' and ‘property line per . . . map no. 2580' [as] depicted on plaintiff's [exhibit seven]:

‘‘a. the upper patio;
‘‘b. the masonry fireplace and hearth;
‘‘c. the masonry retaining wall abutting the upper patio area on the . . . ...

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