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Fitch v. Forsthoefel

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

November 5, 2019

CHARLES FITCH ET AL.
v.
ERIC FORSTHOEFEL ET AL.

          Argued September 10, 2019

         Procedural History

         Action seeking, inter alia, a declaratory judgment with respect to certain real property, and for other relief, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Hartford and tried to the court, Wahla, J.; judgment for the plaintiffs, from which the defendants appealed to this court. Affirmed.

          Peter J. Royer, for the appellants (defendants).

          Charles S. Fitch, self-represented, with whom, on the brief, was MaryAnn Fitch, self-represented, the appellees (plaintiffs).

          Lavine, Moll and Devlin, Js.

          OPINION

          MOLL, J.

         The defendants in this declaratory judgment and quiet title action, Eric Forsthoefel and Sarah Sweeney, appeal from the judgment of the trial court, rendered after a court trial in favor of the plaintiffs, Charles Fitch and MaryAnn Fitch. The parties' dispute relates to the scope of an ingress and egress easement located onthe plaintiffs' property. The defendants claim that (1) the declaratory judgment rendered by the trial court provided the plaintiffs with no practical relief and, therefore, did not solve a justiciable controversy, and (2) the trial court applied the wrong standard in determining that the defendants had overburdened the easement. We disagree and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The trial court found the following facts. The parties own adjoining parcels of residential property on Sarah Drive in Avon. The plaintiffs have resided at 45 Sarah Drive for approximately thirty years. The defendants and their three children moved to 49 Sarah Drive in June, 2015. Located on the plaintiffs' property, specifically, on a portion of an approximately twelve foot wide driveway, is an express easement appurtenant in favor of the defendants' property for the purposes of ingress and egress.[1] The easement is described in relevant part as follows: ‘‘The unrestricted, permanent and irrevocable right to pass and repass, on foot and with motorized vehicles and equipment, over, upon and across a certain portion of [the plaintiffs' property] . . . for all uses and purposes necessary, convenient or incidental to the use of [the easement] as an access way for ingress and egress to and from [the defendants' property] to Sarah Drive . . . .''[2]

         Shortly after the defendants moved into their home, Charles Fitch informed Sweeney that there was a problem, namely, that the defendants' children were playing on the easement area and that they were not permitted to do so because the easement was limited to ingress and egress. The defendants believed that they could use the easement area without restriction in a typical way that any family would use a driveway. Among other activities, MaryAnn Fitch observed the defendants' children playing with scooters, bicycles, and skateboards on the easement area, which encompasses a curve and so-called blind spots. As a result of the children's activities, the plaintiffs feared for the safety of the children and had concerns about their own liability should the children be injured on the easement area.

         On July 11, 2016, the plaintiffs commenced this action by way of a two count complaint against the defendants relating to the scope and use of the easement. The plaintiffs alleged, inter alia, that after the defendants had purchased their property, the defendants allowed their children and guests to occupy and loiter in the easement area. That conduct, they alleged, unduly burdened the easement. The first count sought a declaratory judgment to determine ‘‘the existence, proper location, and the extent of permissible uses and users of the [e]asement.'' The second count sought to quiet title by determining the rights of the parties under the easement pursuant to General Statutes § 47-31.[3] The matter was tried before the court on June 29 and October 26, 2017.

         On June 22, 2018, the trial court issued its memorandum of decision, ruling in favor of the plaintiffs on both counts of their complaint. The court concluded that the ‘‘terms of the [e]asement [were] clear and unequivocal, allowing the owners of the dominant estate, the defendants, to use the [e]asement area solely for ‘ingress and egress' to the defendants' property and to access the public road beyond.'' In addition, the court determined that although there was a substantial dispute in the evidence regarding the frequency with which the children had played on the easement area, it was ‘‘not disputed by [the parties] that the . . . children have, in fact, engaged in conduct other than ingress and egress in the [e]asement area, including loitering, leaving toys in the easement, and making chalk drawings, among other activities.'' Because such activities were not permitted by the easement, the court declined to ‘‘determine with finality the entire history of the children's activities'' and concluded that the easement had been overburdened by the defendants' activities. This appeal followed. Additional facts and procedural history will be set forth as necessary.[4]

         I

         The defendants first claim that the declaratory judgment rendered in favor of the plaintiffs did not afford the plaintiffs with any practical relief, and therefore did not solve a justiciable controversy, because the parties agreed that the easement was limited to ingress and egress only.[5] The defendants contend that the plaintiffs are in the same position as they were in prior to the commencement of the ...


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