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Mangiafico v. Farmington

Supreme Court of Connecticut

April 16, 2019


          Argued October 9, 2018

         Procedural History

         Action seeking to enjoin the named defendant from enforcing a blight ordinance, and for other relief, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Hartford, where the court, Scholl, J., granted in part the defendants' motion to dismiss; thereafter, the court, Scholl, J., granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment and rendered judgment thereon, from which the plaintiff appealed to the Appellate Court, Alvord, Keller and Beach, Js., which affirmed the judgment of the trial court, and the plaintiff, on the granting of certification, appealed to this court. Reversed in part; further proceedings.

          Jon L. Schoenhorn, for the appellant (plaintiff).

          Kenneth R. Slater, Jr., with whom was Daniel J. Krisch, for the appellees (defendants).

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


          ECKER, J.

         The principal issue in this certified appeal is whether a claim brought in state court alleging a deprivation of civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983[1] may be dismissed for failure to exhaust state administrative remedies. The plaintiff, Enrico Mangiafico, is a homeowner who was the subject of a series of enforcement actions under a municipal blight ordinance in the town of Farmington.[2] In 2013, the plaintiff commenced this state court action alleging, in relevant part, that the defendants' designation of his property as blighted, their assessment of daily punitive fines, and their imposition of municipal blight liens constituted an unconstitutional taking of his property in violation of the fourteenth amendment to the United States constitution and § 1983. The defendants successfully moved in the trial court to dismiss the plaintiff's § 1983 claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction on the ground that the plaintiff had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies because he had not filed an appeal pursuant to General Statutes § 7-152c (g).[3] The Appellate Court affirmed the trial court's judgment. See Mangiafico v. Farmington, 173 Conn.App. 158, 177, 163 A.3d 689 (2017).

         On appeal, the plaintiff contends that he was not required to exhaust his state administrative remedies. The defendants respond that the plaintiff's § 1983 claims properly were dismissed, under settled Connecticut precedent, for failure to exhaust state administrative remedies. Alternatively, the defendants contend that dismissal was required under the ripeness doctrine articulated by the United States Supreme Court in Williamson County Regional Planning Commission v. Hamilton Bank, 473 U.S. 172, 105 S.Ct. 3108, 87 L.Ed.2d 126 (1985) (Williamson County), because there was no final decision in this case due to the plaintiff's failure to appeal his assessments pursuant to § 7-152c (g).

         Our disposition is controlled largely by Patsy v. Board of Regents, 457 U.S. 496, 501, 102 S.Ct. 2557, 73 L.Ed.2d 172 (1982), in which the United States Supreme Court held in unequivocal terms that ‘‘exhaustion of state administrative remedies is not a prerequisite to an action under § 1983 . . . .'' We repeatedly have acknowledged that the Patsy doctrine applies in § 1983 cases litigated in our state courts. See Laurel Park, Inc. v. Pac, 194 Conn. 677, 690, 485 A.2d 1272 (1984); Fetterman v. University of Connecticut, 192 Conn. 539, 549, 473 A.2d 1176 (1984). We have deviated from Patsy in one respect, by creating an exception to its applicability in actions for injunctive relief under § 1983. See Pet v. Dept. of Health Services, 207 Conn. 346, 369, 542 A.2d 672 (1988) (holding that ‘‘no form of injunctive relief, under § 1983 or otherwise, is justified as an exception to the [administrative] exhaustion requirement''); Laurel Park, Inc. v. Pac, supra, 691 (holding that ‘‘none of the concerns expressed in Patsy'' warrant an ‘‘exception to the exhaustion doctrine'' in cases for injunctive relief). Following oral argument in the present case, this court suasponte ordered the parties to submit supplemental briefs addressing the continued viability of the injunctive relief exception in light of Patsy and its progeny and whether we should ‘‘overrule Pet v. Department of Health Services in this case?''

         We conclude, in light of Patsy and its progeny, that a plaintiff is not required to exhaust administrative remedies prior to filing a § 1983 claim in state court, regardless of the type of relief sought. We therefore overrule our holdings in Pet and Laurel Park, Inc., that exhaustion of state administrative remedies is a jurisdictional prerequisite to the filing of a § 1983 action for injunctive relief. We decline to address the defendants' unpreserved Williamson County defense and, accordingly, reverse in part the judgment of the Appellate Court.


         It will be useful at the outset to review the statutory and regulatory scheme governing blight designations and citations in the town of Farmington. General Statutes § 7-148 (c) (7) (H) (xv) provides municipalities with the power to ‘‘[m]ake and enforce regulations for the prevention and remediation of housing blight . . . provided such regulations define housing blight and require such municipality to give written notice of any violation to the owner and occupant of the property and provide a reasonable opportunity for the owner and occupant to remediate the blighted conditions prior to any enforcement action being taken . . . .'' The statute further provides municipalities with the authority to ‘‘prescribe civil penalties for the violation of such regulations of not less than ten or more than one hundred dollars for each day that a violation continues and, if such civil penalties are prescribed, such municipality shall adopt a citation hearing procedure in accordance with section 7-152c . . . .'' General Statutes § 7-148 (c) (7) (H) (xv).

         Pursuant to § 7-148 (c) (7) (H) (xv), the town adopted regulations governing ‘‘blighted premises, '' which are defined, in relevant part, as ‘‘[a]ny vacant building or structure'' that (A) ‘‘pose[s]a serious threat to the health and safety of persons in the [t]own, '' (B) ‘‘is not being maintained and contributes to housing decay, '' (C) ‘‘[is a location at which] [i]llegal activities are conducted . . . as documented in [p]olice [d]epartment records, '' (D) ‘‘is a fire hazard as determined by the [f]ire [m]ar-shall or as documented in [f]ire [d]epartment records, '' or (E) ‘‘is a factor creating a substantial and unreasonable interference with the use and enjoyment of other premises within the surrounding area as documented by neighborhood complaints, police reports or the cancellation of insurance on proximate properties.'' Farm-ington Town Code § 88-2 (A) through (E) (2003) (town code). The regulations provide that ‘‘[n]o owner of real property, taxable or tax-exempt, within the [t]own of Farmington shall cause or allow blighted premises to be created, nor shall any owner allow the continued existence of blighted premises.'' Id., § 88-3. Under the regulations, the town manager must ‘‘complete a list of blighted properties, '' which is then ‘‘approve[d], disapprove[d], or modif[ied]'' by the town council. Id., § 88-4 (B) and (C). After the list of blighted properties has been approved by the town council, ‘‘the [t]own [m]an-ager, or his designee, shall undertake regular inspections for the purpose of documenting continuous blight and shall issue a citation and impose a penalty of not more than $100 for each day that the building or structure'' continues to be blighted. Id., § 88-5 (A). Each day that the building or structure is deemed to be blighted constitutes ‘‘a separate offense.'' Id.

         Section 7-152c (a) authorizes municipalities to ‘‘establish by ordinance a citation hearing procedure'' to enforce any ‘‘assessments and judgments'' imposed in the exercise of its municipal powers. Under the citation hearing procedure, the municipality must, ‘‘within twelve months from the expiration of the final period for the uncontested payment of fines, penalties, costs or fees . . . send notice to the person cited, '' informing them ‘‘(1) [o]f the allegations against him and the amount of the fines, penalties, costs or fees due; (2) that he may contest his liability before a citation hearing officer by delivering in person or by mail written notice within ten days of the date thereof; (3) that if he does not demand such a hearing, an assessment and judgment shall be entered against him; and (4) that such judgment may issue without further notice.'' General Statutes § 7-152c (c). The municipality must provide any person requesting a citation hearing with ‘‘written notice of the date, time and place for the hearing'' and an opportunity to ‘‘present evidence in his behalf.'' General Statutes § 7-152c (e). At the conclusion of the hearing, the hearing officer must ‘‘announce his decision . . . .'' General Statutes § 7-152c (e). If the hearing officer ‘‘determines that the person is not liable'' for the violation, he must dismiss the matter. General Statutes § 7-152c (e). If, however, the hearing officer ‘‘determines that the person is liable for the violation, '' he must ‘‘enter and assess the fines, penalties, costs or fees against such person as provided by the applicable ordinances of the municipality.'' General Statutes § 7-152c (e).

         A person subject to an assessment of fines under § 7-152c ‘‘is entitled to judicial review by way of appeal.'' General Statutes § 7-152c (g). The appeal must be ‘‘instituted within thirty days of the mailing of notice of such assessment by filing a petition to reopen assessment, together with an entry fee . . . which shall entitle such person to a hearing in accordance with the rules of the judges of the Superior Court.'' General Statutes § 7-152c (g). Under the rules of the Superior Court, the hearing on the petition to reopen ‘‘shall be denovo, '' and ‘‘[t]here shall be no right to a hearing before a jury.'' Practice Book § 23-51 (c). Any assessment of fines that is not overturned on appeal or paid in full ‘‘shall constitute a lien upon the real estate against which the penalty was imposed from the date of such penalty. Each such lien may be continued, recorded and released in the manner provided by the general statutes for continuing, recording and releasing property tax liens.'' General Statutes § 7-148aa.


         The following facts are taken as true for purposes of this appeal. The plaintiff owns a home located at 23 Lakeview Drive in Farmington, which suffered catastrophic damage sometime prior to 2009, causing it to become uninhabitable for a lengthy period of time. The demolition and rebuilding of the home was delayed by the plaintiff's insurance company, resulting in a settlement agreement sometime in August, 2011.

         In July, 2012, the defendant Kathleen Eagen, who was the town manager, received complaints about the appearance of the plaintiff's home. Chris Foryan, the town building official, verbally informed the plaintiff of these complaints on July 25, 2012. The plaintiff asked Foryan to schedule a meeting with Eagen as soon as practicable, explaining that he would be away on vacation in early August. A meeting was held on July 27, 2012, but Eagen did not attend.

         On August 14, 2012, without prior notice to the plaintiff or an opportunity for him to be heard, the individual defendants-Eagan, Jeffrey Hogan, Nancy Nickerson, Charles Keniston, and C.J. Thomas-convened a town council meeting at which they each voted to place the plaintiff's home on the town's blighted building list. Eight days later, on August 22, 2012, Eagen sent the plaintiff a letter informing him that his home had been placed on the blighted building list and demanding that he undertake certain improvements and construction prior to October 1, 2012. The plaintiff tried to comply with the letter's demands. Nonetheless, on September 4, 2012, without prior notice and more than three weeks before the October 1 deadline, town building officials began imposing daily punitive fines of $100 on the plaintiff based on the alleged blight condition.

         On September 14, 2012, the plaintiff sent a letter to the defendants asking them to remove his home from the blighted building list because it did not satisfy the definition of blight in the town code. The defendants declined to remove the plaintiff's property from the list and, instead, began a citation enforcement action to recover the daily punitive fines. The plaintiff requested and was granted a hearing before a municipal hearing officer, at which he challenged the blight designation and the imposition of daily fines. At the hearing, which was conducted on October 15, 2012, the hearing officer stated that he lacked the authority to rule on the propriety of the blight designation or the procedures used to designate the plaintiff's property as blighted. The hearing officer explained, however, that he had the authority to remit some of the daily punitive fines and to amend the plaintiff's construction schedule. At the conclusion of the hearing, the hearing officer reduced the total amount of fines from $4000 to $2000 and ordered the plaintiff to present a building plan to municipal officials within thirty days.

         On January 4, 2013, the town citation officer again began imposing daily punitive fines of $100 for the plaintiff's alleged violation of the blight ordinance. On February 21, 2013, without notice to the plaintiff, a second hearing was held before a municipal hearing officer, resulting in the imposition of $4700 in fines for the time period between January 4 and February 19, 2013. The plaintiff did not have an opportunity to contest his liability because he was not given notice of the hearing.

         The plaintiff did not pay the accumulated assessed fines; nor did he file an appeal pursuant to § 7-152c (g). As a result, Eagan, on behalf of the town, caused two municipal real estate liens to be placed on the plaintiff's property and recorded on the town's land records: (1) a lien in the amount of $2000 for nonpayment of the hearing officer's assessment of fines for the period between September 4 and October 15, 2012; and (2) a lien in the amount ...

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