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Villages, LLC v. Longhi

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

January 15, 2019

VILLAGES, LLC
v.
LORI LONGHI

          Argued September 25, 2018

         Procedural History

         Action to recover damages for, inter alia, fraud, and for other relief, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Hartford, where the court, Wiese, J., granted the defendant's motion to dismiss and rendered judgment thereon, from which the plaintiff appealed to this court, which reversed the judgment of the trial court and remanded the case for further proceedings; thereafter, the court, Hon. A. Susan Peck, judge trial referee, denied the plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment and granted the defendant's motion for summary judgment and rendered judgment thereon, from which the plaintiff appealed to this court. Affirmed.

          Gwendolyn S. Bishop, for the appellant (plaintiff).

          Kristan M. Maccini, for the appellee (defendant).

          Keller, Elgo and Eveleigh, Js.

          OPINION

          ELGO, J.

         The plaintiff, Villages, LLC, appeals from the summary judgment rendered by the trial court in favor of the defendant, Lori Longhi, who at all relevant times was a member of the Enfield Planning and Zoning Commission (commission). The plaintiff claims on appeal that the court improperly concluded that (1) the defendant was not collaterally estopped from disputing liability, and (2) the defendant was entitled to summary judgment on the plaintiff's claims for fraudulent misrepresentation and intentional interference with a business expectancy. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The parties appear before this court for the third time. The underlying facts previously were set out in Villages, LLC v. Longhi, 166 Conn.App. 685, 142 A.3d 1162, cert. denied, 323 Conn. 915, 149 A.3d 498 (2016). ‘‘In May, 2009, the plaintiff filed an application for a special use permit and an application to develop an open space subdivision for residential housing on property it owned in Enfield. . . . The commission held a public hearing on the plaintiff's applications on July 9, 2009, July 23, 2009, September 3, 2009, and October 1, 2009, and closed the public hearing on October 1, 2009. . . . On October 15, 2009, the commission met and voted to deny both applications. . . .

         ‘‘The plaintiff filed an appeal with respect to each application (zoning appeals). In its appeals, the plaintiff alleged that the commission illegally and arbitrarily predetermined the out come of each of its applications prior to the public hearing and was motivated by improper notions of bias and personal animus when it denied each of the applications. . . .

         ‘‘Following a trial, the court, Hon. Richard M. Rittenband, judge trial referee, found that the plaintiff's allegations of bias and exparte communication arose from the actions of [the defendant], amember of the commission. More specifically, the court found that [the defendant] took part in the hearing on the plaintiff's applications, played a significant role in the deliberations, and voted to deny the plaintiff's applications. [The defendant] had been a social friend of one of the plaintiff's owners, Jeannette Tallarita, and her husband, Patrick Tallarita. . . . There was a falling out among the friends, and the court found that [the defendant] was biased against Patrick Tallarita, who represented the plaintiff at the hearing before the commission. The court also found that [the defendant] engaged in an ex parte communication regarding the applications. . . .

         ‘‘The court found two instances of conduct by the defendant that gave rise to the plaintiff's claim of bias against her, only one of which was relevant tothe zoning appeals. . . . In the incident described by the court, the defendant had stated that she wanted [Patrick Tallarita] to suffer the same fate of denial by the commission that she had suffered. . . . At trial, Anthony DiPace testified that [the defendant] had stated to him that the commission, when it previously considered an application that she had submitted, had screwed her and treated her unfairly when it denied that application. She was unhappy with [Patrick] Tallarita, who was then mayor, because he did not intervene on her behalf. She stated in the presence of DiPace that she wanted [Patrick] Tallarita to suffer the same fate, i.e., that the commission deny the plaintiff's applications. [Patrick] Tallarita did not become aware of [the defendant's] statement regarding the fate of the plaintiff's applications until after the commission had closed the public hearing [on the plaintiff's applications]. The court found that [the defendant's] comments were blatantly biased [against Patrick] Tallarita and should not be tolerated. The court also found that it had not been possible for the plaintiff to bring [the defendant's] comments regarding [Patrick] Tallarita to the attention of the commission because he learned of them after the hearing had closed and the commission had denied the plaintiff's applications.

         ‘‘Credibility was a deciding factor in the court's decision regarding [the defendant's] ex parte communication. [Patrick] Tallarita, DiPace, and Bryon Meade testified during the trial. The court found that each of the men was a credible witness. [The defendant] also testified at trial, but the court found that her testimony was filled with denials of the allegations and concluded that her comments did not ring true. The court found that Meade, a representative of the Hazardville Water Authority, testified with confidence that [the defendant] had met with him in person regarding the plaintiff's applications during the first week of October, 2009. [The defendant] testified, however, that Meade must have been confused because she met with him regarding another property. The court stated that [the defendant's] testimony was just not credible.

         ‘‘In addressing the plaintiff's claim that [the defendant] improperly engaged in ex parte communications with Meade, the court noted that [o]ur law clearly prohibits the use of information by a municipal agency that has been supplied to it by a party to a contested hearing on an ex parte basis. . . . The court found that it was clear that [the defendant] had an ex parte communication with Meade. Once the plaintiff had proven that the ex parte communication had occurred, the burden shifted to the commission to demonstrate that such communication was harmless. . . . The court found that the commission had not met its burden to prove that [the defendant's] ex parte communication was harmless. . . .

         ‘‘The court reviewed the transcript of the commission's October 15, 2009 meeting when it considered the plaintiff's applications. It found that the transcript was twenty-three pages long and that [the defendant's] comments appeared on every page but one, and that on most pages, [the defendant's] comments were the most lengthy. Her comments raised many negative questions about the plaintiff's applications. Moreover, in offering her comments, she cited her experience as an appraiser. The court found that [the defendant] dominated the meeting and that she intended to have a major effect on the commission's deliberations and subsequent votes. The court found ...


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