TOWN OF BRANFORD v. SANTA BARBARA et al., SC 18089/18090;

SC 18091/18132

Judicial District of Waterbury


       Eminent Domain; Whether an Offer of Judgment is Appropriate in an Eminent Domain Case; Whether Highest and Best Use of Subject Property is for Residential Development; Whether Court's Valuation of Property Was Correct; Whether § 1983 Action for Money Damages Stemming From the Taking of  Property was Barred By the Doctrines of Res Judicata and Collateral Estoppel Where Prior Judgment Awarded Compensation for the Taking.  In connection with its acquisition of 77 acres of undeveloped property by eminent domain from Thomas Santa Barbara, Jr., and Frank Perrotti, Jr. (the owners), the town of Branford filed a statement of compensation in the Superior Court for $1,167,800.  At the time of the taking, New England Estates, LLC (NEE), had an unexercised option to buy the property for $4.85 million and sought to develop it for residential use.  Both NEE and the owners appealed from the statement of compensation (the eminent domain cases), challenging the town's valuation of the property.  NEE also filed a separate civil action for money damages against the town pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, arguing that the town violated the federal takings clause because it did not acquire the property for "public use."  The owners, who were cited into the § 1983 action, filed a cross complaint, raising a similar § 1983 claim.  In the eminent domain cases, the owners filed an offer of judgment pursuant to General Statutes § 52-192a.  The town objected to the offer, and the trial court sustained that objection, concluding that under the existing statutory framework, offers of judgment cannot be made in eminent domain proceedings.  The eminent domain cases then proceeded to trial, and the trial court rendered a judgment in favor of NEE and the owners.  It found that the highest and best use of the property was for residential development, and valued the property at $4.6 million.  In the § 1983 action, the town unsuccessfully argued that the action was barred by the doctrines of collateral estoppel and res judicata because NEE and the owners' theories in support of their claims for damages either had been litigated, or could have been litigated, in the eminent domain cases.  Thereafter, the court rendered a judgment in favor of NEE and the owners.  The owners now appeal from the trial court's judgment in the eminent domain cases (SC 18090), claiming that the court improperly held that an offer of judgment is inappropriate in an eminent domain proceeding and arguing that they were entitled to offer of judgment interest.  The town appeals from the same judgment (SC 18089 and 18091), arguing that the trial court improperly concluded that the highest and best use of the property was for residential development and improperly allowed NEE's expert witness to provide an opinion on Connecticut law.  The town also appeals from the judgment in the § 1983 action (SC 18132), claiming that the court improperly rejected its res judicata and collateral estoppel arguments, thereby allowing NEE and the owners to receive a double recovery.