Porter v. Morrill, No. 27739.

Decision Date24 June 2008
Docket NumberNo. 27739.
Citation108 Conn.App. 652,949 A.2d 526
CourtConnecticut Court of Appeals
PartiesDavid H. PORTER v. Maureen MORRILL et al.

James P. Brennan, Waterbury, for the appellants (named defendant et al.).

William C. Franklin, Litchfield, for the appellee (plaintiff).

FLYNN, C.J., and McLACHLAN and WEST, Js.

McLACHLAN, J.

The defendant RMM Consulting, LLC,1 appeals from the judgment of the trial court quieting title to a 1.728 acre parcel located in Warren (disputed parcel) in favor of the plaintiff, David H. Porter. The defendant claims that the court improperly failed to conclude (1) that the description of the disputed parcel contained in an 1816 deed in the plaintiff's chain of title was legally insufficient to convey title, (2) that it was the record owner of the disputed parcel and (3) that it had acquired title by adverse possession if it was not the record owner of the disputed parcel. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

The facts that follow were either found by the court or are not in dispute. The plaintiff and the defendant are owners of adjoining properties located in the Lake Waramaug area of Warren. The plaintiff's father acquired 5.18 acres, a portion of the plaintiff's property, in 1937. In 1954, the plaintiff's father acquired a contiguous 5.64 acre tract, which is claimed to include the disputed parcel. The combined tracts, consisting of 10.82 acres, are shown on a 1954 map and were conveyed through a straw deed to the plaintiff's parents in survivorship. The plaintiff's father died in 1960. In August, 1986, the plaintiff's mother conveyed the 10.82 acre tract to the plaintiff. The property has been used by the plaintiff's parents and, subsequently, the plaintiff and his family as a summer cottage.

Maureen Morrill, the sole member of the defendant limited liability company, first became aware of the availability of two undeveloped lots in an approved subdivision in the late summer or fall of 2002. As a builder of single-family houses, she entered into contracts for the purchase of those two lots in early 2003, each lot being owned by different owners. She engaged the services of Michael Riordan, a land surveyor, to revise the lot lines, and he prepared a revision map that was referred to in the defendant's deed recorded on May 15, 2003. The original two lots, referred to as old lots 9A and 9B by the parties and the court at trial, became new lots 9A and 9B. The disputed parcel is old lot 9B.

After the lot revisions were approved by local authorities, the defendant began the construction of a single-family dwelling on new lot 9A. In the fall of 2003, before construction had been completed, Morrill contacted the plaintiff by telephone to inquire about the removal of some trees from the plaintiff's property that would obstruct the view from the house being built. The content of that conversation is disputed, but a large number of trees were cut down between November, 2003, and May, 2004, by an individual hired by the defendant. The plaintiff, who resides in New York, was not at the Warren property during that time period.

The plaintiff returned to the summer cottage on May 22, 2004. At that time, he observed that numerous trees had been cut on his property. He investigated the area to determine the extent of the tree removal and discovered the house built by the defendant. When he saw it, he became concerned that it had been constructed on his property or, at the very least, was in violation of the town's setback requirements.2 When he visited the town hall and reviewed the maps on file a few days later, he discovered that the defendant claimed a portion of his property.

The plaintiff commenced this action against the defendant and Morrill, claiming record title to the disputed parcel and title by adverse possession. The defendant and Morrill filed a counterclaim, also alleging record title and title by adverse possession.3 The defendant and Morrill, as third party plaintiffs, additionally filed a complaint against Mary Lewis Sheehan, Monica E. Tague, Matthew Sheehan and John V. Sheehan, the third party defendants, who were the defendant's predecessors in title. They conveyed new lots 9A and 9B to the defendant by warranty deed. The third party plaintiffs and the third party defendants reached an agreement shortly after this appeal was filed, and the trial court rendered judgment in accordance with their stipulation on August 30, 2006.4

During a seven day trial, the court heard testimony from several expert and fact witnesses for the plaintiff and the defendant. It also admitted eighty-six exhibits, including deeds and maps from both chains of title. Following trial, the court issued a fifty-five page memorandum of decision in which it painstakingly evaluated both parties' claims of record title and adverse possession. It concluded that the plaintiff was the record owner of the disputed parcel and that the defendant had not proved title by adverse possession.

In that decision, the court found that each side relied on a chain of deeds going back to the eighteenth century. The common grantor, Elias Taylor, acquired the Peters Farm in 1798, which consisted of approximately 155 acres. In 1816, Taylor conveyed two separately described parcels, totaling thirty-six acres, from that farm to Ebenezer Thomas, the plaintiff's predecessor in title. The second parcel, which the plaintiff claims is the disputed parcel, was described as a one acre woodlot adjoining the north side of the first described parcel.5 In 1839, Taylor conveyed the remainder of the farm to Daniel Beeman, Jr., the defendant's predecessor in title. Subsequently, Lucinda Beeman, in a deed in the plaintiff's chain of title, more particularly described the woodlot as being located at the northwest corner of the first described parcel. She also referenced the Taylor to Thomas deed in describing the woodlot in that 1852 deed. Until 1852, the woodlot had not been located precisely on the northern boundary of the first parcel.

The court rejected the defendant's claim that the disputed parcel became included in its chain of title when the remainder of the farm was conveyed to its predecessor in title in 1839. The court was not persuaded by the argument that it was "accidentally" conveyed to the defendant's predecessor in title because the description of the woodlot in the 1816 deed was too uncertain to convey title to the plaintiff's predecessor in title. The court found that the 1852 deed "corrected and improved" the less than perfect description in the 1816 deed, that the disputed parcel first became included in the plaintiff's chain of title by way of the 1816 deed and that it has remained in the plaintiff's chain of title since that time.

With respect to the defendant's various other claims concerning perceived inaccuracies in the plaintiff's chain of title, the court found that the deficiencies in the defendant's chain of title "far outweigh[ed], individually and collectively, the alleged kinks in the plaintiff's chain of title." In reaching that determination, the court noted that the plaintiff's title expert and the defendant's title expert searched both chains of title. The court found, however, that unlike the plaintiff's expert, the defendant's expert "was very defensive on cross-examination." Further, in evaluating the testimony of Riordan, the defendant's surveyor, the court considered his bias and motivation in light of the fact that he had prepared the lot revision map for the defendant prior to its purchase of the disputed parcel. Even though Riordan discovered conflicting claims of ownership while researching the relevant conveyances and maps in the preparation of his survey map, he never shared that information with the defendant.

With respect to the defendant's adverse possession claim, the court agreed that the defendant used the disputed parcel openly, notoriously and under claim of right from the time it purchased new lots 9A and 9B in 2003. The court found, however, that the defendant failed to provide any evidence that its predecessors in title used the disputed parcel "for any purpose whatsoever." The court concluded that the defendant failed to prove the elements of adverse possession by clear and convincing evidence. Accordingly, the court rendered judgment quieting title to the disputed parcel in the plaintiff. This appeal followed.

I

The defendant first claims that the description of the woodlot in the 1816 deed was legally insufficient to convey title to Thomas, the plaintiff's predecessor in title. Specifically, the defendant argues that the conveyance of the woodlot from Taylor to Thomas was ineffective because the description failed to describe and locate the one acre woodlot with the specificity required by law. The defendant further claims that the 1852 deed from Lucinda Beeman, which located the woodlot at the northwest corner of the first described parcel, could not correct or clarify a deed that was void for indefiniteness.

The court's determination that the ambiguous description of the woodlot in the 1816 deed did not void the attempted conveyance to Thomas is a question of law that merits plenary review. To reach that determination, it is necessary to construe the language in that deed. "Ordinarily, the interpretation of a deed is a matter of law subject to plenary review." Palmieri v. Cirino, 90 Conn.App. 841, 846 n. 7, 880 A.2d 172, cert. denied, 276 Conn. 927, 889 A.2d 817 (2005).

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...

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29 cases
  • O'Connor v. Larocque
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • November 1, 2011
    ...record provides “ ‘powerful evidence’ ” of adverse possession. Wren v. Parker, 57 Conn. 529, 531, 18 A. 790 (1889); Porter v. Morrill, 108 Conn.App. 652, 666–67, 949 A.2d 526, cert. denied, 289 Conn. 921, 958 A.2d 152 (2008).2 Accordingly, the sole issue raised by this appeal is the extent ......
  • O'Connor v. Larocque, SC18648
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • November 1, 2011
    ...provides '' 'powerful evidence' '' of adverse possession. Wren v. Parker, 57 Conn. 529, 531, 18 A. 790 (1889); Porter v. Morrill, 108 Conn. App. 652, 666-67, 949 A.2d 526, cert. denied, 289 Conn. 921, 958 A.2d 152 (2008).2 Accordingly, the sole issue raised by this appeal is the extent to w......
  • Stuart v. Stuart
    • United States
    • Connecticut Court of Appeals
    • January 20, 2009
    ...with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed...." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Porter v. Morrill, supra, 108 Conn.App. at 664, 949 A.2d 526. A The plaintiffs' first evidentiary claim is that the court improperly failed award the total amount of the American......
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    • Connecticut Court of Appeals
    • July 12, 2011
    ...Association are not controlling, contractually or otherwise, they do establish the custom in the legal community.” Porter v. Morrill, 108 Conn.App. 652, 662, 949 A.2d 526, cert. denied, 289 Conn. 921, 958 A.2d 152 (2008). 18. The plaintiff appears to argue in his brief that it would be impr......
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