CELIA W. WHEELER et al. v. BEACHCROFT, LLC, et al., SC 19355/19356/19357

Judicial District of Hartford

 

†††† †Property; Res Judicata; Whether Doctrine of Res Judicata Barred Owners of Rear Lots in Beachfront Community from Raising Claims Regarding a Lawn that had been the Subject of Previous Litigation.† This matter involves a long-standing dispute between property owners who reside in a beachfront community on Long Island Sound in Branford.† The owners of one of four front lots in the community initiated quiet title actions, claiming that certain owners of rear lots improperly trespassed upon a lawn that lies between the front lots and the beach.† The matters ultimately came before the Supreme Court, which held in McBurney v. Cirillo, 276 Conn. 782 (2006), that the rear lot owners were the beneficiaries of an easement by implication over a portion of the lawn.† The Supreme Court also remanded the actions to the trial court for a determination of the scope of the implied easement.† On remand, the trial court concluded that the easement was created only to give the rear lot owners the right to pass over the lawn in order to access the beach area, and, therefore, they were not permitted to use the lawn for other purposes, such as recreation or socializing.† The Supreme Court largely affirmed that judgment in McBurney v. Paquin, 302 Conn. 359 (2011).† Several rear lot owners who did not participate in the previous litigation brought the present action, claiming that they had the right to use the lawn under theories that had not been advanced in the prior actions.† The defendants filed motions for summary judgment, arguing that the doctrine of res judicata barred the plaintiffs from raising alternative theories that could have been asserted in the prior actions.† They claimed that the plaintiffs were bound by the outcome of the previous litigation because they had failed to take advantage of an opportunity to intervene in that litigation.† The trial court denied the motions for summary judgment as to count six of the complaint, which alleged that the lawn was a public way or a public park.† The court reasoned that the question of whether the lawn was a public way or a public park was never addressed in the previous litigation.† The court also denied the motions as to count nine, which claimed a prescriptive easement over the lawn.† It determined that, because a prescriptive easement claim involves a highly fact-bound inquiry, there was no privity between the plaintiffs and the rear lot owners who participated in the other actions.† It further concluded that the prescriptive easement claim could not have been raised during the remand proceedings because it was beyond the scope of the Supreme Courtís remand order.† In these appeals, the defendants argue that the trial court improperly denied their motions for summary judgment as to counts six and nine.