Dukes v. Durante

Decision Date07 February 1984
Citation192 Conn. 207,471 A.2d 1368
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
Parties, 49 A.L.R.4th 469 Louise DUKES et al. v. Peter DURANTE et al.

Charles G. Albom, Corp. Counsel, New Haven, with whom were Deborah L. Morgan, Deputy Corp. Counsel, Hamden, and, on the brief, Karen S. Nash and Clarine N. Riddle, Deputy Corp. Counsel, New Haven, for appellants (defendants).

Michael O. Sheehan, New Haven, with whom was Joanne G. Gibau, Norwalk, for appellees (plaintiffs).

Before PETERS, ARTHUR H. HEALEY, PARSKEY, SHEA and SPONZO, JJ.

PARSKEY, Associate Justice.

These appeals arise from a permanent mandatory injunction compelling the defendants to provide adequate replacement housing for persons displaced under the Uniform Relocation Assistance Act, General Statutes §§ 8-266 through 8-282 (hereinafter the act or URAA). At issue is the proper construction of that act.

I

The underlying facts of appeal No. 11425, having been stipulated to, are not in dispute. The plaintiffs are former residents of New Haven who brought a class action on behalf of all tenants in the city of New Haven who have been ordered or may be ordered in the future to move from their apartments by the Housing Conservation and Code Enforcement Agency of New Haven (HCCEA) without first being assured of decent, safe, and sanitary replacement housing in the city, as allegedly required by the URAA. The defendants are Peter R. Durante, who as the executive director of the HCCEA has the power to condemn under the city housing code; Louis Naclerio, who as the director of the relocation office of the city's redevelopment agency, has the responsibility of providing a relocation assistance program for all city agencies, including HCCEA; John P. Sawyer, development administrator of the city; and the city itself. 1

Acting pursuant to the city housing code, the defendant Durante condemned the plaintiffs' dwelling units because they were unsafe and unfit for human habitation. As a result, the plaintiffs and their families, who are economically disadvantaged, were forced to vacate their apartments. But for the condemnation, the plaintiff Louis Dukes would have remained in the substandard apartment. After diligent attempts to locate housing, the plaintiffs were provided emergency shelter by the state department of human resources. For Dukes and her six children, this consisted of two rooms in a motel in West Haven. The plaintiff Nereida Febus and her four children were provided with one room at the same motel. These accommodations had no cooking facilities and the motel was far from the children's schools in New Haven. The children had difficulty getting to school and Febus had difficulty providing even one hot meal a day to her family.

Housing is scarce in New Haven. It is particularly scarce for a welfare family with many children. At the time the plaintiffs' housing was condemned, there was no decent, safe, and sanitary housing available to them and their families, and a wait of five months or longer for an apartment for families like them was not unusual. On the average, each year thirty families are displaced due to condemnation under the housing code. Prior to the injunction, Naclerio's only assistance to these displacees was to refer them to the housing authority and to supply them with a list of landlords, some of whom were housing code violators. The defendants did not ascertain before condemnation that decent, safe and sanitary replacement housing was available.

The plaintiffs sought a temporary and permanent injunction to compel the defendants to provide adequate housing for those families previously displaced by the city's housing code enforcement activity who could not themselves secure such housing, and to ensure that in the future there would be decent, safe and affordable housing available to such families, prior to displacement. The defendants denied that they had such obligations.

On February 24, 1981, the trial court, Berdon, J., certified the class. He also granted a mandatory temporary injunction which, as later amended on July 30, 1981, by agreement of the parties, obligated the defendants to, inter alia, provide emergency shelter for displacees for two weeks after condemnation, and at the end of the two week period, to provide temporary housing containing a kitchen and adequate sleeping and living space for up to four months. The defendants were ordered to pay a relocation benefit of that portion of the shelter cost (rent, heat, and utilities) of the temporary housing that exceeded 35 percent of the displacee's income and to provide transportation to schools if the housing was outside New Haven. Within four months of the order to vacate, the defendants had to provide permanent, decent, safe and sanitary housing in an area not generally less desirable in regard to public and commercial facilities than the area from which the displacees had moved and at rents or prices not exceeding 35 percent of the displacee's income, but including up to $83.33 a month as a relocation benefit. For those class members previously displaced and living in housing which they could not afford, the city was ordered to make housing supplement payments, retroactive to February 15, 1981, for any shelter cost which was above 35 percent of the displacee's income or 35 percent plus $83.33 if statutory monthly relocation benefits were paid. By March 3, 1982, the date of the stipulation of facts, the city had appropriated $100,000 for the improvement of apartments and spent additional money to provide rental subsidies in order to comply with this injunction.

On January 20, 1982, the case was transferred to the housing docket of the New Haven judicial district. On March 3, 1982, the defendants filed a motion requesting that, if the plaintiffs received a judgment, a hearing be held on the dimensions of the relief. On April 30, 1982, the court, Foti, J., upheld the class certification and rendered judgment in favor of the plaintiffs. Without ruling on the defendants' motion for a separate hearing on the scope of the relief, the court adopted the temporary injunction as the permanent injunction. On May 3, 1982, the defendants filed a motion to open judgment and reargue. This motion was denied.

On appeal, the defendants argue that the court erred in holding that (1) the URAA applies to persons displaced by housing code enforcement; (2) the URAA, so applied, is not a gift, in violation of article first, section one of the Connecticut constitution; (3) the plaintiffs need not have exhausted their administrative remedies. In addition, the defendants argue that the terms of the injunction were unduly harsh.

A

The defendants' first claim is that the URAA does not cover the plaintiffs and the class because (1) they do not meet the statutory definition of "displaced person" because they were displaced by housing code enforcement activity, not building code enforcement activity; (2) their displacement did not occur as the result of a "program or project" of the city; 2 and (3) the code enforcement activity did not result in the "acquisition" of the condemned property.

The URAA begins at General Statutes § 8-266 with a statement of purpose which reads: "Sec. 8-266. SHORT TITLE. PURPOSE. POLICY. This chapter shall be known as the uniform relocation assistance act. The purpose of this chapter is to establish a uniform policy for the fair and equitable treatment of persons displaced by the acquisition of real property by state and local land acquisition programs, by building code enforcement activities, or by a program of voluntary rehabilitation of buildings or other improvements conducted pursuant to governmental supervision. Such policy shall be uniform as to (1) relocation payments, (2) advisory assistance, (3) assurance of availability of standard housing, and (4) state reimbursement for local relocation payments under state assisted and local programs." It is followed by a definitional section, § 8-267, which in relevant part provides: "(3) 'Displaced person' means ... (b) any person who so moves as the direct result of code enforcement activities or a program of rehabilitation of buildings pursuant to such governmental program or under such governmental supervision."

The defendants contend that building code enforcement differs from housing code enforcement in that the former regulates the erection and alteration of structures, while the latter regulates the maintenance of buildings already constructed. They contend that § 8-266 specifically singles out building code activity to trigger the benefits of the act, and that the more general reference in § 8-267(3) to "code enforcement activities" relates back to § 8-266. Moreover, the defendants assert that the words "acquisition" and "program or project" that appear throughout the act, and "construction" that is found in § 8-272(a), 3 are associated with building code activity. The plaintiffs counter that the interchangeable use of the words "building code enforcement activities" in § 8-266 and "code enforcement activities" in § 8-267(3) compels the conclusion that "building code" in the URAA is a generic term that embodies all codes dealing with the health and safety requirements of buildings. They point to legislative intent, subsequent amendments and their legislative history, other statutes, and common sense to buttress their position. 4 We agree with the plaintiffs.

When faced with ambiguity in a statute, as we are here, we must resort to the rules of statutory construction. "It is an elementary rule of construction that statutes should be considered as a whole, with a view toward reconciling their separate parts in order to render a reasonable overall interpretation; the application, moreover, of common sense to the statutory language is not to be excluded. United Aircraft Corporation v. Fusari, 163 Conn. 401, 411, 311 A.2d 65 (1972); Garbaty v. Norwalk Jewish Center,...

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