Bolan v. Avalon Farms Property Owners Ass'n

Decision Date10 August 1999
Citation735 A.2d 798,250 Conn. 135
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
Parties(Conn. 1999) MARIE G. BOLAN v. AVALON FARMS PROPERTY OWNERS ASSOCIATION, INC. (SC 16066)

John W. Pickard, for the appellant (plaintiff).

Zbigniew S. Rozbicki, for the appellee (defendant).

Callahan, C. J., and Borden, Berdon, Norcott, Katz, Palmer and McDonald, Js.

Callahan, C. J.

OPINION

The dispositive issue in this appeal is whether Connecticut should continue to adhere to the unity of title doctrine. See Curtin v. Franchetti, 156 Conn. 387, 389, 242 A.2d 725 (1968). We conclude that it should not. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the trial court, which was compelled by its justified reliance on the doctrine as stated in Curtin.

The following facts and procedural history are undisputed. The plaintiff, Marie G. Bolan, is the owner of approximately 161 acres of undeveloped real estate located in Litchfield. The plaintiff's land does not abut any public highway and is completely landlocked. The defendant, Avalon Farms Property Owners Association, Inc., is the owner of land that is situated immediately south of, and adjacent to, the plaintiff's land.

From 1936 to 1939, Isabel Curtis was the owner of a large tract of land that included the properties that now belong to the plaintiff and the defendant. In 1939, Isabel Curtis divided her tract into two separate parcels. The boundary line between the two was the centerline of Old Mount Tom Road, a road that in 1927 had been discontinued for public use by the town of Litchfield. Isabel Curtis retained ownership of the tract north of the boundary line, and transferred the tract south of the line to her son, Charles Curtis. At that time, both tracts abutted public highways.1

The plaintiff's land is part of the tract of land that was retained by Isabel Curtis in 1939. In 1940, Isabel Curtis transferred the tract to Marion Heiser.2 Between 1940 and 1955, Heiser divided the property into parcels and sold every parcel that abutted a public highway, leaving herself with six adjacent parcels that had no access to a public highway and were completely landlocked. In 1958, Heiser transferred five of those six landlocked parcels to her son, Charles Phinny. Phinny acquired the sixth of Heiser's landlocked parcels from Heiser's estate in 1970. Upon Phinny's death in 1985, his estate transferred two of the six landlocked parcels to the plaintiff's husband, Thomas A. Bolan. Less than one month later, Thomas A. Bolan transferred both parcels, which abut the defendant's land, to the plaintiff.

The defendant's land is part of the tract that Isabel Curtis transferred to Charles Curtis in 1939. Upon acquiring the property, Charles Curtis gave it the name "Avalon Farms." Thereafter, the property was transferred several times before Pasquale DiNardo, Trustee, (DiNardo) acquired it on January 5, 1978. DiNardo acquired the property with the intention of developing it, and, on January 24, 1978, he filed a set of subdivision maps for the Avalon Farms Subdivision (subdivision) with the town clerk of Litchfield.3 The subdivision maps, which showed the entire subdivision, included areas that were designated as "open space conservation" and "open space."

In 1979, DiNardo transferred a portion of the subdivision to Gold Key Builders, Inc. (Gold Key).4 The property transferred to Gold Key included all roadways, several building lots, and the areas shown as "open space conservation" and "open space" on the subdivision maps. In 1988, after further development of the subdivision, DiNardo and Gold Key executed deeds transferring to the defendant their respective interests in the "open space conservation" and "open space" areas of the subdivision.5

The deeds by which the defendant acquired its property from DiNardo and Gold Key describe the lands conveyed as those "designated and shown as `OPEN SPACE CONSERVATION' and `OPEN SPACE' areas on a certain set of subdivision maps (including cover and sheets 1 through 13, inclusive), entitled `Avalon Farms, Route 202, Litchfield, Connecticut August 1977, Prepared by Empire Associates, Inc., Plainville, Connecticut,' which subdivision maps are on file in the offices of the Morris and Litchfield Town Clerk[s] and to which subdivision maps reference is herein made for a more particular description of the same." The set of subdivision maps referred to in the defendant's deeds are those that DiNardo filed with the town clerk of Litchfield in 1978. Sheet 13 of those subdivision maps, which is explicitly referred to in the defendant's deeds, describes the boundary between the plaintiff's property and the defendant's property as the "CENTERLINE OF [THE] OLD ROAD." Sheet 13 also sets forth the following legend in the portion of the defendant's property parallel and immediately adjacent to that boundary: "THIS AREA RESERVED FOR OPEN SPACE & ACCESS AREA FOR LANDLOCKED ABUTTERS." At the time that the subdivision maps were filed, Phinny was the owner of the landlocked property that now is owned by the plaintiff.

In 1994, the plaintiff brought the present action against the defendant, seeking a determination that: (1) the deeds by which the defendant had acquired its property granted Phinny an easement appurtenant over the defendant's property for purposes of access to a public highway; and (2) the plaintiff, as Phinny's successor in interest, is the owner of that easement. Specifically, the plaintiff claimed that the defendant's deeds and the subdivision maps referred to therein manifested an intention by DiNardo and Gold Key to create an easement over the designated access area in favor of Phinny, a landlocked abutter. The trial court concluded that DiNardo and Gold Key had intended to grant Phinny an easement appurtenant over the defendant's land. Appropriately relying on this court's opinion in Curtin v. Franchetti, supra, 156 Conn. 389, however, the court concluded that the unity of title doctrine precluded it from giving effect to such intent. Accordingly, the trial court rendered judgment for the defendant.

The plaintiff appealed from the judgment of the trial court to the Appellate Court, and we transferred the appeal to this court pursuant to Practice Book § 65-1, and General Statutes § 51-199 (c). We now abandon the unity of title doctrine, and reverse the trial court's judgment.

On appeal, the plaintiff claims, inter alia, that: (1) the deeds by which the defendant acquired its land manifest an intention to create an access easement over the defendant's property in favor of property owned by landlocked abutters; and (2) because the unity of title doctrine operates to frustrate that intent, the doctrine should be abrogated.6 We agree with both of these claims.

"The principles governing the construction of instruments of conveyance are well established. In construing a deed, a court must consider the language and terms of the instrument as a whole.... Our basic rule of construction is that recognition will be given to the expressed intention of the parties to a deed or other conveyance, and that it shall, if possible, be so construed as to effectuate the intent of the parties.... In arriving at the intent expressed... in the language used, however, it is always admissible to consider the situation of the parties and the circumstances connected with the transaction, and every part of the writing should be considered with the help of that evidence.... The construction of a deed in order to ascertain the intent expressed in the deed presents a question of law and requires consideration of all its relevant provisions in light of the surrounding circumstances." (Emphasis added; internal quotation marks omitted.) Lakeview Associates v. Woodlake Master Condominium Assn., Inc., 239 Conn. 769, 780, 687 A.2d 1270 (1997).

The deeds by which the defendant acquired its property provide that the lands conveyed to the defendant were those "designated and shown as `OPEN SPACE CONSERVATION' and `OPEN SPACE' areas on a certain set of subdivision maps (including cover and sheets 1 through 13, inclusive)... to which subdivision maps reference is herein made for a more particular description of the same." Thus, the deeds explicitly provide that the defendant's rights in the "open space conservation" and "open space" land would be subject to all restrictions more particularly set forth in the subdivision maps. The effect of the reference to the subdivision maps was to incorporate those maps into the deed. General Statutes § 7-31.7 "This reference to the map in the deed, `[f]or a more particular description,' incorporates [the map] into the deed as fully and effectually as if copied therein." Bankers Trust Co. v. Zoning Board of Appeals, 165 Conn. 624, 631, 345 A.2d 544 (1974). "[T]he identifying or explanatory features contained in maps referred to in a deed become part of the deed, and so are entitled to consideration in interpreting the deed as though they were expressly recited therein." (Emphasis added.) Whittaker v. Zoning Board of Appeals, 179 Conn. 650, 659 n.8, 427 A.2d 1346 (1980). Thus, the effect of incorporation of the subdivision maps into the deeds was to include in the deeds any easement memorialized on those maps. Id.

Sheet 13 of the subdivision maps contains a legend that provides that the area immediately south of, and adjacent to, what is now the plaintiff's landlocked property is "RESERVED FOR... ACCESS AREA FOR LANDLOCKED ABUTTERS." The term "reserved" is a term of art generally associated with the creation of an easement; see Knowlton v. New York, N.H. & H. R. Co., 72 Conn. 188, 192-93, 44 A. 8 (1899); Barnes v. Burt, 38 Conn. 541, 542 (1871); 25 Am. Jur. 2d, Easements and Licenses §§ 19, 82 (1996); and the term "easement of access" is used to refer to an abutting landowner's "`right of ingress, egress, and regress....'" Kachele v. Bridgeport Hydraulic Co., 109 Conn. 151, 153, 145 A. 756 (1929). Thus, the language of the legend on sheet 13 indicates an...

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