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Cyr v. VKB, LLC

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

December 17, 2019

CYNTHIA CYR
v.
VKB, LLC, ET AL.

          Argued April 11, 2019

         Proceedings

         Action to recover damages for, inter alia, the defendants' alleged negligence, and for other relief, brought to the Superior Court in judicial district of Hartford, where the court, Shapiro, J., granted the plaintiff's motion to cite in Vernon W. Belanger et al. as defendants; thereafter, the court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment and rendered judgment thereon, from which the plaintiff appealed to this court. Reversed in part; further proceedings.

          Frank C. Bartlett, Jr., for the appellant (plaintiff).

          Christopher P. Kriesen, with whom was Ronald J. Houde, Jr., for the appellees (defendants).

          DiPentima, C. J., and Prescott and Moll, Js.

          OPINION

          MOLL, J.

         The plaintiff, Cynthia Cyr, appeals from the summary judgment rendered by the trial court in favor of the defendants, VKB, LLC (VKB), Shady Oaks Assisted Living, LLC (Shady Oaks Assisted Living), Shady Oaks Rest Home, Inc. (Shady Oaks Rest Home), Vernon W. Belanger, and Kay F. Belanger. On appeal, the plaintiff claims that the court improperly rendered summary judgment in favor of the defendants on all counts of her amended complaint when it (1) failed to require the defendants, as the movants for summary judgment, first to establish that there was no genuine issue as to any material fact, (2) determined that the defendants' alleged affirmative acts did not create the defect in the sidewalk, and (3) purportedly determined, as a matter of law, that a business owner that invites individuals to enter and exit its property at a particular location owes no duty to ensure that such location is reasonably safe. We affirm in part and reverse in part the judgment of the trial court.

         The following procedural history is relevant to our analysis of the plaintiff's claims. On November 29, 2016, the plaintiff commenced this action, sounding in negligence and negligence per se, against the original defendants, VKB, Shady Oaks Assisted Living, and Shady Oaks Rest Home. On February 2, 2017, the original defendants filed an answer and special defenses in response to the plaintiff's original complaint. On February 6, 2017, the original defendants filed a request for leave to amend their answer and special defenses and appended the proposed amendment, which was deemed to have been filed by consent, absent objection. On February 10, 2017, the plaintiff filed a reply.[1] On December 29, 2017, the plaintiff filed a motion to cite in additional defendants, Vernon W. Belanger and Kay F. Belanger, and to amend the complaint, which was granted by the court on January 17, 2018.

         On January 31, 2018, the plaintiff filed her amended complaint and alleged, inter alia, the following. At all relevant times, the defendants owned, and/or were in the possession and control of, real property located at 344 Stevens Street in Bristol (property). On May 28, 2015, at approximately 10:15 a.m., the plaintiff was walking on the sidewalk abutting the property, when she tripped on an approximately one and one-half inch lip between two sidewalk segments (defect) and fell, sustaining physical injuries, principally to her left hand, which necessitated medical treatment and interfered with her employment and enjoyment of life's activities. The parties do not dispute that the sidewalk at issue is a public sidewalk.

         On the basis of the foregoing factual allegations, the plaintiff asserted the following claims: (1) negligence as to VKB (count one); (2) negligence per se as to VKB (count two); (3) nuisance as to VKB (count three); (4) negligence as to Shady Oaks Assisted Living (count four); (5) negligence as to Shady Oaks Rest Home (count five); (6) nuisance as to Vernon W. Belanger (count six); and (7) nuisance as to Kay F. Belanger (count seven). The plaintiff alleged alternative theories as to how the alleged defect in the sidewalk was created. On the one hand, in counts one and two (directed to VKB), count four (directed to Shady Oaks Assisted Living), and count five (directed to Shady Oaks Rest Home), the plaintiff alleged that the defect ‘‘developed as a result of the settling of one adjacent segment.'' On the other hand, in count three (directed to VKB), count six (directed to Vernon W. Belanger), and count seven (directed to Kay F. Belanger), the plaintiff alleged, respectively, that VKB, or its predecessor(s) in interest, Vernon W. Belanger, and/or Kay F. Belanger, through one or more of their agents, servants, and/or employees, constructed the sidewalk with the resulting defect. In each of the respective counts, the plaintiff alleged that the defendants were responsible for keeping the abutting sidewalk in a safe condition for the use of the public.

         The defendants did not move to strike any of the plaintiff's claims. On March 12, 2018, however, the defendants filed an amended motion for summary judgment (motion), and a supporting memorandum of law, as to all counts of the plaintiff's amended complaint. The motion was not accompanied by any supporting affidavits or documentary evidence. The defendants argued that they were entitled to judgment as a matter of law because (1) Bristol Code of Ordinances § 21-37[2](city ordinance) shifts only the duty of repairing an abutting sidewalk from the municipality to an abutting landowner and does not shift liability for injuries resulting from an unsafe condition of the sidewalk, (2) there is no common-law duty owed by abutting landowners to the public for sidewalk defects, and (3) there is no evidence, and the plaintiff cannot prove, that the defendants created the alleged defect so as to fall within an exception to the general rule that liability remains with the municipality in cases involving public sidewalk defects.

         On April 19, 2018, the plaintiff filed an objection and a memorandum of law in opposition to the motion, as well as the affidavit of Frank C. Bartlett, Jr., Esq., and several exhibits. On May 7, 2018, the defendants filed a reply memorandum of law, as well as the affidavit of Ronald J. Houde, Jr., Esq., and several exhibits. That same day, the court held a hearing on the motion. On June 15, 2018, the court granted the defendants' motion, rendering summary judgment in favor of the defendants on all counts.

         The trial court's memorandum of decision reflects the following analysis. Having reviewed the general principles regarding the liability of abutting landowners for injuries sustained on a defective public sidewalk, the court first concluded that, although the city ordinance imposes a duty on the defendants to maintain the sidewalk, it does not shift liability from the municipality to the defendants for the plaintiff's fall. The court then addressed the plaintiff's argument that there existed a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the defendants caused the sidewalk defect by performing a positive act. Specifically, the court stated that ‘‘[t]he plaintiff does not allege, and has not presented evidence to show, that the sidewalk was constructed or repaired deficiently . . . .'' The court went on to reject the plaintiff's additional arguments, namely, that the defendants owed her a duty of care by (1) voluntarily undertaking to inspect the ...


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