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Holt v. Town of Stonington

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

August 29, 2014

CAROL HOLT, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
TOWN OF STONINGTON, Defendant-Appellant, ZONING BOARD OF APPEALS, TOWN OF STONINGTON, PLANNING & ZONING COMMISSION, TOWN OF STONINGTON, JOSEPH LARKIN, ZONING ENFORCEMENT OFFICER OF TOWN OF STONINGTON, Defendants

Argued: November 5, 2013

Page 128

Appeal from a judgment of the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut (Hall, C.J.), entered July 31, 2012, following a bench trial. The district court awarded an injunction to plaintiff-appellee Carol Holt based on a claim of municipal estoppel against the Town of Stonington, Connecticut. Because Holt failed to exhaust available administrative remedies before filing this suit, however, we conclude that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the case. Accordingly, we vacate the judgment and instruct the district court to dismiss Holt's complaint.

VACATED and REMANDED with instructions to dismiss the complaint without prejudice.

KEVIN M. TIGHE, Coventry, CT, for Defendant-Appellant.

WILLIAM E. MURRAY, Gordon & Rees LLP, Glastonbury, CT, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

Before: NEWMAN, HALL, and LIVINGSTON, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 129

Per Curiam

Plaintiff-appellee Carol Holt (" Holt" ) filed this diversity suit seeking equitable relief to prevent defendant-appellant Town of Stonington, Connecticut (the " Town" or " Stonington" ), from denying her the ability to build on a lot of land that she owns in the Town. The district court (Hall, C.J.) granted Holt an injunction to this effect following a bench trial. Under Connecticut law, however, a plaintiff must first exhaust available and adequate administrative remedies before she may receive judicial relief in a zoning dispute. On appeal to this Court, the Town argued in its reply brief that Holt did not avail herself of state law proceedings to seek relief concerning her property's zoning status before she filed her municipal estoppel claim in federal court. After considering supplemental briefing from the parties on this issue, we conclude that Holt failed to exhaust her administrative remedies as required by Connecticut law. As a result, the district court lacked jurisdiction over this case. We vacate the judgment and remand with instructions to dismiss the complaint.

I.

Holt is the owner of an unimproved lot in Stonington, Connecticut, which she purchased in 2005. Under the Town's zoning regulations, a lot must conform with certain minimum area requirements in order to be used as residential property. However, under certain conditions, the regulations permit the building of a single-family residence on undersized lots of land whose development predated the adoption of the zoning regime.

Early in 2005, prior to Holt's purchase of the lot, a Stonington zoning enforcement officer informed the prior owner in an opinion letter (the " 2005 opinion letter" ) that the property could be suitable for building a single-family residence. On the basis of the 2005 opinion letter, Holt purchased the property in May 2005 with the understanding that she could build a house on the lot. Soon afterward, she submitted to Stonington zoning authorities an application for a zoning permit.

As reflected in the Town's public records, Holt's lot had been altered by a sale of a ten-foot strip of land to the owner of a neighboring property in 1981, an alteration the existence (or significance) of which was apparently overlooked by the Stonington zoning enforcement officer who prepared the 2005 opinion letter. A neighbor who objected to Holt's development of the lot attempted to appeal the 2005 opinion letter to the Town's zoning board of appeals. After ...


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