Lyme Land Conservation Trust, Inc. v. Beverly Platner et al
-- June 24, 2010
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION MOTION TO DISMISS # 101
On December 11, 2009, the defendant, Beverly Platner,1 filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds of lack of subject matter jurisdiction and insufficiency of process. On January 20, 2010, the plaintiff, Lyme Land Conservation Trust, Inc., filed an objection to the motion to dismiss.
In this declaratory judgment action, the plaintiff seeks a determination by the court with respect to a conservation restriction that exists on real property in Lyme, Connecticut. The plaintiff alleges that it is the owner of the conservation restriction by virtue of a conveyance of rights that is recorded in the Lyme Land Records. The plaintiff alleges that the restriction was conveyed to the plaintiff by Paul B. Selden, who owned the real property at issue at the time of the conveyance. The plaintiff alleges that the property subject to the conservation restriction is now owned, in part, by the defendant. The plaintiff attached the declaration of restrictive covenants and the warranty deeds concerning the property to its application for declaratory judgment.
LAW OF MOTION TO DISMISS
“A motion to dismiss ․ properly attacks the jurisdiction of the court, essentially asserting that the plaintiff cannot as a matter of law and fact state a cause of action that should be heard by the court ․ A motion to dismiss tests, inter alia, whether, on the face of the record, the court is without jurisdiction.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) R.C. Equity Group, LLC v. Zoning Commission, 285 Conn. 240, 248, 939 A.2d 1122 (2008). “The motion to dismiss shall be used to assert ․ lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter ․ [and] insufficiency of process ․ This motion shall always be filed with a supporting memorandum of law, and where appropriate, with supporting affidavits as to facts not apparent on the record ․ Any adverse party who objects to this motion shall ․ file and serve ․ a memorandum of law and, where appropriate, supporting affidavits as to facts not apparent on the record.” Practice Book § 10-31.
“When a [trial] court decides a jurisdictional question raised by a pretrial motion to dismiss, it must consider the allegations of the complaint in their most favorable light ․ In this regard, a court must take the facts to be those alleged in the complaint, including those facts necessarily implied from the allegations, construing them in a manner most favorable to the pleader.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Marsh & McLennan Cos., 286 Conn. 454, 464, 944 A.2d 315 (2008). “The motion to dismiss ․ admits all facts which are well pleaded, invokes the existing record and must be decided upon that alone ․ Where, however ․ the motion is accompanied by supporting affidavits containing undisputed facts, the court may look to their content for determination of the jurisdictional issue ․” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Cogswell v. American Transit Ins. Co., 282 Conn. 505, 516, 923 A.2d 638 (2007).
The defendant argues that the plaintiff's complaint alleges that the plaintiff is the owner of the conservation restriction that affects the defendant's land. The defendant asserts, however, that the declaration of restrictive covenants lists “Lyme Conservation Trust” as the holder of the restriction. The defendant argues that the plaintiff, a corporate entity, does not appear on the chain of title to the defendant's land and, further, that there is no indication that the plaintiff is known as “Lyme Conservation Trust.” The defendant asserts that, based on the foregoing, the plaintiff lacks standing to bring this declaratory judgment action. Additionally, the defendant argues that process cannot properly be served upon an entity that lacks standing.
In response, the plaintiff argues that it has also been known as the “Lyme Conservation Trust,” the “Lyme Land Conservation Trust” and the “Lyme Land Trust” throughout the course of its operation. The plaintiff submits evidence to support its position. The plaintiff argues that the evidence shows that it is the holder of the restriction, and that the omission of the full name of the plaintiff in the declaration of restrictive covenants was scrivener's error.
“A case that is nonjusticiable must be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Chapman Lumber, Inc. v. Tager, 288 Conn. 69, 86, 952 A.2d 1 (2008). “[J]usticiability comprises several related doctrines, namely, standing, ripeness, mootness and the political question doctrine, that implicate a court's subject matter jurisdiction and its competency to adjudicate a particular matter.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Id. “The issue of standing implicates subject matter jurisdiction and is therefore a basis for granting a motion to dismiss.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) May v. Coffey, 291 Conn. 106, 113, 967 A.2d 495 (2009).
“Standing is the legal right to set judicial machinery in motion. One cannot rightfully invoke the jurisdiction of the court unless he [or she] has, in an individual or representative capacity, some real interest in the cause of action, or a legal or equitable right, title or interest in the subject matter of the controversy ․ When standing is put in issue, the question is whether the person whose standing is challenged is a proper party to request an adjudication of the issue ․ Standing requires no more than a colorable claim of injury; a [party] ordinarily establishes ․ standing by allegations of injury. Similarly, standing exists to attempt to vindicate arguably protected interests ․
“Standing is established by showing that the party claiming it is authorized by statute to bring suit or is classically aggrieved ․ The fundamental test for determining aggrievement encompasses a well-settled twofold determination: first, the party claiming aggrievement must successfully demonstrate a specific, personal and legal interest in [the subject matter of the challenged action], as distinguished from a general interest, such as is the concern of all members of the community as a whole. Second, the party claiming aggrievement must successfully establish that this specific personal and legal interest has been specially and injuriously affected by the [challenged action] ․ Aggrievement is established if there is a possibility, as distinguished from a certainty, that some legally protected interest has been adversely affected.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Id., 112.
“[T]he plaintiff bears the burden of proving subject matter jurisdiction, whenever and however raised.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Fort Trumbull Conservancy, LLC v. New London, 265 Conn. 423, 430 n.12, 829 A.2d 801 (2003). “[I]t is the burden of the party who seeks the exercise of jurisdiction in his favor ․ clearly to allege facts demonstrating that he is a proper party to invoke judicial resolution of the dispute.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) May v. Coffey, supra, 291 Conn. 113. “[I]n determining whether a court has subject matter jurisdiction, every presumption favoring jurisdiction should be indulged.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Connor v. Statewide Grievance Committee, 260 Conn. 435, 443, 797 A.2d 1081 (2002).
In the present case, the parties do not dispute that the defendant took title to her property subject to a declaration of restrictive covenants. See Defendant's Motion to Dismiss ¶ 1C; Plaintiff's Memorandum of Law in Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss pp. 1-2. The plaintiff seeks a declaratory judgment with respect to the terms of that declaration. At oral argument, the court took evidence with respect to the issue of standing. The evidence includes an affidavit and deposition testimony from Arthur Howe, Jr., a past-president of the Lyme Land Conservation Trust, Inc. Howe testified that he was the president at the time the covenant was originally placed on the subject land. Deposition of Arthur Howe, Jr., 28-29. Additionally, Howe testified that Lyme Land Conservation Trust, Inc. has been referred to by multiple names, including Lyme Conservation Trust, Lyme Land Trust and Lyme Land Conservation Trust. Id., 17, 24, 32. Further, Howe provided copies of correspondence and meeting minutes of the Lyme Land Conservation Trust, Inc., which suggest that the plaintiff was intended to be the holder of the restrictive covenant.
The plaintiff alleges that it is the holder of the covenant, which is a personal legal interest in the matter. The plaintiff alleges that there is substantial uncertainty over the location and boundaries of the protected areas on the subject property, as well as a question as to the scope and extent of the restrictions and the plaintiff's rights of inspection and enforcement. The court finds that the plaintiff has submitted sufficient evidence to create a possibility that it has a legally protected interest in this case. Bearing in mind that “every presumption favoring jurisdiction should be indulged”; Connor v. Statewide Grievance Committee, supra, 260 Conn. 443; the court finds that the plaintiff has standing to bring this declaratory judgment action. Whether the plaintiff is, in fact, the holder of the covenant is ultimately an issue for a fact-finder.
Based on the foregoing, the defendant's motion to dismiss is denied.
1. FN1. Beverly Platner is one of three named defendants in this action; however, she has filed this motion to dismiss individually. Thus, she will be referred to singularly as “the defendant” hereinafter.
Cosgrove, Emmet L., J.