RONALD J. VANCE et al. v. KENNETH P. TASSMER et al., SC 18807
Judicial District of New Haven
Property; Adverse Possession; Whether Trial Court Properly Approved Motion to Enforce Settlement Agreement. The plaintiffs brought this action seeking to quiet title to a portion of neighboring property owned by the defendants that the plaintiffs claim to have acquired by adverse possession. On the eve of trial, the parties signed a settlement agreement providing for the entry of a judgment of adverse possession in favor of the plaintiffs contingent upon, among other things, the defendants pursuing and obtaining a variance permitting the new boundary line. The settlement agreement further provided that in the event that the town's zoning board of appeals did not approve the variance, the parties would go to trial on the adverse possession complaint. The defendants filed a variance application, but later withdrew it. The plaintiffs then filed a motion to enforce the settlement agreement, which the trial court granted. The defendants filed another application for a variance, which the zoning board denied. Following a hearing, the trial court found that the defendants had not pursued the variance in good faith in that they practically asked the zoning board for an adverse decision so that they could go to trial. The court found, as a result, that the defendants waived their right to pursue a variance and issued an order quieting title to the subject parcel in the plaintiffs. The defendants appealed, claiming that the trial court's summary enforcement of the settlement agreement was improper, where the agreement provided for an ambiguous remedy in the event that the zoning board denied the variance application. The Appellate Court disagreed (128 Conn. App. 101), deciding that the trial court's findings that the defendants intentionally failed to honor the terms of the settlement agreement and set out to sabotage any possibility of obtaining the variance were not clearly erroneous and that, under such circumstances, awarding them the remedy of a trial because the variance application was denied would lead to bizarre and unconscionable results. The Appellate Court also rejected the defendants’ claim that the trial court improperly decided an issue of fact, i.e., that they were responsible for the denial of the variance application, in the context of a proceeding for summary enforcement of the settlement agreement rather than in the context of a breach of contract action. The Appellate Court noted that the defendants cited no case law that prohibited the taking of evidence and fact-finding under such circumstances. Noting that the defendants were not precluded from submitting evidence to substantiate their claim that they had acted in good faith, the Appellate Court found that the waiver issue was clearly presented, disputed and properly resolved by the trial court. Upon the grant of certification, the Supreme Court will consider whether the Appellate Court properly affirmed the trial court's granting of the plaintiffs' motion to enforce the settlement agreement.