Attorneys Jay Huntington and Kelly Wall recently secured a defense verdict for the Town of South Windsor after it was sued by two residents for allegedly creating a nuisance. The residents claimed this nuisance deprived them of the use and enjoyment of their home.
Like many towns, South Windsor maintains public parks that support a variety of activities for its citizens, with facilities such as ball fields, pavilions, and hiking trails. But, during the late 1990s and early 2000s, it became apparent the parks were being used by a significant number of dog owners to exercise their dogs, sometimes off leash. This created conflict because the dogs might be aggressive, left messes, and dug up ball fields. The Town tried to enforce leash laws, but that resulted in angry citizens who complained there was no place to let their dogs run. A group of citizens formed to promote the idea of a dog park, a fenced area where dogs could be let off leash to run freely and socialize. The police department, responsible for animal control, endorsed the concept.
After approval by the Parks and Recreation Commission, the dog park was constructed using Town resources and donations. Work began the summer of 2007 and the dog park opened mid-November, 2007. It is located in Nevers Park at the terminus of a dead end road known as Chief Ryan Way. A neighborhood of 24 houses sits on Andreis Trail, which intersects with, and then runs roughly parallel to, Chief Ryan Way. Some residents on Andreis Trial, including the plaintiffs, complained about noise and traffic congestion because the dog park was immediately very popular.
The Town took some remedial measures to lessen the impact of the dog park on Andreis Trail. After a while, the complaints from Andreis Trail quieted, except for the plaintiffs. Negotiations with the Town to try further to mitigate the plaintiffs’ complaints failed to lead to an agreement. Suit was filed.
The sole defendant was the Town of South Windsor. The first count, seeking injunctive relief, alleged that the Town failed to follow its own zoning regulations and also failed to follow a state statute (CGSA section 8-24) requiring planning and zoning to review the project prior to construction. The remaining count alleged a private nuisance, claiming that the dog park unreasonably interfered with the use, enjoyment, and value of their property. RTC&E filed a motion for summary judgment which resulted in the removal of all the statutory and regulatory claims, except the claim that the Town violated General Statutes section 8-24.
The parties participated in several mediation sessions. In the end, the Town offered the plaintiffs $60,000.00 compensation, plus modifications to the dog park, such as locking it to prevent access when it is supposed to be closed. However, the plaintiffs were insistent that the Town move the park or pay a settlement of $360,000.00. Thus, the case proceeded to trial, with the judge deciding the statutory claim and a jury deciding the nuisance claim.
Both plaintiffs testified, as did their 21 year old daughter and a neighbor. They subpoenaed two Town officials who testified in the plaintiffs’ case in chief. The Town countered with testimony by the Parks and Recreation Director, the Town Manager, a police officer, the animal control officer, and two citizens who were involved in the initial construction and maintenance of the dog park. After 45 minutes of deliberation, the jury rendered a verdict for the Town on the nuisance count. Thereafter, the judge found the Town violated General Statutes section 8-24. As a remedy, the judge remanded the case to the Town, ordering that Planning and Zoning determine whether any modifications to the dog park are appropriate to further mitigate the impact of it on the Andreis Trail neighborhood and then to issue a non-binding report containing any recommendations for modifications. Nancy Yario, et al v. Town of South Windsor, Docket No: HHD-CV11-6021042.