Caminis v. Troy, No. 28955.

CourtAppellate Court of Connecticut
Writing for the CourtPeters
Citation963 A.2d 701,112 Conn.App. 546
PartiesPerry D. CAMINIS et al. v. Austin TROY et al.
Docket NumberNo. 28955.
Decision Date10 February 2009
963 A.2d 701
112 Conn.App. 546
Perry D. CAMINIS et al.
v.
Austin TROY et al.
No. 28955.
Appellate Court of Connecticut.
Argued September 16, 2008.
Decided February 10, 2009.

[963 A.2d 703]

David Thomas Ryan, with whom were John P. Casey and, on the brief, Dwight H. Merriam, Hartford, for the appellants-appellees (plaintiffs).

Robert F. Maslan, Jr., Darien, with whom, on the brief, was Amy J. Boland, for the appellees-appellants (defendants).

DiPENTIMA, McLACHLAN and PETERS, Js.

PETERS, J.


112 Conn.App. 548

An ancient principle of the common law is that "the title in the soil of the sea, or of arms of the sea, below ordinary high water mark . . . is held subject to the public right, jus publicum, of navigation and fishing." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Idaho v. Coeur d'Alene Tribe of Idaho, 521 U.S. 261, 284, 117 S.Ct. 2028, 138 L.Ed.2d 438 (1997), quoting Shively v. Bowlby, 152 U.S. 1, 13, 14 S.Ct. 548, 38 L.Ed. 331(1894). Although Connecticut law has long recognized that "the public, whose representative is the State, is the owner of the soil between high and low-water mark upon navigable water where the tide ebbs and flows"; Rochester v. Barney, 117 Conn. 462, 468, 169 A. 45 (1933); "[t]he owner of the adjoining upland has certain exclusive yet qualified rights and privileges in the waters and submerged land adjoining his upland," notably "the exclusive privilege of wharfing out and erecting piers over and upon such soil. . . . However, where a party's upland bordering on navigable waters adjoins and abuts the property of another, each must exercise his respective littoral rights with due regard for the corresponding rights of the other." (Citations omitted.) Id., at 468-69, 169 A. 45. The principal issue in this case is whether protracted and prejudicial delay in establishing their littoral rights precludes upland property owners from receiving not only injunctive but also declaratory relief from their abutting neighbors. We affirm the judgment of the trial court denying the plaintiffs' application for an injunction because of laches but reverse the court's holding that the plaintiffs' laches do not bar their right to a declaratory judgment establishing the littoral rights boundary line between their property and that belonging to the defendants.

On October 12, 2005, the plaintiffs, Perry D. Caminis and Diane W. Caminis, filed a three count complaint against the defendants, Austin Troy and Dana Troy,

112 Conn.App. 549

requesting (1) a declaratory judgment that the defendants had encroached on their "riparian" rights,1 (2) compensatory damages for the defendants' violation of those rights and (3) an injunction ordering the defendants not to use, and to remove, any part of their dock system that intruded

963 A.2d 704

into the plaintiffs' littoral rights area. In their amended answer of June 16, 2006, the defendants denied the plaintiffs' claims but filed seven special defenses and a two count counterclaim.2 Significantly, in their third special defense, the defendants claimed that the plaintiffs' extensive delay in asserting their rights constituted laches, barring the plaintiffs from both injunctive and declaratory relief.

After a court trial, the court granted the plaintiffs' request for a declaratory judgment and thereby set the littoral rights boundary line between the two properties as it had been depicted in a survey commissioned by the plaintiffs in 2000.3 The court found this line to have been "applicable from . . . 1957 to the present." It further found that the defendants' dock and pilings

112 Conn.App. 550

"encroach upon the area of the plaintiffs' littoral rights," but denied the plaintiffs' request for an injunction because it found that the defendants had established their third special defense of laches. Subsequently, in response to an order for rectification issued by this court, the trial court clarified that it had determined that laches did not preclude the plaintiffs' right to legal relief in the form of a declaratory judgment. Finally, the court denied both counts of the defendants' counterclaim and each of their other six special defenses except the second, which pertained to the statute of limitations on the plaintiffs' abandoned claim for damages.4

The plaintiffs have appealed and the defendants have cross appealed. The central issue in both appeals is whether the trial court properly applied the law of laches. The plaintiffs contest the validity of the courts' finding that, as a matter of fact, the defendants established the basis for their defense of laches. Both parties argue that, as a matter of law, it was inconsistent for the court to have concluded that proof of the defense of laches barred the plaintiffs from obtaining injunctive relief but did not bar them from obtaining declaratory relief. We agree with the defendants that the court's finding of laches was not clearly erroneous as a matter of fact and that this finding required the court to conclude as a matter of law that the plaintiffs failed to establish their right to affirmative relief.5

The facts underlying the trial court's finding of laches are not in dispute. The parties are neighbors on the

112 Conn.App. 551

eastern shore of the navigable Five Mile River in Norwalk whose residential waterfront properties abut each other near where the river joins Long Island Sound. In 1957, a previous owner of the defendants' property obtained a permit to build a fixed pier and

963 A.2d 705

attached floating dock from the predecessor of the state department of environmental protection (department). These structures existed at the time the plaintiffs purchased their property in 1975.

In 1984, John Morgan, the defendants' immediate predecessor in title, obtained from the department a permit to replace the existing float and several pilings and to dredge the area around the floating dock. When this work was completed in 1985, the plaintiffs became concerned that the defendants' rebuilt float infringed on their littoral rights area, in violation of the 1984 permit. Although they expressed these concerns to the department between 1985 and 1988, they did not engage a surveyor to determine the boundary lines until 2000, when they sought a permit from the department to build a dock of their own.6

In 1991, the defendants purchased their home from Morgan "without notice of any issue regarding the location of the pilings and floating dock." It was not until 2000 that the plaintiffs asked the defendants to relocate their float to accommodate the plaintiffs' own proposal for a dock. The defendants declined to do so. Even

112 Conn.App. 552

so, the plaintiffs did not commence the present action until 2005.

I
THE PLAINTIFFS' APPEAL

The plaintiffs' appeal raises only one issue. They argue that, as a matter of fact, the evidence at trial did not support the court's factual finding that the defendants proved the elements of their special defense of laches. We are not persuaded.

The standard of review that governs appellate claims with respect to the law of laches is well established. "A conclusion that a plaintiff has been guilty of laches is one of fact for the trier and not one that can be made by this court, unless the subordinate facts found make such a conclusion inevitable as a matter of law. . . . We must defer to the court's findings of fact unless they are clearly erroneous." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Florian v. Lenge, 91 Conn.App. 268, 281, 880 A.2d 985 (2005).

"The defense of laches, if proven, bars a plaintiff from seeking equitable relief. . . . First, there must have been a delay that was inexcusable, and, second, that delay must have prejudiced the defendant." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Id. "The burden is on the party alleging laches to establish that defense." Cummings v. Tripp, 204 Conn. 67, 88, 527 A.2d 230 (1987). "The mere lapse of time does not constitute laches . . . unless it results in prejudice to the [opposing party] . . . as where, for example, the [opposing party] is led to change his position with respect to the matter in question." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Fromm v. Fromm, 108 Conn.App. 376, 385-86, 948 A.2d 328 (2008).

The plaintiffs first claim that the court improperly found that the defendants had proved that the plaintiffs'

112 Conn.App. 553

protracted delay over many years was inexcusable. Without disputing the factual

963 A.2d 706

support for the court's findings, the plaintiffs maintain that the facts on which the court relied do not establish the defendant's contention. We disagree.

The central factual findings on which the court relied were that, despite having been alerted as early as 1985 that Morgan's dock might be infringing on their littoral rights, the plaintiffs "took no action" to have the boundary lines surveyed until 2000. They then waited another five years before bringing an action. It is true that they sporadically sought redress between 1985 and 1988, and again between 2000 and 2005, mostly through the department, which informed them in 2001 that it did not have the authority to decide private littoral rights boundary disputes. Nonetheless, neither in their briefs nor at oral argument before this court have the plaintiffs offered a satisfactory explanation for their long inaction between 1988 and 2000. The court reasonably found it significant that the plaintiffs did not explain their further protracted delay in bringing an action, even after their suspicions of encroachment apparently had been confirmed by the survey of 2000 and the department had advised them to take the matter to court. On this record of undisputed facts, the court reasonably found that the defendants had proved the first element of laches, namely, that the plaintiffs had inexcusably delayed in asserting their rights.

In the alternative, the plaintiffs claim that the court improperly found that the defendants established that they had been prejudiced by the...

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28 practice notes
  • Holbrook v. Warden, State Prison, CV144006310S
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Connecticut
    • July 21, 2017
    ...Fromm v. Fromm, 108 Conn.App. 376, 385-86, 948 A.2d 328 (2008)." (Internal citation and quotation marks omitted.) Caminis v. Troy, 112 Conn.App. 546, 553, 963 A.2d 701 (2009), aff'd on other grounds, 300 Conn. 297, 12 A.3d 984 (2011). The use of laches as a defense to habeas corpus cla......
  • Carrasquillo v. Warden, CV144005753S
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Connecticut
    • November 30, 2018
    ...question ... Fromm v. Fromm, 108 Conn.App. 376, 385-86, 948 A.2d 328 (2008)." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Caminis v. Troy, 112 Conn.App. 546, 552, 963 A.2d 701 (2009), aff’d on other grounds, 300 Conn. 297, 12 A.3d 984 (2011). However, the use of laches as a defense to habeas c......
  • Vill. Mortg. Co. v. Garbus, AC 42667
    • United States
    • Appellate Court of Connecticut
    • December 22, 2020
    ...to equitable defenses such as laches when the underlying cause of action on which it is based sounds in equity." Caminis v. Troy , 112 Conn. App. 546, 559–60, 963 A.2d 701 (2009), aff'd on other grounds, 300 Conn. 297, 12 A.3d 984 (2011) ; id., at 548, 963 A.2d 701 (declaratory judgmen......
  • Derose v. Jason Robert's, Inc., AC 40715
    • United States
    • Appellate Court of Connecticut
    • August 13, 2019
    ...plaintiff from pursuing equitable relief in the face of an inexcusable delay causing prejudice to the defendant. See Caminis v. Troy , 112 Conn. App. 546, 552, 963 A.2d 701 (2009), aff'd, 300 Conn. 297, 12 A.3d 984 (2011). But whether a delay violates the doctrine of laches is an issue left......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
28 cases
  • Holbrook v. Warden, State Prison, CV144006310S
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Connecticut
    • July 21, 2017
    ...Fromm v. Fromm, 108 Conn.App. 376, 385-86, 948 A.2d 328 (2008)." (Internal citation and quotation marks omitted.) Caminis v. Troy, 112 Conn.App. 546, 553, 963 A.2d 701 (2009), aff'd on other grounds, 300 Conn. 297, 12 A.3d 984 (2011). The use of laches as a defense to habeas corpus cla......
  • Carrasquillo v. Warden, CV144005753S
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Connecticut
    • November 30, 2018
    ...question ... Fromm v. Fromm, 108 Conn.App. 376, 385-86, 948 A.2d 328 (2008)." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Caminis v. Troy, 112 Conn.App. 546, 552, 963 A.2d 701 (2009), aff’d on other grounds, 300 Conn. 297, 12 A.3d 984 (2011). However, the use of laches as a defense to habeas c......
  • Vill. Mortg. Co. v. Garbus, AC 42667
    • United States
    • Appellate Court of Connecticut
    • December 22, 2020
    ...to equitable defenses such as laches when the underlying cause of action on which it is based sounds in equity." Caminis v. Troy , 112 Conn. App. 546, 559–60, 963 A.2d 701 (2009), aff'd on other grounds, 300 Conn. 297, 12 A.3d 984 (2011) ; id., at 548, 963 A.2d 701 (declaratory judgmen......
  • Derose v. Jason Robert's, Inc., AC 40715
    • United States
    • Appellate Court of Connecticut
    • August 13, 2019
    ...plaintiff from pursuing equitable relief in the face of an inexcusable delay causing prejudice to the defendant. See Caminis v. Troy , 112 Conn. App. 546, 552, 963 A.2d 701 (2009), aff'd, 300 Conn. 297, 12 A.3d 984 (2011). But whether a delay violates the doctrine of laches is an issue left......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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