Fort Trumbull Conservancy, LLC v. City of New London
The proper measure of proof under C.G.S. §22a-17 of the Connecticut Environmental Protection Act, requires the plaintiff to present evidence demonstrating that the conduct of the defendants, alone or in combination with others, very likely caused not merely a de minimis pollution, impairment or destruction of a natural resource, but an unreasonable one. The Fort Trumbull Conservancy, LLC initiated this action against the defendants, including the City of New London and the State Office of Policy and Management, alleging that the approval and adoption of a municipal plan of development for the Fort Trumbull area was invalid, posed an unreasonable likelihood of harm and per se environmental harm in violation of the Connecticut Environmental Protection Act beginning at C.G.S. §22a-14. The trial court dismissed the action finding that the plaintiff lacked standing. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment but, found that the action was brought in an improper venue. On remand, trial ensued on an amended complaint in the judicial district of Hartford rather than New London. Following the plaintiff's case-in-chief, the trial court granted the defendants' motion for judgment of dismissal for failure to set out a prima facie case. The plaintiff appealed claiming, inter alia, that the court erred in dismissing the action. The Appellate Court affirmed the judgment. The trial court did not apply an incorrect legal standard to the plaintiff's claims or an improper measure of the plaintiff's statutory burden. The plaintiff brought this action under CEPA pursuant to C.G.S. §22a-16. Because a plaintiff must prove conduct on the part of the defendants that either has caused or is reasonably likely to cause unreasonable pollution, impairment or destruction of natural resources, proof of causation is elemental to the claim. The parties agreed that the plaintiff was required to submit proof of causation but disagreed as to precisely what such proof entails. The Appellate Court concluded that the plaintiff must prove that the conduct of the defendants, alone or in combination with others, very likely caused not merely a de minimis pollution impairment or destruction of a natural resource, but an unreasonable one. Here, the evidence submitted indicated simply that the water bodies in question are polluted. The plaintiff failed to submit evidence establishing the requisite causal link between that pollution and the defendants' conduct.