Kenneth Tullo, et al v. Connecticut Container Corporation for $300,000
On July 5, 2013, former Supreme Court Justice Robert Berdon, now sitting as a Superior Court trial judge in New Haven, issued a memorandum of decision in favor of five plaintiffs in a noise pollution case, awarding $300,000 in compensatory damages. The case, entitled Kenneth Tullo, et al v. Connecticut Container Corporation, Docket No.: NNH CV 09 5026987 S, had been pending for more than four years. The plaintiffs were represented by attorney John (“Jack”) Mills, of Mills & Cahill, LLC. The defendant was represented by attorney Erika Amarante, of Wiggin & Dana.
The case involved noise pollution emanating from a plant owned and operated by Connecticut Container Corporation on Sackett Point Road and State Street in North Haven, Connecticut. The plant, which manufactures cardboard shipping boxes, has what is known as a cyclone unit on the roof, which sucks up bits of cardboard scrap during the manufacturing process. The plaintiffs, residents of neighboring homes located along Hartford Turnpike, began complaining of a loud humming noise in 2006, when the plant added an overnight production shift. The plaintiffs initially wanted to avoid litigation, instead first trying to negotiate with the plant owner, Hap Perkins, and later working with two different First Selectmen in an effort to get the town noise ordinance enforced. While Mr. Perkins was told directly by the Chief of Police in North Haven that Connecticut Container was in violation of the noise ordinance, Perkins refused to install noise reduction equipment, instead arguing that the noise was coming from other facilities in the area, or from cars traveling on the highway.
Even after being presented with a petition signed by many residents, Connecticut Container Corporation refused to take any steps to reduce the noise. By 2009, the plaintiffs, who were having difficulty sleeping or using their homes for entertainment at night due to annoying hum, retained Mills & Cahill, LLC, to represent them in the civil action. The case was tried over three days before Justice Berdon in April. Both sides presented expert testimony from sound engineers. Both engineers found similar readings, but the defendant’s expert testified that the noise could have been coming from any number of sources, and was not loud enough to be considered a nuisance. The plaintiffs relied heavily on eyewitness testimony from fourteen different witnesses, including the Former First Selectman, Janet McCarty, and North Haven Town Attorney Jennifer Coppola, each of whom visited the area late at night at different occasions and hear the loud hum coming from the plant.
The defendant’s theory of the case, namely that the noise was not a problem and/or that is was coming from somewhere else, was undermined by the fact that all of the witnesses testified that they noticed a dramatic reduction of the noise approximately three weeks prior to the start of trial, which was when Connecticut Container Corporation finally installed a series of noise silencers on the roof of the plant. When Mr. Perkins was asked why he did not do this sooner, in light of his own expert stating that such equipment was “standard practice” in the industry, he had no good answer. This evidence weighed significantly in the written decision issued by Justice Berdon on July 5, which stated in part as follows:
“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. Clearly, the installation of the noise attenuators was a feasible precaution that the defendant could easily have installed. Instead of taking any feasible precautions, however, the defendant chose to continue emitting the noise for five years. The defendant attempts to argue that it was a good neighbor by meeting with town officials to discuss this issue, sending its employees to investigate the issue, asking for more data to determine the levels of noise emanating from its facility and ultimately installing the attenuators. The evidence shows, however, that the defendant did not take any proactive steps to address this issue until just before the commencement of this trial.”
AT the conclusion of the trial, Mills, the plaintiffs’ attorney, stated: “We are obviously extremely pleased with the outcome of the case. As a result of the litigation, Connecticut Container finally installed the noise silencers and thereby dramatically improved the quality of life for my clients. Justice Berdon, who for years was the conscience of the Connecticut Supreme Court, issued the most thorough, well-written trial decision I have ever read. My clients will forever be grateful to him for recognizing that their grievances were real, and deserving of fair compensation.”