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LLC v. Summer House Owners, LLC

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

September 18, 2018


          Argued February 5, 2018

         Procedural History

         Action for an injunction restraining the defendant from interfering with the plaintiffs' alleged rights under certain easements, and for other relief, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Stamford-Nor-walk and tried to the court, Hon. Taggart D. Adams, judge trial referee; judgment for the defendant, from which the plaintiffs appealed to this court. Affirmed.

          Matthew B. Woods, for the appellants (plaintiffs).

          James R. Fogarty, for the appellee (defendant).

          Lavine, Prescott and Harper, Js.


          HARPER, J.

         In this easement dispute, the plaintiffs, 57 Broad Street Stamford, LLC, and 59 Broad Street Stamford, LLC, appeal from the judgment rendered by the trial court, following a trial to the court, in favor of the defendant, Summer House Owners, LLC. On appeal, the plaintiffs claim that the court erred in concluding that (1) the defendant's construction of a 1500 square foot service access structure within a 6900 square foot easement area did not materially interfere with the plaintiffs' reasonable use and enjoyment of the easement area, and (2) the defendant had the unilateral right to determine the method, timing, and location by which the plaintiffs might use the easement area. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The following facts, as set forth in the court's memorandum of decision or otherwise in the record and undisputed, and procedural history are relevant to our resolution of this appeal. In a complaint dated January 11, 2016, the plaintiffs claimed that the defendant materially and substantially had interfered with their use and enjoyment of an easement, titled ‘‘Easement A'' (easement).[1] The plaintiffs sought both compensatory damages and injunctive relief. The easement is ‘‘contained in the recorded documents [declaration] establishing the entity known as the Broad Summer Condominium [condominium] located in downtown Stamford . . . . The [c]ondominium is described as an ‘air rights condominium,' and consists of six units. Unit 1 contains what is described as an almost forty year old, 30, 000 square foot three story building with full basement fronting on Broad Street . . . . The building has been vacant for several years. Unit 1 is jointly owned by the plaintiffs . . . . Unit 2 . . . is the beneficiary of most of the air rights and the present site of a recently constructed [twenty-one] story residential apartment building that includes four parking levels, owned by the defendant and known as Summer House. . . .[2]

         ‘‘The area of [u]nit 2, which has an undivided interest in the [c]ondominium of25.97 percent, includes an easement area . . . for the benefit of [u]nits 1, 3 and 4. . . . The [easement] area consists of a little less than 6900 square feet. . . .

         ‘‘The [d]eclarant of the [c]ondominium is Tolari, LLC [Tolari]. Thomas Rich, the chief executive officer of F. D. Rich Co[mpany], a long time real estate developer in Stamford, is Tolari's managing member, and also an owner of Summer House [condominium]. F. D. Rich Co[mpany] is described as the primary developer of Summer House. . . . Tolari and the principals of the plaintiffs, Kostas Alafoyiannis (principal of 57 Broad [Street Stamford, LLC]) and Alexander Todorovic (principal of 59 Broad [Street Stamford, LLC]) signed a contract, dated June 19, 2012, for [the plaintiffs'] purchase of [u]nit 1. . . . Because the [c]ondominium [d]eclaration and the plans for the apartment building were not complete at that time, the contract contained an ‘out' clause allowing the [u]nit 1 purchasers a period of time to rescind the purchase for ‘any reason or no reason.' There followed negotiations between attorneys for the [u]nit 1 purchasers . . . and the attorney for the seller-declarant . . . .''[3] (Footnote added.) These negotiations concerned the easement language that is at issue in the present case. The language as negotiated is contained in [§] 12.2 of the declaration, which is dated October 24, 2012.[4]

         Approximately one year later, the construction plans were finalized. ‘‘The construction contract for Summer House was dated August 28, 2013. . . . The plaintiffs were notified that construction would commence by letter dated January 7, 2014. . . . The progress of construction is shown by dated photographs . . . taken between February, 2014 [and] October, 2015. The . . . plaintiffs occasionally visited their building during the construction period.'' (Citations omitted; footnote omitted.) During this time, construction began on the service access structure at issue in this appeal. ‘‘[T]he service access structure is approximately [seventy-five] feet long running east to west and [twenty] feet wide. The structure effectively leaves three means of access to the south side of the plaintiffs' building on [u]nit 1. These means of access . . . are: (1) a [ten] foot wide passage way between the Target Store and [u]nit 1 extending south from Broad Street to the light and air easement area south of [u]nit 1; (2) a seven foot wide sidewalk running east-west between the ‘service access structure' and the Target Store garage; and (3) an entryway under the Summer House varying in width from [twenty to twenty-six] feet beginning at what is labeled ‘Loading Area' . . . and running east from the Target access way and turning north toward the back, or south side, of the plaintiffs' building on [u]nit 1.''

         Thereafter, ‘‘[i]n December, 2015, . . . [the plaintiffs' attorney], on behalf of the plaintiffs in a letter to . . . [the defendant's attorney], demanded the defendant cease and desist from building further structures located on [the easement] and demolish what had been built there. . . . [The defendant's attorney] responded a little over a week later, noting that the plaintiffs had information for over two years of the planned construction on [the easement] and in any event, the plaintiffs would have the access and parking called for in [§] 12.2 of the [d]eclaration.''

         The plaintiffs commenced the underlying action the following month, claiming that their easement rights encompassed the entirety of the easement area and that the construction of a service access structure in the center of the easement interfered with those rights. A five day trial to the court took place between June 15 and July 21, 2016.[5] On November 30, 2016, the court issued its memorandum of decision. It concluded that the defendant had not interfered with the ...

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