Scalzo v. City of Danbury

Decision Date08 December 1992
Docket NumberNo. 14485,14485
Citation617 A.2d 440,224 Conn. 124
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
PartiesPeter V. SCALZO et al. v. CITY OF DANBURY et al.

Donald A. Mitchell, for appellant (named plaintiff).

Bruce J. Goldstein, with whom was Pamela D. Siemon, for appellee (defendant).

Before PETERS, C.J., and CALLAHAN, BORDEN, BERDON and NORCOTT, JJ.

BERDON, Associate Justice.

The sole issue on appeal is whether the trial court properly rendered a summary judgment in favor of the defendants because the doctrine of res judicata barred the plaintiffs' action for damages for the alleged taking of the named plaintiff's property. 1 We affirm the judgment of the trial court, but on different grounds. 2 The trial court's decision was predicated upon the claim preclusion aspect of res judicata; we rule on the basis of issue preclusion. We hold that the taking issue was fully and fairly litigated, so as to preclude the plaintiff from relitigating the issue of whether the application of the Danbury zoning regulations resulted in a taking of his land.

The undisputed facts may be summarized as follows. The plaintiff, Peter V. Scalzo, owns approximately nineteen acres of land in an industrial zone and approximately six adjacent acres of land in a residential zone in the city of Danbury. The Danbury zoning regulations prohibit the use of residential property for access to industrial property. On or about May 15, 1987, the plaintiff applied to the Danbury zoning board of appeals for a variance to allow him access to the industrial land through the residential land. The board denied the variance application and the plaintiff appealed the denial to the Superior Court (variance appeal). On August 19, 1987, the plaintiff applied to the Danbury zoning commission for an amendment to the zoning regulations that would have permitted access to industrial land through residential land. The amendment application was denied and the plaintiff appealed the denial to the Superior Court (amendment appeal).

In both appeals, the plaintiff argued that the zoning authorities acted illegally, arbitrarily, and in abuse of their discretion because the denials constituted an unreasonable taking of the plaintiff's property. The plaintiff alleged that by denying his variance and amendment applications, the zoning board of appeals and the zoning commission prohibited access to his property and denied him all reasonable beneficial economic use of the property. The trial court, Stodolink, J., dismissed both appeals and noted in separate decisions that the "plaintiff has not demonstrated that there is no reasonable and proper use for his land. [He] may still be able to rezone his land to a single-family, half-acre zone ... and make a profit on the land." The court found that neither the denial of the variance application nor the denial of the amendment application resulted in an unconstitutional taking. The plaintiff appealed both the variance and the amendment decisions to the Appellate Court, but the appeals were dismissed as untimely.

While the variance and amendment appeals were pending before the Superior Court, the plaintiff commenced the present action against the defendants 3 seeking damages for the alleged taking of his property under article first, § 11, of the Connecticut constitution. 4 After the variance and amendment appeals were dismissed, the defendants filed a special defense alleging that "[t]he rights and liability of the parties ... were expressly put in issue and determined and adjudicated by the judgments in two prior actions...." The trial court, Pickett, J., granted the motion for summary judgment in favor of the named defendant et al. because "the plaintiff's claim of an unconstitutional taking of property was fully and fairly litigated in the previous administrative appeals." Therefore, the court concluded, claim preclusion prevented the plaintiff from bringing a cause of action for an unconstitutional taking. The plaintiff appealed from the judgment of the trial court to the Appellate Court, and we transferred the appeal to this court pursuant to Practice Book § 4023 and General Statutes § 51-199(c).

Claim preclusion, sometimes referred to as res judicata, and issue preclusion, sometimes referred to as collateral estoppel, are first cousins. Both legal doctrines promote judicial economy by preventing relitigation of issues or claims previously resolved. State v. Ellis, 197 Conn. 436, 466, 497 A.2d 974 (1985). "The concepts of issue preclusion and claim preclusion are simply related ideas on a continuum, differentiated, perhaps by their breadth, and express no more than the fundamental principle that once a matter has been fully and fairly litigated, and finally decided, it comes to rest." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Id., at 464-65, 497 A.2d 974.

The subtle difference between claim preclusion and issue preclusion has been so described: " '[C]laim preclusion prevents a litigant from reasserting a claim that has already been decided on the merits.... [I]ssue preclusion, prevents a party from relitigating an issue that has been determined in a prior suit.' " Virgo v. Lyons, 209 Conn. 497, 501, 551 A.2d 1243 (1988), quoting Gionfriddo v. Gartenhaus Cafe, 15 Conn.App. 392, 401-402, 546 A.2d 284 (1988), aff'd, 211 Conn. 67, 557 A.2d 540 (1989). Under claim preclusion analysis, a claim--that is, a cause of action--" 'includes all rights of the plaintiff to remedies against the defendant with respect to all or any part of the transaction, or series of connected transactions, out of which the action arose....' " Duhaime v. American Reserve Life Ins. Co., 200 Conn. 360, 364-65, 511 A.2d 333 (1986), quoting 1 Restatement (Second), Judgments § 24(1) (1982). Moreover, claim preclusion prevents the pursuit of "any claims relating to the cause of action which were actually made or might have been made." Corey v. Avco-Lycoming Division, 163 Conn. 309, 317, 307 A.2d 155 (1972), cert. denied, 409 U.S. 1116, 93 S.Ct. 903, 34 L.Ed.2d 699 (1973).

In contrast, " 'issue preclusion, is that aspect of res judicata which prohibits the relitigation of an issue when that issue was actually litigated and necessarily determined in a prior action....' " Carothers v. Capozziello, 215 Conn. 82, 94-95, 574 A.2d 1268 (1990), quoting In re Juvenile Appeal (83-DE), 190 Conn. 310, 316, 460 A.2d 1277 (1983). Because we find that the elements of issue preclusion were met in the present case, we decline to reach the merits of the defendant's claim preclusion argument.

Issue preclusion applies if "an issue of fact or law is actually litigated and determined by a valid and final judgment, and the determination is essential to the judgment...." 1 Restatement (Second), Judgments § 27 (1982). An issue is "actually litigated" if it is properly raised in the pleadings, submitted for determination, and in fact determined. Id., § 27, comment d. If an issue has been determined, but the judgment is not dependent upon the determination of the issue, the parties may relitigate the issue in a subsequent action. Findings on nonessential issues usually "have the characteristics of dicta." 5 Id., § 27, comment h The plaintiff conceded during oral argument that the taking issue had been litigated and determined by a valid and final judgment. The plaintiff argues, instead, that the ruling on the taking issue was not essential to the judgment made by the court. According to the plaintiff, once the court found a basis for upholding the action of the board, it needed to inquire no further. As a result, the plaintiff insists, the ruling on the taking issue was not essential to the judgment, and the elements of issue preclusion are not satisfied.

In order to determine whether the taking decision was essential to the judgment in this case, we must first examine the proper role of the trial court and evaluate its actions in this case. A trial court, in reviewing the action of a zoning authority, must determine whether the authority acted illegally, arbitrarily or in abuse of its discretion. Frito-Lay, Inc. v. Planning & Zoning Commission, 206 Conn. 554, 573, 538 A.2d 1039 (1988). Generally, a zoning authority's decision "should be sustained if even one of the stated reasons is sufficient to support it." Id., at 576, 538 A.2d 1039.

In this case, the zoning commission had denied the plaintiff's petition to amend the regulations for two reasons: "(1) because of the potential negative impacts on residential neighborhoods; and (2) because someone with a hardship has an opportunity to appeal to the Zoning Board of Appeals." The trial court concluded that "the Commission did not act arbitrarily, illegally or in abuse of its discretion in denying [the] plaintiff's petition because the potential negative impacts on residential neighborhoods are reasonably supported by the record." As to the second stated reason for the commission's action, the trial court concluded that "[e]ven if the Commission may not base its denial on the existence of [the] plaintiff's right to appeal the [zoning board of appeal's] decision, the court should nevertheless dismiss the appeal because the denial is supported by the Commission's other stated reason, i.e., the negative impact on the neighborhood." The plaintiff further argued that the commission acted illegally, arbitrarily and in abuse of its discretion because: (1) the denial constituted an unreasonable taking of the plaintiff's property; and (2) the denial controverted the concept of a comprehensive plan in violation of General Statutes § 8-2. The trial court rejected these arguments.

Similarly, the zoning board of appeals had denied the plaintiff's application for a variance, stating that "(1) [i]t will impair the health, safety, and welfare of the neighborhood; and (2) [t]here is no hardship for the use of the property." The trial court found evidence to support the board's first stated reason for denying the...

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