Posted by: Patricia Salkin | August 20, 2018

CT Supreme Court Holds Advertising Signs Were Outside the Scope of Municipal Regulation

This post was authored by Matthew Loeser, Esq.

Plaintiff, the zoning enforcement officer for the city of Milford, appealed from the judgment of the trial court denying the plaintiff’s request for permanent injunctions ordering the defendant homeowner, Eileen R. Arisian, to remove signs on her property that were not in compliance with city zoning regulations and precluding the defendant from occupying the property until she obtained certain certificates required after home improvements had been made to her residence.

On appeal, the plaintiff contended that an “advertising” sign referred to any sign that made a public announcement. Specifically, plaintiff claimed this broad definition was proper because it more fully aligned with the stated purposes of the zoning enabling statute than the narrower one adopted by the trial court. The court found that when the common meaning of “advertising” was linked with the common meaning of “sign,” there was evidence that this broad meaning of “advertise” was not intended when this zoning authority was granted in 1931. Instead, the court determined that the phrase “advertising signs” under § 8-2 referred to any form of public announcement intended to aid directly or indirectly in the sale of goods or services, in the promulgation of a doctrine or idea, and/or in securing attendance. Here, the defendant’s signs expressed her personal, derogatory opinion of her home improvement contractor and cited prior lawsuits allegedly brought against the contractor to show that her unfavorable opinion was shared by others.

Plaintiff next challenged to the trial court’s decision to deny its request for an injunction precluding the defendant from occupying her residence until she obtained a new certificate of occupancy. The record reflected that three years after the plaintiff commenced the present action, the defendant provided an as built plot plan to the plaintiff; however, both the initial plot plan and the subsequent one submitted by the defendant contained substantive errors. It was not until almost four years after the commencement of the action that the defendant submitted an adequate plot plan. The plaintiff then reviewed the plot plan and determined that the renovations violated city zoning regulations for maximum lot coverage. The trial court likewise found that the defendant had violated the zoning regulations because she did not have the requisite certificate of occupancy, but nonetheless declined to grant the plaintiff’s request for injunctive relief because it found the defendant could do nothing further to secure the certificate. Additionally, the court found plaintiff had not followed the normal procedure for a zoning violation, which resulted in defendant having been deprived of administrative remedies related to the grounds on which the plaintiff had refused to issue the certificate. Although the trial court concluded that injunctive relief should not issue, it ordered the defendant to pay a civil penalty of $1000 due to the fact that it had taken her more than four years to submit a proper as built plot plan. The court affirmed, finding the trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying the requested injunctive relief.

Kuchta v Arisian, 329 Conn. 530 (CT 7/24/2018)

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