Kenneth Tulle, et al v. Connecticut Container Corporation: A group of five homeowners from North Haven who were subjected to years of "a constant and annoying noise" from a nearby cardboard box factory have been awarded $300,000 for the private nuisance following a bench trial.
The homeowners, Kenneth Tullo, Douglas Amore, Joseph Vichinanza, Yu-Fong Yen and Mark Grey, all lived in a residential neighborhood near Hartford Turnpike, in close proximity to the Connecticut Container Corp. plant on Sackett Point Road. For about two years prior to filing a lawsuit, the homeowners repeatedly met with town officials to try and stop what was described as "a distinct and pulsating hum" that coming from the factory at all hours of the day and night.
The homeowners called the police on several occasions to seek enforcement of the local noise control ordinance, to no avail. According to court records, some of the officers who responded to calls about the noise complaints confirmed there was a noise problem emanating from the factory, while other officers did not hear anything.
A lawyer for the plaintiffs, John W. Mills, of the Mills Law Firm in New Haven, said the humming noise from the factory was a problem for years, but it became unbearable to the residents in 2006, when the factory added an overnight production shift. In spite of efforts to convince factory owner Hap Perkins to reduce the noise, nothing was done.
"Mr. Perkins was told directly by the chief of police in North Haven that Connecticut Container was in violation of the noise ordinance," Mills said. "But Perkins refused to install noise reduction equipment. Instead, he argued that the noise was coming from other facilities in the area, or from cars travelling on the highway."
Mills said the noise in question came from the roof. During the manufacturing of cardboard shipping boxes at the plant, said Mills, a "cyclone unit" on the roof vacuums up bits of cardboard scraps and dust created during the process. Sound-tempering devices were available for the equipment, but the factory owners refused to use them.
A lawsuit was initially filed in 2009, but the original claim that the factory was in violation the Connecticut Noise Pollution Act and the North Haven City ordinance on noise pollution were dismissed by Superior Court Judge Howard Zoarski because the plaintiffs lacked legal grounds to bring a private cause of action.
Mills said they refiled with a claim of private nuisance violations. Under Connecticut law, he said, every property owner has a duty to take reasonable steps to avoid causing annoyance to his neighbor. At the heart of the legal issue in such claims, is the question of whether the nuisance is beyond what the plaintiff should bear without being compensated.
Under the amended complaint, the plaintiffs claimed the humming noise was caused by a dust collector on the roof of the facility. They sought damages for routine loss of sleep, chronic fatigue, headaches, irritability, the loss of use and quiet enjoyment of their homes, and diminished property values.
Only after the lawsuit was filed, and moving toward a trial earlier this year, did the factory owner have noise reducing equipment installed at the facility, Mills said. That fact played into the plaintiffs' advantage, however, because the plaintiff property owners were able to testify that those steps "significantly lowered the noise level in the neighborhood," Judge Trial Referee Robert I. Berdon said.
A three day trial was conducted in front of Judge Berdon in April.
During the bench trial, both the plaintiffs and defense presented testimony from sound engineers. Both engineers found similar noise readings at the location of the factory, but the defense expert said the noise could have been coming from the highway or other sources.
The defendants were represented by attorney Erika Amarante of Wiggin and Dana in New Haven. According to the memorandum of decision in the case, Amarante argued that the plaintiffs failed to show that the conduct of the factory caused the noise in the neighborhood. She claimed the sound experts who testified on her clients' behalf were more credible, specifically in reference to the opinion that the noise levels in question came from multiple sources.
On top of that, Amarante argued, all of the plaintiffs moved into the neighborhood after the cardboard factory was already open and operating. Amarante did not respond to messages seeking comment.
In considering the evidence of both sides, Berdon pointed out that the significant reduction of noise after equipment was installed on the roof substantially weakened the defense case.
"The defendant did not take all feasible precautions to avoid unnecessary interference with the plaintiffs' use and enjoyment of their land, because the noise attenuators were installed nearly five years after the defendant first learned of the plaintiffs concerns, and a few days before the commencement of this trial," Berdon wrote. "Clearly, the installation of this equipment was a feasible precaution that the defendant could have easily installed. Instead of taking any feasible precautions, however, the defendant chose to continue emitting the noise for five years.
In awarding damages for the plaintiffs, Berdon awarded each homeowner $60,000, for a total of $300,000. Berdon also issued an injunction to prevent the factory from causing "constant noise from its facility" in the future.
The plaintiffs' lawyer, Mills, said the offer from the defendant was $20,000 before trial. "This was a terrific win for my clients, who were ridiculed throughout the trial by the defense," Mills said. "[The defense lawyers] said over and over again that the sound coming from the plant was quieter than the sound of night time crickets chirping."
The most important result of the trial, he said, was the fact that it prompted the Connecticut Container Corporation "to finally install noise silencers, and thereby dramatically improve the quality of life for my clients."