February 1, 2023

Next Step is Unclear in Chester Backyard Burial Case

CHESTER— The next step remains unclear after a Connecticut Supreme Court decision last week sent the seven-year legal battle between the town and an elderly resident over a backyard burial back to the town zoning office where it began in 2005.

The court, in a 4-3 decision, directed Ellise Piquet to apply for a permit for the private burial of her late husband on her eight-acre residential property on South Wig Hill Road. Piquet, 82, had buried her husband, former World War II Royal Air Force Pilot John Shaboe Doll, on the property after his death in October 2004. The burial was done under the supervision of a licensed funeral director, but the state Department of Public Health later requested confirmation that a backyard burial was allowed under Chester Zoning Regulations.

The regulations did not address backyard burials, and the Chester Planning and Zoning Commission determined that such burials could not be allowed without a permit. The zoning enforcement officer issued a cease and desist order in 2005 that Piquet appealed to the town’s zoning board of appeals. The town later withdrew the cease and desist order without a formal public hearing before the ZBA to give Piquet an opportunity to resolve the issue with the state Department of Public Health.

Piquet filed suit in 2007 as the town continued to maintain that a private burial violated local zoning regulations and required a permit. After nearly five years of proceedings in Middlesex Superior Court and the Connecticut Appellate Court, the state Supreme Court heard arguments on the case last spring. The court majority determined that Piquet should have pursued an appeal to the ZBA before filing a lawsuit seeking a state court approval for the private burial.

William Gallagher, the New Haven lawyer representing Piquet, acknowledged Wednesday the Supreme Court decision had directed her to “start the whole process over again.” But Gallagher added that he is uncertain how Piquet wants to proceed with the case.

Gallagher said he had sent Piquet a letter explaining the decision, but has been unable to reach her by telephone in the week since the decision was issued on Aug. 22. “It’s her call as to how she wants to proceed but I have not heard from her,” Gallagher said, adding the elderly Piquet may not want to bring the issue to a public hearing before the zoning board of appeals as she was ready to do in 2005.

Gallagher said there are “several options,” to resolve the case, including exhuming Doll’s remains for burial elsewhere with his wife, or some agreement with the town that would allow Doll and Piquet to be buried on the South Wig Hill Road property.