North Haven residents celebrate a quiet victory

NORTH HAVEN >> While the cicadas probably don't have anything to worry about, sometimes an annoying hum can cost quite a bit of money.

A New Haven judge awarded $300,000 in damages to five plaintiffs who live along Hartford Turnpike near Sackett Point Road.

Their lawyer, John Mills of New Haven, won the hard fought lawsuit, which was argued for four years against Connecticut Container Corporation, a manufacturer of cardboard boxes on 455 Sackett Point Road.

"The only remedy they had was to bring a claim under the common law for nuisance, which is what we did," Mills said.

According to Mills, his clients tried many avenues before resorting to the lawsuit, which was filed in 2009. He said his clients first petitioned the manufacturer, then tried to take action through the help of the town and state. In the end, Mills said they filed not for the money, but to bring an end to the noise.

That noise, as plaintiff Mark Grey of 1061 Hartford Turnpike described, was a loud, perpetual hum with an oscillating pitch. The problem wasn't just the volume of the noise, but that, at times, it would go all night long, except for Sundays.

To most, the noise would not be noticeable, especially from street level with all the noise associated with normal hustle and bustle on State Street. But the factory's "cyclone unit," as Mills called it, was situated on top of the factory. The function of this machine is to suck up cardboard waste during production for later recycling.Most of the plaintiffs lived on a ridge on the Hartford Turnpike. Their backyards slope steeply to State Street. The cyclone unit is basically at the same height as the homes, and so its noise was amplified, according to the plaintiffs.Connecticut Container Corporation argued that there was no proof the noise emanated from their building. However, during a snowstorm in 2011, its roof collapsed, forcing it to shut down operations for 10 days. According to Mills, his clients "uniformly said the noise stopped" during those 10 days.Connecticut Container Corporation installed noise dampeners on its cyclone unit about three weeks before going to trial in February. Much to the delight of the plaintiffs, the noise that had been humming for the past five-plus years was reduced dramatically.

Mills was nervous heading into trial at first, knowing that the problem had essentially been solved. During the trial, though, Mills said he was pleased that the judge listened to his arguments, and to the 14 people he said testified that the noise dampeners were a simple ending to a problem that the plaintiffs had been dealing with for years.

Former Supreme Court Justice Robert Berdon wrote in his decision: "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 the 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 noise 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."

Mills said winning the case was one of the prouder moments in his career.

'When the trial ended, my clients said to me, 'Thank you so much for representing us. Even if we don't get a dollar out of this, we feel vindicated in that they've put the silencers in. And that's what we really wanted all along, was to have peace and quiet. We have that. If the judge gives us damages for what we had to go through for the past five years, that would be a bonus.'" Mills said.

But it's not a bonus for Hap Perkins, owner of the factory, which employs about 150 people in North Haven and a total of 400 around the Northeast. He said he couldn't comment on specifics of the case, but that he was not happy with the ruling.

He said he is looking over his options with his lawyer.

Perkins said he tried to be a good neighbor and have a positive effect in the town.

"We like working in North Haven," Perkins said. "We have a good relationship with the town and it is a struggle to be a manufacturer in Connecticut."

First Selectman Michael J. Freda said he understood the concerns of both sides.

"The residents are very important to us here in North Haven, and the company is very important to us, as it is a large employer and one of our largest grand list members," Freda said. "I just hope the settlement that has been reached is mutually satisfactory to both parties."

Call Michael Bellmore at 203-789-5282.