Fort Trumbull Conservancy, LLC v. Alves

Decision Date04 March 2003
Docket Number(SC 16667)
Citation815 A.2d 1188,262 Conn. 480
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
PartiesFORT TRUMBULL CONSERVANCY, LLC v. ANTONIO H. ALVES ET AL.

Sullivan, C. J., and Borden, Katz, Palmer and Zarella, Js. Scott W. Sawyer, with whom, on the brief, was Ellin M. Grenger, for the appellant (plaintiff).

Michael P. Carey, with whom was Thomas J. Londregan, for the appellees (named defendant et al.). Edward B. O'Connell, for the appellee (defendant New London Development Corporation).

Opinion

SULLIVAN, C.J.

The issue to be resolved in this appeal is whether the plaintiff, Fort Trumbull Conservancy, LLC, has standing under General Statutes § 22a-161 to bring an action against the defendants to enjoin the demolition of thirty-nine buildings. The defendants are the New London Development Corporation (corporation), Antonio H. Alves, the New London building official, and the city of New London (city). The trial court, Hon. D. Michael Hurley, judge trial referee, granted the defendants' motions to dismiss the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and rendered judgment thereon. The plaintiff appealed from that judgment to the Appellate Court and we then transferred the appeal to this court pursuant to Practice Book § 65-1 and General Statutes § 51-199 (c). We affirm the judgment of the trial court in part and reverse in part.

The trial court reasonably could have found the following relevant facts. The corporation, a nonprofit private development corporation, applied to Alves for demolition permits to destroy thirty-nine buildings owned by it in the city. As the city building official, Alves was authorized to administer the state demolition code, General Statutes §§ 29-406 through 29-413.2 Some of the buildings for which demolition permits had been sought were eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, and none of the defendants had declared the buildings to be blighted, deteriorated or deserving of condemnation by virtue of their unfitness for human habitation.

The plaintiff, a limited liability corporation formed by residents of the city, instituted an action pursuant to § 22a-16 seeking a variety of declaratory judgments, temporary and permanent injunctions, damages, costs and equitable relief. The effect of the relief sought by the plaintiff would be to enjoin the issuance of demolition permits for the buildings in question and to enjoin the defendants from taking action to further the demolition process. The plaintiff alleged that demolishing the buildings in question would result in a wide variety of environmental harms, including the consumption of energy that would contribute to widespread terrain disruption, air pollution and water contamination. The plaintiff alleged, for example, that the demolition would have an adverse environmental impact at oil facilities in Louisiana, Alaska and Venezuela, coal mines in Wyoming and Pennsylvania, and cement, steel and bulldozer factories. The plaintiff also alleged that the demolition would waste raw materials, burden solid waste disposal facilities in Connecticut and elsewhere and require expenditure of energy to transport the solid waste materials.

The defendants filed motions to dismiss the plaintiff's complaint, claiming that the plaintiff lacked standing under the Connecticut Environmental Protection Act (act), General Statutes § 22a-14 et seq., and that the plaintiff was not otherwise classically or statutorily aggrieved. Specifically, the defendants argued that, because Alves and the city had no statutory authority to consider environmental issues in determining whether to issue the demolition permits, the plaintiff was not aggrieved by the issuance of the permits. The trial court granted the motions and this appeal followed.

The plaintiff claims on appeal that the trial court improperly concluded that the plaintiff did not have standing under § 22a-16 to pursue its claim. The plaintiff further claims that: (1) regardless of whether it has standing under § 22a-16, it has standing to bring an action against the defendants under General Statutes § 7-148 (c) (8);3 and (2) the dismissal of its action violated the public trust doctrine.4 We conclude that the plaintiff had standing to bring its action under § 22a-16.5 We also conclude, however, that the plaintiff has failed to allege sufficiently a cause of action against Alves. To the extent that its claims against the city are derivative of the claims against Alves, those claims also legally are insufficient. Accordingly, we conclude that the granting of the motion to dismiss as to those claims, although improper, was harmless, because the claims properly would have been subject to a motion to strike. The plaintiff has raised claims against the city that are not derivative of its claim against Alves, however, and against the corporation, that would withstand a motion to strike. Accordingly, the granting of the motions to dismiss was improper as to those claims.

As a preliminary matter, we address the appropriate standard of review. "If a party is found to lack standing, the court is without subject matter jurisdiction to determine the cause." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Ramos v. Vernon, 254 Conn. 799, 808, 761 A.2d 705 (2000). "A determination regarding a trial court's subject matter jurisdiction is a question of law. When ... the trial court draws conclusions of law, our review is plenary and we must decide whether its conclusions are legally and logically correct and find support in the facts that appear in the record." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Doe v. Roe, 246 Conn. 652, 660, 717 A.2d 706 (1998).

"Subject matter jurisdiction involves the authority of the court to adjudicate the type of controversy presented by the action before it. . . . [A] court lacks discretion to consider the merits of a case over which it is without jurisdiction . . . . The objection of want of jurisdiction may be made at any time . . . [a]nd the court or tribunal may act on its own motion, and should do so when the lack of jurisdiction is called to its attention.. . . The requirement of subject matter jurisdiction cannot be waived by any party and can be raised at any stage in the proceedings." (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Lewis v. Gaming Policy Board, 224 Conn. 693, 698-99, 620 A.2d 780 (1993).

"Standing is not a technical rule intended to keep aggrieved parties out of court; nor is it a test of substantive rights. Rather it is a practical concept designed to ensure that courts and parties are not vexed by suits brought to vindicate nonjusticiable interests and that judicial decisions which may affect the rights of others are forged in hot controversy, with each view fairly and vigorously represented. . . . These two objectives are ordinarily held to have been met when a complainant makes a colorable claim of direct injury he has suffered or is likely to suffer, in an individual or representative capacity. Such a `personal stake in the outcome of the controversy' . . . provides the requisite assurance of `concrete adverseness' and diligent advocacy." (Citations omitted.) Maloney v. Pac, 183 Conn. 313, 320-21, 439 A.2d 349 (1981). "The requirement of directness between the injuries claimed by the plaintiff and the conduct of the defendant also is expressed, in our standing jurisprudence, by the focus on whether the plaintiff is the proper party to assert the claim at issue." Ganim v. Smith & Wesson Corp., 258 Conn. 313, 347, 780 A.2d 98 (2001).

"Two broad yet distinct categories of aggrievement exist, classical and statutory. . . . Classical aggrievement requires a two part showing. First, a party must demonstrate a specific, personal and legal interest in the subject matter of the decision, as opposed to a general interest that all members of the community share. . . . Second, the party must also show that the agency's decision has specially and injuriously affected that specific personal or legal interest. . . . Aggrievement does not demand certainty, only the possibility of an adverse effect on a legally protected interest.. . .

"Statutory aggrievement exists by legislative fiat, not by judicial analysis of the particular facts of the case. In other words, in cases of statutory aggrievement, particular legislation grants standing to those who claim injury to an interest protected by that legislation." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Terese B. v. Commissioner of Children & Families, 68 Conn. App. 223, 228, 789 A.2d 1114 (2002).

To provide context for our analysis of the claim that the plaintiff has no standing under § 22a-16 to bring an action against Alves and the city, we begin our analysis with a review of our case law governing the scope and nature of the standing conferred by that statute.6 In Belford v. New Haven, 170 Conn. 46, 47, 364 A.2d 194 (1975), one of our early cases addressing this issue, the plaintiffs sought to enjoin the city of New Haven and its mayor from leasing portions of a public park to a private entity for purposes of constructing a rowing course. The trial court concluded that the plaintiffs lacked standing because they had not proved any claim under the act, and the plaintiffs appealed. Id. On appeal, we held that, under § 22a-16, "standing . . . is conferred only to protect the natural resources of the state from pollution or destruction. . . . The act does not, as the plaintiffs urge, confer standing upon individuals to challenge legislative decisions of a municipality which do not directly threaten the public trust in the air, water and other natural resources of this state." (Citation omitted.) Id., 54. We then noted that, at trial, the plaintiffs had not proved "any claim under the . . . [a]ct . . . ." Id., 55. Accordingly, we affirmed the judgment of the trial court that the plaintiffs did not have standing. Id.

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