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State Appellate Court Upholds Verdict Favoring Merritt, GOSA

HARTFORD — The state Appellate Court has ruled in favor of F.L. Merritt Inc. and the Groton Open Space Association in their contract dispute with Cheshire developer Ravenswood Construction LLC over who will buy the 75-acre Merritt property on Fort Hill.

The ruling was released Dec. 12, 2007, and is to be published in the Connecticut Law Journal Dec. 18. Ravenswood will have 20 days from Dec. 18 to decide whether to seek a review by the state Supreme Court. The state’s highest court usually grants only a small percentage of requests for a review.

If Ravenswood should request a review, the Supreme Court probably would take one to three months to decide whether to hear the case. If the court refuses, the proceedings are over. If it should agree, a final decision could take another 12-16 months.

A three-judge panel of the Appellate Court heard oral arguments in the case Sept. 6, 2007. The panel consisted of Chief Judge Joseph P. Flynn, Judge Thomas A. Bishop and Judge Trial Referee David M. Borden. The decision was written by Judge Flynn, with the other judges concurring.

GOSA had signed a contract April 14, 2003, to buy the Merritt property, a wooded tract cut by two streams, from F.L. Merritt Inc. for $1 million, with the aid of a $650,000 state grant. The property would be preserved as public open space. Shortly afterward, Ravenswood sued F.L. Merritt to compel it to perform on what Ravenswood said was its own pre-existing contract to buy the land. GOSA later voluntarily joined the suit as a defendant.

A Superior Court jury found May 18, 2005, that Ravenswood’s claim to have a pre-existing contract was not valid. Superior Court Judge Seymour Hendel then ruled that GOSA’s contract was valid. Atty. William Kroll of Salem represented F.L. Merritt in the jury trial. GOSA was represented by Atty. William Hescock of North Stonington. Ravenswood appealed the verdict.

The Appellate Court now has upheld the jury’s finding and Judge Hendel’s conduct of the trial. Ravenswood had contended that Judge Hendel erred by: failing to instruct the jury properly, allowing into evidence an unsigned contract rider, restricting cross-examination of a witness, and failing to overturn a jury verdict that was (1) against the weight of the evidence and (2) against the court’s instructions. The Appellate Court turned down each point of the Ravenswood appeal.

Lead lawyer for the defense was Elizabeth L. Leamon, of the New Haven firm of Tyler, Cooper & Alcorn. Other members of the defense team were Gerald A. Cory, of New London, and, on the brief, Ben A. Solnit, of Tyler-Cooper.

Representing the plaintiff were Paul M. Geraghty and Michael S. Bonnano, of New London, and James M. Miele, of Cheshire.

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