East Village Associates, Inc. v. Town of Monroe

Decision Date26 July 1977
Citation173 Conn. 328,377 A.2d 1092
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court

James A. Trowbridge, with whom was James P. White, Jr., for the appellant (defendant).

Thomas J. Dolan, Bridgeport, for the appellee (plaintiff).


The question we must decide is whether General Statutes § 12-504 1 applies retroactively to land classified, prior to the effective date of the statute, as forest and farm land.

On February 11, 1974, the plaintiff, East Village Associates, Inc., petitioned the board of tax review in the town of Monroe for relief from the imposition of a conveyance tax under General Statutes § 12-504a and for removal of the assessor's lien on its property. The petition was denied. The plaintiff appealed the board's ruling to the Court of Common Pleas, which sustained the plaintiff's appeal. It is from this judgment that the defendant now appeals.

The facts are not in dispute. The plaintiff is the owner of approximately 450 acres of land in the town of Monroe. In 1971, the plaintiff's predecessor in title 2 applied to the defendant assessor and received exemptions on the tax list of October 1, 1971, for land classified as forest land and farm land pursuant to General Statutes §§ 12-107c and 12-107d.

On May 18, 1972, Public Act No. 152 was enacted; the legislation became effective on October 1, 1972. The act, now codified as General Statutes § 12-504a, essentially provides for a conveyance tax on any land classified as farm, forest or open space land which is sold within ten years of classification or acquisition. In 1971 and 1972, open space, agricultural, and forest exemptions were not automatically continued from year to year. Taxpayers in Monroe had an affirmative duty to reapply annually on or before October 1. The plaintiff did not apply for special classification on the tax list of October 1, 1972, and was taxed for that year on the same basis as nonexempt property.

On October 17, 1972, the tax assessor of the town of Monroe placed an assessor's lien on record in the Monroe land records, thereby giving notice that the plaintiff's property was subject to payment of the § 12-504a conveyance tax. In April, 1973, the plaintiff conveyed a portion of its Monroe land. The town clerk refused to record the deed until the conveyance tax was paid; the plaintiff paid the tax under protest. During the spring of 1973, eight more parcels were sold, the plaintiff again paying the tax under protest. On February 11, 1974, the plaintiff petitioned the board of tax review for relief. That petition was denied. The Court of Common Pleas sustained the plaintiff's appeal, determining that, in the absence of express language requiring retroactive application, § 12-504a should not be applied to sales of land classified before the effective date of the tax act. We are in accord with the finding of the lower court.

There is a general presumption that legislation affecting substantive rights is intended to apply prospectively only. General Statutes § 55-3; 3 Little v. Ives, 158 Conn. 452, 457, 262 A.2d 174 (1969); Michaud v. Fitzryk, 148 Conn. 447, 449, 171 A.2d 397 (1961); Massa v. Nastri, 125 Conn. 144, 146-47, 3 A.2d 839 (1939); see also Gibson v. Fullin, 172 Conn. 407, 412, 374 A.2d 1061; Waterbury National Bank v. Waterbury National Bank, 162 Conn. 129, 134, 291 A.2d 737 (1972). Even statutes which deal with procedural matters and which would ordinarily be subject to retroactive application will not be so applied if good sense and justice dictate otherwise. Jones Destruction, Inc. v. Upjohn, 161 Conn. 191, 196, 286 A.2d 308 (1971). In this case, the plaintiffs applied for classification in 1971, with no notice of potentially adverse tax consequences. They did not reapply in 1972, after new legislation had imposed potential tax liability for such classification. Certainly it would be unreasonable and unjust to " 'impose an unexpected liability that if known might have induced those concerned to avoid it . . ..' " Blodgett v. Holden, 275 U.S. 142, 149, 48 S.Ct. 105, 107, 72 L.Ed. 206 (1927) (Holmes, J., concurring).

This court has, on previous occasions, stated its reluctance to construe statutes as having retroactive application: "Retrospective laws generally, if not universally, work injustice. Statutes should be construed retrospectively only when the mandate of the legislature is imperative." Michaud v. Fitzryk, supra. There is nothing in General Statutes § 12-504a which indicates a clear legislative intent that the statute have a retrospective effect. To the contrary, two post-1972 amendments to the § 12-504a tax statute reveal a legislative intent to have the tax apply only to landowners who classified their land with at least constructive notice of the consequence of such action. In 1973, Public Act No. 73-585 amended § 12-504f to require that tax assessors' certificates set forth "the obligation to pay the conveyance tax imposed by this chapter." In 1974, Public Act No. 74-343 added § 12-504h, which provided that land once classified under § 12-107a et seq. "shall remain so classified without the filing of any new application subsequent to such classification." The effect of the 1973 amendment was to give landowners notice of the consequences of classification; the 1974 amendment locked a landowner into the classification, thus protecting the towns against tax avoidance through shrewd maneuvering of land classification.

In the absence of express directions for retrospective application of § 12-504a, and in light of the subsequent amendments to that chapter, the inference is clear that the conveyance tax was intended to apply only prospectively. The defendant argues that taxation of conveyances in 1973 on the basis of a 1971 classification does not involve retroactive application, since the taxable act is the sale of the land, not its classification. As the lower court pointed out, however, classification and sale are so inextricably entwined under § 12-504a that the only reasonable conclusion is that both classification and sale must occur after the effective date of that section to have the tax operate prospectively. Because the plaintiff...

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  • Allstate Ins. Co. v. Palumbo, No. 18276.
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • May 18, 2010
    ...regarding the consequences of his potential negligence by the statutory provision on assignment. Cf. East Village Associates, Inc. v. Monroe, 173 Conn. 328, 333, 377 A.2d 1092 (1977) (amendment to statutory provision constituted notice of new provision). In light of these considerations, th......
  • Cersosimo v. Cersosimo
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • September 14, 1982
    ...See, e.g., American Masons' Supply Co. v. F.W. Brown Co., 174 Conn. 219, 222, 384 A.2d 378 (1978); East Village Associates, Inc. v. Monroe, 173 Conn. 328, 332, 377 A.2d 1092 (1977). "Generally, a statute effecting substantial changes in the law or an amendatory act which causes changes in e......
  • Waterbury Petroleum Products, Inc. v. Canaan Oil and Fuel Co., Inc.
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    ...that "we have consistently expressed our reluctance to give such statutes retroactive application. East Village Associates, Inc. v. Monroe, 173 Conn. 328, 332, 377 A.2d 1092 (1977)." Sherry H. v. Probate Court, 177 Conn. 93, 100, 411 A.2d 931 We are not persuaded that the above statement fr......
  • Ballinger v. Wingate, No. FA97-0541718 (CT 4/7/2004), FA97-0541718
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • April 7, 2004
    ...courts have "consistently expressed reluctance to construe statutes as having retroactive application. East Village Associates, Inc. v. Monroe, 173 Conn. 328, 332, 377 A.2d 1092 [1977]. A statute 'affecting substantial changes in the law 'is not to be given a retrospective effect unless it ......
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