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Benchmark Municipal Tax Services, Ltd. v. Greenwood Manor, LLC

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

November 19, 2019

BENCHMARK MUNICIPAL TAX SERVICES, LTD.
v.
GREENWOOD MANOR, LLC, ET AL.

          Argued September 13, 2019

         Procedural History

         Action to foreclose certain municipal property tax liens, and for other relief, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Bridgeport, where the court, Hartmere, J., granted the named defendant's motion to cite in the city of Bridgeport as a defendant; thereafter, the named defendant filed cross claims against the city of Bridgeport et al.; subsequently, the court, Tyma, J., granted the motion of the city of Bridgeport to be substituted as the plaintiff; thereafter the court, Hon. Richard P. Gilardi, judge trial referee, granted the named defendant's motion to substitute Main Street Business Management, Inc., as the defendant; subsequently, the cross claims were tried to the court, Radcliffe, J.; judgment in favor of the City of Bridgeport et al.; thereafter, the court, Radcliffe, J., denied the substitute defendant's motion to reargue, and the substitute defendant appealed to this court. Affirmed.

          Jonathan J. Klein, for the appellant (substitute defendant-cross claim plaintiff Main Street Business Management, Inc.).

          Thomas W. Moyher, with whom, on the brief, was James M. Nugent, for the appellee (cross claim defendant Manuel Moutinho).

          Juda J. Epstein filed a brief for the appellee (substitute plaintiff city of Bridgeport).

          Prescott, Bright and Devlin, Js.

          OPINION

          PRESCOTT, J.

         In this action to foreclose certain municipal property tax liens on a 9.9 acre parcel of property in Bridgeport (property), [1] the substitute defendant and cross claim plaintiff, Main Street Business Management, Inc. (Main Street), [2] appeals from the trial court's judgment rendered against it on its cross claim alleging that the cross claim defendant, Manuel Moutinho, tortiously interfered with a business expectancy and violated the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act, General Statutes § 42-110 et seq. (CUTPA), and on its counterclaim alleging that the city engaged in tortious interference with a business expectancy and improperly sought to affect the property's value adversely by interfering with a proposed zone change.[3]

         On appeal, Main Street, as Greenwood's successor in interest, claims that the court improperly determined that (1) Moutinho did not tortiously interfere with a proposed sale of the property by Greenwood to the city, (2) the city did not tortiously interfere with the business relationship between Greenwood and Moutinho, and (3) the city did not tortiously interfere by causing the city's planning and zoning commission (commission) to reject a zoning reclassification that would have benefited Greenwood by increasing the property's marketability. We disagree and affirm the judgment of the trial court.[4]

         The following facts, which either were found by the court or are not in dispute, and procedural history are relevant to our disposition of the claims on appeal. In January, 2009, after years of negotiations, Moutinho finalized a sale of the property to Greenwood, exchanging a warranty deed for a purchase money mortgage of $2 million. Greenwood intended to develop the property for use as a multiunit residential complex. Such use, however, was not permitted at the time the sale closed because the property was zoned R-A, or single-family residential, and thus required a zone change to R-C, or multifamily residential, in order to be developed in accordance with Greenwood's plan.

         Although Greenwood never filed a zone change application, it was aware that, in 2008, the commission had begun the process of revising the city's master plan of development and was engaged in a comprehensive reevaluation of zoning regulations and zoning districts throughout the city. As part of this process, the commission considered whether to adopt a zone change for the property from R-A to R-C.[5] Ultimately, the commission decided to leave the zoning classification for the property unchanged.

         Both before and after Moutinho finalized his sale of the property to Greenwood, the city expressed an interest in purchasing the property for use in a flood plain control project and for other purposes. The city engaged in negotiations with Moutinho, both during the time he owned the property and later as the holder of an interest in the property by virtue of the mortgage deed received from Greenwood. The city also negotiated with Greenwood to buy the property. The city never entered into a contract for sale with either Moutinho or Greenwood, as there was never a meeting of the minds regarding a sale price.[6]

         In August, 2011, Benchmark, which had acquired from the city certain liens for delinquent property taxes assessed against the property in 2008 and 2009, commenced this action to foreclose those liens. At that time, the property was encumbered by a number of other liens and ...


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