Allstate Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co. v. Verlin

Decision Date18 April 2022
Docket Number3:20-CV-00607 (KAD)
Citation598 F.Supp.3d 39
Parties ALLSTATE PROPERTY & CASUALTY INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff, v. Ryan VERLIN, Nicole Verlin, Chistopher Hamer, Cynthia Hamer, Marian Byrne, Rachel Precious, & Jack Precious, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Connecticut

Michele C. Wojcik, Paige D. Beisner, Nuzzo & Roberts, LLC, Cheshire, CT, for Plaintiff.

Michael J. McCabe, Attorney at Law, Milford, CT, for Defendants Ryan Verlin, Nicole Verlin.

Edward N. Lerner, Lerner & Guarino, LLC, Westport, CT, for Defendants Christopher Hamer, Cynthia Hamer.

Alan R. Spirer, Westport, CT, for Defendants Marian Byrne, Rachel Precious, Jack Precious.


Kari A. Dooley, United States District Judge:

This declaratory judgment action arises out of a Hatfield/McCoy type dispute between neighbors which boiled over into litigation in the Superior Court for the State of Connecticut, captioned "Christopher J. Hamer and Cynthia Hamer v. Marian Byrne, Rachel Precious, Jack Precious, Janis Melone, Ryan Verlin and Nicole Vines Verlin" and bearing Docket Number FST-CV20-6047674-S (the "Underlying Litigation"). Plaintiff, Allstate Property and Casualty Insurance Company ("Allstate"), issued a homeowners policy to Ryan Verlin and Nicole Verlin (the "Verlin Defendants") and issued a separate homeowners policy to Marian Byrne and brings this action seeking a declaratory judgment that under the terms of these policies, Allstate is under no obligation to either defend or indemnify the Verlin Defendants or Marian Byrne (or her children Jack Precious and Rachel Precious) (collectively "the Byrne Defendants") with respect to the Underlying Litigation. Pending before the Court is Allstate's motion for summary judgment in which Allstate asserts that the unambiguous terms of the policy it issued to the Verlin Defendants, and the unambiguous terms of a separate policy issued to Marian Byrne, which would otherwise insure her children Jack and Rachel Precious, do not provide coverage for the claims asserted by the Plaintiffs in the Underlying Litigation, Christopher and Cynthia Hamer (the "Hamers").1 The Verlin and Byrne Defendants oppose summary judgment though neither disagrees as to the terms and scope of the policies at issue. For the reasons that follow, Allstate's motion for summary judgment is GRANTED.

Legal Standard

The standard under which courts review motions for summary judgment is well-established. "The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). A fact is "material" if it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law," while a dispute about a material fact is "genuine" if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).

Once the movant meets his burden, the nonmoving party "must set forth ‘specific facts’ demonstrating that there is ‘a genuine issue for trial.’ " Wright v. Goord , 554 F.3d 255, 266 (2d Cir. 2009) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e) ). "[T]he party opposing summary judgment may not merely rest on the allegations or denials of his pleading" to establish the existence of a disputed fact. Wright , 554 F.3d at 266 ; accord Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Federation , 497 U.S. 871, 888, 110 S.Ct. 3177, 111 L.Ed.2d 695 (1990).

In determining whether there exists a genuine dispute as to a material fact, the Court is "required to resolve all ambiguities and draw all permissible factual inferences in favor of the party against whom summary judgment is sought." Johnson v. Killian , 680 F.3d 234, 236 (2d Cir. 2012) (quoting Terry v. Ashcroft , 336 F.3d 128, 137 (2d Cir. 2003) ). "In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the district court's function is not to weigh the evidence or resolve issues of fact; it is confined to deciding whether a rational juror could find in favor of the non-moving party." Lucente v. Int'l Bus. Machines Corp. , 310 F.3d 243, 254 (2d Cir. 2002).

Background & The Underlying Litigation

Christopher Hamer first sued the Byrne and Verlin Defendants on November 22, 2019 in Connecticut state court.2 On July 8, 2020, Christopher Hamer unilaterally withdrew this complaint, and filed a second suit, this time naming Christopher and Cynthia Hamer as Plaintiffs against the Verlin and Byrne Defendants. The suit arose from a property dispute among neighbors, and, broadly speaking, the Hamers sought to enforce their rights to an easement, to seek damages flowing from an interference with the same, and to quiet title to a parcel of land that they believe is theirs by adverse possession. Plaintiff has been defending this suit for the Verlin and Byrne Defendants pursuant to a full and complete reservation of rights.

The Court summarizes the allegations in the Underlying Litigation.3 The Hamers reside at 24 Evergreen Avenue, Westport, Connecticut (the "Hamer Parcel"), and Cynthia Hamer bought the property in 2017. (She would later convey the property to Christopher J. Hamer by quitclaim deed on February 20, 2020.) Cynthia's deed was recorded on June 23, 2017, and it references an easement, hereinafter referred to as "the Easement" and measuring 27.70 feet by 180 feet, that adjoins Evergreen Avenue. The Easement allowed the Hamers ingress and egress from their property, and it could be used for "all purposes for which a public highway can be used." Adjoining the Hamer Parcel is a property known as 22 Evergreen Avenue, Westport, Connecticut, and which will be referred to as the "Byrne Parcel." Marian Byrne and her then husband Robert Precious purchased this property in 1995, and their deed, as recorded in the Town of Westport land records, mentions a strip of land measuring 27.70 feet by 180 feet adjoining Evergreen Avenue, or the Easement. On or about April 15, 2015, Robert Precious executed a quitclaim deed to "Marian Precious." And adjoining the Byrne Parcel is a property known as 20 Evergreen Avenue, where the Verlin Defendants resided at the times relevant to the Second Amended Complaint.4

In the Underlying Litigation, the Hamers brought six counts against the Byrne Defendants and the Verlin Defendants: a claim to quiet title of an adverse possession parcel against Marian Byrne (Count One); a claim for interference with the Easement against the Verlin Defendants and the Byrne Defendants (Count Two); a claim for spite structure common law nuisance against Marian Byrne (Count Three); a claim for malicious construction of a spite structure pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 52-480 & 52-570 against Marian Byrne (Count Four); a claim for damage of property against the Byrne Defendants (Count Five); and a claim for declaratory and equitable relief pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 22a-16 against the Byrne Defendants (Count Six).

In Count Two, brought against the Byrne and Verlin Defendants, the Hamers allege that as owners of the dominant tenement, the Hamer Parcel, they are the beneficiaries of the Easement and that they are therefore entitled to the use of the Easement free of the malicious interference of all of the Defendants. Nevertheless, the Hamers allege that Marian Byrne maintains her mailbox in the middle of the Easement as an overt attempt to block the Hamers’ reasonable use of the Easement. Near the mailbox, moreover, Marian Byrne also installed a cement post, which exists only to block the Hamers’ use of the Easement. Marian Byrne also maintains multiple trees and shrubbery which encroach on the Easement and interfere with the Hamers’ reasonable use of the same. The Verlin and Byrne Defendants together also erected a fence, otherwise known as the "Fence," that encroaches on the Easement and prevents the Hamers from using that right of way as a public highway. Finally, starting in the summer of 2017 and continuing until at least the date of the lawsuit, both the Byrne Defendants and the Verlin Defendants have obstructed the Easement by parking their vehicles in a manner calculated to interfere with the Hamers’ ordinary use of the driveway. They have, in other words, allegedly turned the Easement into a parking lot.

Marian Byrne alone is named as a defendant in Counts One, Three, and Four. In Count One, the Hamers seek to quiet title to a parcel of land (the "Adverse Possession Parcel") that sits behind the Hamer Parcel and is, per the land records, part of the Byrne Parcel. Count One both identifies the Adverse Possession Parcel and lays out the actions taken by the Hamers and their predecessors in interest to demonstrate an ownership interest in the parcel, including landscaping, planting vegetation, gardening, cutting grass, removing storm-damaged trees, and nurturing saplings. The Hamers allege that their and their predecessors’ activities were open and hostile, and they further allege that, during a March 2018 meeting, Marian Byrne made a statement indicating that the Adverse Possession Parcel was not hers and that she considered the Adverse Possession Parcel part of the Hamer Parcel.

Counts Three and Four, meanwhile, concern the construction of the "Spite Structure." Count Three is a spite structure common law claim while Count Four is a claim pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 52-480 & 52-570 for malicious erection of a spite structure.5 Count Four incorporates the allegations in Count Three. Therein, the Hamers allege that, during the last quarter of 2018, Marian Byrne cornered Cynthia Hamer, gestured toward an eight-foot stockade fence and said, "I am going to put an eight-foot fence across your backyard and ruin your view." This interaction followed an indication by the Hamers that they would go to court to settle the Adverse Possession Parcel matter. Then, on or about May 14 and 15, 2019, Marian Byrne entered onto the Hamers’ land without...

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