PERRY D. CAMINIS et al. v. AUSTIN TROY et al., SC 18335

Judicial District of Stamford-Norwalk

 

      Property; Littoral Rights; Injunctions; Declaratory Judgments; Whether the Doctrine of Laches Precluded the Plaintiff Property Owners from Obtaining Injunctive Relief to Protect their Littoral Rights Because their Delay in Asserting such Rights was Inexcusable; Whether a Declaratory Judgment Action is Subject to a Laches Defense where the Underlying Cause of Action Seeks Equitable Relief.  The parties are the owners of abutting waterfront properties in Norwalk.  In 2005, the plaintiffs initiated this action, seeking a declaratory judgment that a dock system that had been constructed by the defendants' predecessor in title was encroaching upon the plaintiffs' littoral rights and requesting an injunction ordering the defendants to remove the encroaching portions of the dock.  The trial court granted the plaintiffs' request for declaratory relief, but it denied their request for an injunction on the basis of the defendants' special defense of laches.  The plaintiffs appealed, arguing that the evidence did not support the court's factual finding that the elements of the laches defense had been established.  In a cross appeal, the defendants maintained that the court improperly granted the plaintiffs' request for declaratory relief after having found that the defendants had established their defense of laches.  In rejecting the plaintiffs' claim, the Appellate Court (112 Conn. App. 546) emphasized that although the plaintiffs were aware as early as 1985 that the dock might have infringed upon their littoral rights, they did not seek to have the boundary lines surveyed until 2000, and, notwithstanding that the survey confirmed their suspicions of encroachment, they waited another five years before bringing this action.  The Appellate Court therefore concluded that, based on the foregoing undisputed facts and the plaintiffs' failure to provide a satisfactory explanation for their protracted delay in asserting their rights, the trial court reasonably found that the delay was inexcusable.  It further determined that the trial court's finding that the defendants had been prejudiced by the plaintiffs' delay was amply supported by the undisputed evidence that if the defendants had been aware of the littoral rights issue, they would not have (1) bought their property or paid the agreed upon purchase price, (2) paid real estate taxes that were based in part upon the value of the dock system, (3) maintained and repaired the dock, and (4) invested considerable sums of money to improve their property.  As to the defendants' cross appeal, the Appellate Court determined that the trial court should have denied the plaintiffs' request for declaratory relief on the basis of the laches defense.  In so concluding, it decided that an action for a declaratory judgment is subject to equitable defenses such as laches where, as here, the underlying cause of action on which it is based seeks equitable relief such as an injunction.  In this appeal, the Supreme Court will determine whether the Appellate Court's conclusions were correct.