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Year In Review: Civil Suits On Wrongful Deaths, Land Development Moved Through Courts



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Some of the civil suits concerning Newtown that moved through the courts during 2018 involved “wrongful deaths” and proposed land development.

Gunmaker Remington Outdoor Co Inc on March 25 filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection while it sought to reorganize its finances. That bankruptcy later resulted in the suspension of a lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of ten plaintiffs in connection with the December 2012 shooting incident at Sandy Hook School.

In November 2017, the Connecticut Supreme Court had heard oral arguments in the gun lawsuit, through which the plaintiffs sought to have the Supreme Court send back that dismissed lawsuit to state Superior Court for a jury trial.

The plaintiffs alleged, in part, that the semiautomatic military-style rifle used in the December 14, 2012, shooting incident at Sandy Hook School, in which a gunman shot and killed 20 first graders and six adults, was negligently entrusted to the public, and that the defendants violated the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act (CUTPA) in aggressively and unethically marketing that rifle to the public.

Through their lawsuit, the plaintiffs had sought monetary damages, punitive damages, attorneys’ fees, costs, and injunctive relief.

In May, a Superior Court judge in New Haven dismissed another longstanding wrongful death lawsuit stemming from the shooting incident. Through that lawsuit, the estates of two of the first graders killed in the incident sought money damages in a liability claim against the Town of Newtown and the Newtown Board of Education.

In a summary judgement dated May 7, Judge Robin Wilson wrote “Emergencies, by their very nature, are sudden and often rapidly evolving events, and a response can never be one hundred percent scripted and directed and is a specific reason why police officers have been afforded broad discretion... To say that the faculty and staff of the school were to act in a prescribed manner in responding to an emergency situation would likewise be illogical and in direct contradiction to the very purpose of governmental immunity: allowing for the exercise of judgement without fear of second-guessing.”

In her 29-page decision, Judge Wilson concluded that “The defendants are immune from liability.” The plaintiffs are appealing Judge Wilson’s decision.

Land Development

In August, the firm known as 79 Church Hill Road LLC, which is proposing a controversial rental apartment complex at that address, near Exit 10 of Interstate 84, filed a lawsuit against the Water & Sewer Authority (WSA) through which the firm is seeking court approval to either substantially or greatly expand the land area at which the firm could construct the complex.

The Trumbull-based developer also is seeking to have the court nullify certain conditions that the WSA has placed on the firm obtaining municipal sewage treatment capacity for the proposed rental apartments.

The project, known as Hunters Ridge, would include an affordable housing component, in which income-eligible tenants would be charged significantly lower rents than tenants occupying market-rate units.

The developer is seeking to nullify the WSA’s having strictly limited the size of the area where development could occur and also nullify the WSA’s requirement that the developer gain approvals for the project from the Planning & Zoning Commission (P&Z) and the from Inland Wetlands Commission (IWC) before the WSA would provide municipal sanitary sewer service for the project.

The 141-unit version of Hunters Ridge is the latest of several versions of the project proposed by the developer. The initial version of the project, which was proposed to the Planning & Zoning Commission (P&Z) in December 2017, specified 224 rental apartments in six buildings, more than 55,000 square feet of commercial space in two other buildings, and a clubhouse on the 35 acres. That controversial proposal drew strong opposition from people living in the area. They charged that such growth would amount to overdevelopment.

In November, the 79 Church Hill Road, LLC, lawsuit was transferred to Connecticut Superior Court in Hartford for adjudication.

In another developmental lawsuit, a judge on December 21 dismissed a lawsuit which challenged the Borough Zoning Commission’s (BZC) February 2017 approval of Rochambeau Woods, a controversial proposed 29-unit condominium complex. The project’s 29 dwellings would be located in 29 individual buildings at the 29-acre site comprised of 41, 43, 45, and 47 Mount Pleasant Road, near Taunton Lake. The court decision would allow the complex to be built.

Resident Dr Robert Grossman, who owns property abutting the site, had challenged that development approval in state Superior Court in Danbury. It was not immediately clear if Dr Grossman will continue his legal challenges against the project.

The BZC and developer David French were defendants in the case.

Under the Rochambeau Woods plans, almost 70 percent of the site would remain as undeveloped open space land under the terms of the BZC’s Residential Open Space Development (ROSD) zoning regulations. That open space, which would be protected by an easement, would be available for use by the condo complex’s residents and their guests, but not the general public. (See related story.)

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