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Town of Plainville v. Almost Home Animal Rescue & Shelter, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

May 15, 2018

TOWN OF PLAINVILLE ET AL.
v.
ALMOST HOMEANIMAL RESCUE AND SHELTER, INC.

          Argued Date: January 23, 2018

         Procedural History

         Action to recover damages for, inter alia, the defendant's alleged negligence, and for other relief, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of New Britain, where the court, Swienton, J., granted the defendant's motion to strike the complaint; thereafter, the court granted the defendant's motion for judgment and rendered judgment for the defendant, from which the plaintiffs appealed to this court. Affirmed.

          Jonathan D. Chomick, for the appellants (plaintiffs).

          Taryn D. Martin, with whom, on the brief, was Robert A. Ziegler, for the appellee (defendant).

          Sheldon, Prescott and Elgo, Js.

          OPINION

          PRESCOTT, J.

         The plaintiffs, the town of Plainville (town) and Donna Weinhofer, the town's animal control officer, appeal from the judgment of the trial court rendered in favor of the defendant, Almost Home Animal Rescue and Shelter, Inc., following the court's granting of the defendant's motion to strike both counts of the plaintiffs' two count complaint.[1] Count one of the complaint sounded in negligence per se and alleged that the defendant, which operates an animal rescue facility, had failed to care for animals in its custody in violation of General Statutes § 53-247 (a), and that this violation caused the plaintiffs to suffer damages, namely, costs that the town incurred for medical care, shelter, food, and water for the affected animals. Count two sounded in unjust enrichment and was premised on the defendant's failure to reimburse the town for its expenditures in caring for the seized animals.

         On appeal, the plaintiffs claim that the trial court improperly (1) applied an incorrect legal standard in deciding the motion to strike; (2) struck count one of the complaint on the bases that § 53-247 did not establish a duty or standard of care for purposes of maintaining a negligence per se action and that the plaintiffs are not among the class of persons protected by § 53-247; and (3) struck count two of the complaint on the basis that General Statutes § 22-329a (h) provides the exclusive remedy for the damages alleged by the plaintiffs, thus precluding an action for unjust enrichment, and did so without considering and addressing the plaintiffs' argument that the defendant had stipulated in a prior action that the plaintiffs were entitled to seek damages without regard to § 22-329a. We disagree and affirm the judgment of the court.

         The following facts, taken from the complaint, and procedural history are relevant to our consideration of the plaintiffs' claims. The plaintiffs received numerous complaints between July and November, 2015, that animals at the defendant's rescue facility were being abused and neglected. Weinhofer and an assistant animal control officer investigated the complaints, visiting the facility on several different dates. They observed that the facility was filthy and smelled overwhelmingly of feces and urine. Many cats and dogs were being kept in cages for extended periods under unsanitary and unhealthy conditions, and without proper access to food and water. Many animals could not stand up or turn around in their cages. The animals generally appeared to be in poor health and in obvious need of medical care.

         Pursuant to a signed criminal search and seizure warrant, Weinhofer seized twenty-three cats, twenty dogs, one rabbit and one hamster from the defendant on December 1, 2015. The animals were evaluated by veterinarians. The majority of the animals had matted and unkempt coats, fleas, or other medical conditions, some requiring hospitalization. The town, in addition to paying for the animals' medical care, provided them with food, water, and shelter at the town's expense.

         On December 17, 2015, the plaintiffs commenced an action in the Superior Court by verified petition in accordance with § 22-329a.[2] The petition sought an order determining the legal status of the animals in the town's possession and requiring the defendant to reimburse the town for its expenses in caring for the seized animals. See Plainville v. Almost Home Animal Rescue & Shelter, Inc., Superior Court, judicial district of New Britain, CV-15-6031669-S.[3] Prior to a trial on the petition, however, the parties reached a stipulated agreement regarding custody of the seized animals, which was discussed at a hearing on January 22, 2016.

         The stipulation was filed with the court on February 2, 2016. The agreement provided for the adoption of the seized animals by a number of interested third parties but contained no provision addressing reimbursement by the defendant to the town. On the day it was filed, the court, Abrams, J., accepted the stipulated agreement, made it an order of the court, and dismissed the action. As the court indicated on the record at the January 22, 2016 hearing, because the parties had agreed not to proceed with a hearing on the merits of the plaintiffs' petition, the court made no findings, either express or implied, that the seized animals had been abused or neglected by the defendant. Accordingly, it lacked the authority to order the defendant to reimburse the plaintiffs for any costs incurred in treating or boarding the seized animals.

         On February 8, 2016, the plaintiffs commenced this action. Both counts of the two count complaint sought recovery from the defendant for expenses incurred by the town in caring for the seized animals. As previously indicated, count one advanced a theory of common-law negligence based on the defendant's alleged violation of § 53-247 (a). Count two alleged that the defendant had been ...


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