Borough of Fenwick Historic District Commission v. Sciame
A court can award attorneys' fees, costs and expenses to a historic district commission, pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes §7-147h(b), even if the court does not find that a willful violation took place. The defendants own property in Old Saybrook that previously was owned by the Estate of Katherine Hepburn. The defendants allegedly installed 60-inch posts at the driveway entrance without a certificate of appropriateness from the plaintiff, the Borough of Fenwick Historic District Commission. The commission issued a certificate of appropriateness, provided that the posts were reduced to 48 inches. The defendants allegedly placed dirt at the base of each post, and claimed that the distance between the top of the dirt and the top of the posts was 48 inches. The commission filed suit in Superior Court, to enforce the certificate of appropriateness. The defendants filed an answer, special defenses and counterclaims, most of which were ordered stricken. The defendants filed an interlocutory appeal, which was unsuccessful. In August 2012, a Superior Court ordered the defendants to comply with the commission's order within 45 days. The commission requested attorneys' fees, pursuant to C.G.S. §7-147h(b). The court found that the statute does not require a willful violation, prior to an award of attorneys' fees. "[A]llowing attorney's fees in these cases," wrote the court, "creates an incentive for violators to come into compliance." The defendants filed counterclaims that had little merit and appealed when the counterclaims were stricken. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss and did not comply, until the commission filed a motion for contempt. The parties participated in five settlement conferences. The court awarded the plaintiff $50,654 in attorneys' fees, costs and expenses.