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Sen v. Tsiongas

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

August 27, 2019


          Argued March 19, 2019

         Procedural History

         Action to recover damages for 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 for summary judgment and rendered judgment thereon, from which the plaintiff appealed to this court. Reversed; further proceedings.

          Matthew C. Eagan, with whom was James P. Sexton, for the appellant (plaintiff).

          Audrey B. Staropoli, for the appellee (defendant).

          Prescott, Elgo and Pellegrino, Js.


          PELLEGRINO, J.

         In this premises liability action, the plaintiff, Isha Sen, appeals from the summary judgment rendered in favor of the defendant, Kostas Tsiongas. On appeal, the plaintiff claims that the trial court erred in rendering summary judgment in favor of the defendant, who was the landlord of the apartment building in which the plaintiff lived, because there was a disputed issue of material fact as to whether the defendant should have known that the dog of one of the other tenants had vicious propensities. We agree with the plaintiff and, accordingly, reverse the judgment of the trial court.

         The following facts and procedural history are relevant to this appeal. At the relevant times, the plaintiff resided in the second floor apartment of a two unit apartment building at 396 Washington Street in Bristol (building). The defendant was the owner and landlord of the building. On September 18, 2015, at approximately 3:30 p.m., a dog that was owned by the building's first floor tenant bit the plaintiff in the building's common stairway. The plaintiff was taken by ambulance to the University of Connecticut Medical Center in Farmington, where she was treated for her injuries, which included lacerations to and numbness of her right hand.

         On May 4, 2016, the plaintiff commenced the present action. In her operative complaint, the plaintiff alleged, inter alia, that the defendant was negligent in failing to maintain the building premises in a reasonably safe condition by allowing the first floor tenant to keep a vicious animal, failing to investigate the animal's history of viciousness, and failing to enforce a provision of the lease that prohibited pets on the premises.

         On July 13, 2017, the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, which was accompanied by an affidavit in which he averred in relevant part: ‘‘At no time prior to September 18, 2015, did I have any knowledge of the alleged vicious propensities of the dog involved in the incident. . . . At no time prior to September 18, 2015, did I observe the dog involved in the incident engage in vicious behavior, nor did [the dog's owner] or anyone else inform me that the dog had a propensity toward viciousness.''

         On August 30, 2017, the plaintiff filed an objection to the defendant's motion for summary judgment. In support of her objection, the plaintiff attached an affidavit in which she averred in relevant part: ‘‘[The first floor tenant] spoke openly about how the [dog] had been used as bait in dog fighting. . . . It is my opinion that the [dog] exhibited vicious qualities and that these qualities were apparent to any reasonable person who observed the dog. . . . The [dog] demonstrated aggression by barking, growling, and trying to escape the first floor porch whenever I walked up the stairs. . . . In June of 2015, the [dog] broke out of the porch and advanced toward my husband, trying to bite him. The [dog] managed to scratch him before it was brought under control. . . . Before I was attacked, [the first floor tenant] informed me that the [dog] had bitten his seven year old son.''

         In support of her objection to the defendant's motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff also submitted a transcript of her deposition of the defendant, which was taken on July 31, 2017. During the deposition, the following exchange occurred between the plaintiff's counsel and the defendant:

‘‘Q. You have a rule [in your lease agreement] that says, ‘You will not have pets.' Why do you have that rule?
‘‘A. Well, I have that rule more like for . . . pets cause damage . . . sometimes.
‘‘Q. What kind of damage can pets cause?
‘‘A. Well, going to the bathroom in the house, this and that, but if somebody asks me, can I get [a pet], or if [they] have a pet, and they're a good tenant . . . I'd say okay. You know.
‘‘Q. What kind of damage [other than property damage] is that?
‘‘A. Well, I mean, if a dog or a cat scratches, you know, another human, yes.
‘‘Q. And do you have that rule to protect other humans?
‘‘A. No. It's mostly, I put it in, like I said, for more damage.
‘‘Q. All right. And can you tell me about [the first floor tenant] asking you about getting a dog?
‘‘A. Yes. He asked me, he wanted to get a dog from The Humane Society and, then I said, okay.
‘‘Q. Do you know approximately when [the first floor tenant] got the dog?
‘‘A. Probably 2014 . . . .
‘‘Q. And . . . did you see the dog on the property?
‘‘A. Well, I had seen the dog on the property when they had it out, walking the dog, but I [had] seen the dog inside when I'd go in to do any repairs ...

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