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Commissioner of Transportation v. Lagosz

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

May 14, 2019

COMMISSIONER OF TRANSPORTATION
v.
TERESA B. LAGOSZ ET AL.

          Argued February 7, 2019

         Procedural History

         Appeal from the plaintiff's assessment of damages filed in connection with the taking by condemnation of certain of the named defendant's real property, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of New Britain, where the court, Abrams, J., rendered judgment in accordance with the parties' settlement agreement; thereafter, the court denied the named defendant's motion to reargue, and the named defendant appealed to this court. Affirmed.

          Teresa B. Lagosz, self-represented, the appellant (named defendant).

          Raul A. Rodriguez, assistant attorney general, with whom, on the brief, was George Jepsen, former attorney general, for the appellee (plaintiff).

          Lavine, Moll and Bear, Js.

          OPINION

          BEAR, J.

         The defendant Teresa B. Lagosz[1] appeals from the judgment of the trial court reassessing damages in the sum of $600, 000 for the taking of her property by the plaintiff, the Commissioner of Transportation, on May 4, 2015, in connection with the improvement of the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield rail corridor. The defendant's primary claim on appeal is that the court improperly found and summarily enforced, after conductinga hearing pursuant to Audubon Parking Associates Ltd. Partnership v. Barclay & Stubbs, Inc., 225 Conn. 804, 626 A.2d 729 (1993) (Audubon), an oral settlement agreement in the amount of $600, 000 as just compensation for the taking by eminent domain of the defendant's real property. Specifically, the defendant claims that (1) the settlement agreement was not inclusive of all the essential terms of the parties' agreement and (2) the court's finding that an enforceable agreement existed was clearly erroneous because it was based on unclear and ambiguous testimony elicited at the Audubon hearing.[2] Conversely, the plaintiff claims that the court, after the Audubon hearing, correctly concluded that there was a settlement agreement in the amount of $600, 000 that was just compensation for the taking of the defendant's real property. We agree with the plaintiff and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The following facts and procedural history are undisputed or uncontested. On May 4, 2015, pursuant to General Statutes § 13b-36[3] and General Statutes (Rev. to 2015) § 13a-73, [4] the plaintiff took by eminent domain real property owned by the defendant located at 468 Norton Lane in Berlin. The real property consisted of approximately 11.64 acres, including all buildings, improvements and appurtenances thereon. The defendant's husband, Joseph Lagosz, also operated a business in one of the buildings on the real property. On the date of the taking, the plaintiff deposited with the court $420, 000 in compensation for the taking.

         On September 28, 2015, the defendant appealed to the court from the plaintiff's assessment of damages. See General Statutes § 13a-76.[5] In that appeal, she stated that she was ‘‘aggrieved by [the $420, 000] assessment of damages because the same is inadequate.'' No other claims were set forth in her appeal.

         On November 3, 2015, the plaintiff filed his answer denying that the assessment was inadequate. On November 6, 2015, a certificate of closed pleadings and a claim to the trial list were filed. The defendant subsequently was ordered to provide an appraisal of the real property to the plaintiff on or before April 1, 2016. The parties met on three occasions in June, 2016, in an attempt to mediate a settlement on the amount of the compensation to be paid to the defendant for the taking.

         The plaintiff asserts that, during the third of those mediation sessions, the parties entered into an oral agreement in which the defendant would receive a total of $600, 000, less the $420, 000 already paid by the plaintiff, as compensation for the taking of her real property and, in turn, the defendant and her husband would vacate the property by August 15, 2016, without having to pay any postcondemnation use and occupancy charges.[6] The plaintiff further states that the court, during the third mediation session, spoke to the defendant and her husband to ensure that they understood and accepted the terms of that agreement. The court then informed the plaintiff that the defendant had agreed to those terms. After the reported settlement, the plaintiff and the defendant's counsel prepared drafts of a written settlement agreement memorializing the agreement reached through the mediation, but the defendant refused to sign the final version of the agreement, and the case was scheduled for trial.[7] The defendant subsequently discharged her counsel and elected to represent herself at the trial. Her former counsel filed a motion to withdraw and requested a status conference.

         On July 21, 2017, the court, after the status conference, ordered, sua sponte, that an Audubon hearing take place to determine if the parties had reached an enforceable settlement agreement, and the court postponed any trial until after it made its determination. On August 14, 2017, the court commenced the Audubon hearing. The defendant, her husband, and the defendant's former attorneys were present at the hearing. During the hearing, the following colloquy between the court and Richard P. Healey, one of the defendant's former attorneys, occurred:

‘‘The Court: Is it your position that there was no settlement agreement?
‘‘[Attorney Healey]: No.
‘‘The Court: Okay.
‘‘[Attorney Healey]: No, not at all.''
Attorney Healey's cocounsel, John Bradley, and the court had the following colloquy:
‘‘[Attorney Bradley]: I definitely agree, Your Honor . . . that the settlement was for-they were going to pay an ...

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