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Kohl Industrial Park Co. v. County of Rockland

June 7, 1983


Appeal from an order of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Gagliardi, J., granting plaintiff's motion for enforcement of a settlement agreement entered into between the parties. Affirmed. Judge Neaher dissents in a separate opinion.

Author: Meskill


MANFIELD and MESKILL, Circuit Judges, and NEAHER, Circuit Judge.*fn*

MESKILL, Circuit Judge:

The County of Rockland (Rockland) appeals from an order of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Gagliardi, J., granting the motion of plaintiff Kohl Industrial Park Co. (Kohl) for enforcement of a settlement agreement signed by the parties. This agreement was incorporated in a May 11, 1981 district court order that Rockland acquire by eminent domain Kohl's entire legal interest in a thirty acre parcel of land.

Rockland advances three arguments on appeal, namely: (1) the district court's interpretation of the agreement renders it unconstitutional and illegal; (2) the order of the district court cannot be enforced legally because the Rockland County legislature authorized only the acquisition of a permanent easement over Kohl's property and therefore the County Executive is powerless to "take" an interest greater than that approved by the legislature; and (3) the district court's interpretation of the settlement agreement is incorrect both as a matter of fact and law. We are not persuaded by these arguments and accordingly affirm the order of the district court.


Evidence was never presented in the underlying case because the parties settled their dispute prior to trial. However, there is no dispute with respect to the relevant facts. During March 1973, Kohl purchased sixty acres of land in Rockland County. Approximately one year prior to this acquisition, Rockland had authorized a feasibility study to determine the most appropriate measures to prevent flooding in the general area of the Kohl property. After the study was completed, Rockland decided to implement a plan whereby approximately thirty acres of the Kohl property would be acquired through eminent domain and used as a retention basin for the Nauraushaun Brook. Consistent with this objective, the County in 1977 prepared a legal description of the Kohl property and commissioned a private firm to survey the acreage. Kohl was thereafter notified that Rockland intended to acquire the thirty acre parcel through eminent domain. In January 1980, Rockland with the legislature's approval offered Kohl $850,000 plus absolution of back taxes in exchange for the property. The offer was acceptable to Kohl, but the legislature subsequently withdrew its approval.

After considerable foot-dragging by Rockland, Kohl commenced a federal court action in November 1980. The gravamen of Kohl's complaint was that Rockland officials had delayed eminent domain proceedings in an effort to acquire the thirty acre parcel without just compensation. Kohl specifically charged that even though its property was no longer commercially marketable given Rockland's announced intention to acquire it, the County nonetheless continued to tax this parcel at its former value. According to plaintiff, County officials hoped to delay eminent domain proceedings until Kohl's interest in the acreage was foreclosed for nonpayment of taxes. Kohl maintained that Rockland's conduct was actionable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Supp. IV 1980) as an unconstitutional "taking" of property.

Prior to trial, a settlement agreement was reached and a stipulation of settlement and discontinuance was duly executed and incorporated in an order entered by the district court on May 11, 1981. The order provided that Rockland would (1) engage an appraiser to determine the fair market value of the thirty acre parcel; (2) commence condemnation proceedings with the understanding that Kohl would be compensated for the appraised value of its land; and (3) simultaneous with its filing of the condemnation petition, " acquire title to the subject property." See J. App. at 10 (emphasis added).

Rockland subsequently petitioned the County legislature and received permission to acquire the Kohl property by eminent domain. In the interim, however, counsel for the County apparently determined that Rockland could accomplish its anti-flooding objective more economically by obtaining an easement over the portion of the property needed for the retention basin. Rockland thereafter obtained legislative approval to acquire the easement and, on motion by the County, Justice Sullivan of the New York State Supreme Court, Rockland County, approved Rockland's petition to condemn a permanent easement. See J. App. at 61.

Kohl then petitioned the district court pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b)(6) to vacate the stipulation and reinstate the original action on grounds that Rockland had breached the settlement agreement. Kohl charged that the settlement agreement obligated Rockland to acquire a fee interest in the disputed acreage and, by refusing to condemn more than an easement, Rockland had failed to satisfy the terms of the agreement. The court agreed that a breach had occurred, but nonetheless denied Kohl's Rule 60(b)(6) motion, explaining that plaintiff's original action was extinguished upon execution of the settlement agreement and could not be reinstated on a Rule 60(b)(6) motion. The court noted, however, that the decision was without prejudice to plaintiff's making a motion for enforcement of the settlement agreement. see J. App. at 136. Kohl moved for enforcement of the agreement and the court, after finding a breach by Rockland, ordered the County to condemn Kohl's fee interest in the 30 acres.*fn1 This appeal followed.


A. Jurisdiction

Although not raised by the parties, the issue of subject matter jurisdiction warrants brief discussion. Section 1983 provides in pertinent part:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.

42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Supp. IV 1980).

28 U.S.C. § 1343 (1976), the jurisdictional predicate for section 1983 actions, provides in pertinent part:

The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action authorized by law to be commenced by any person:

(3) To redress the deprivation, under color of any State law, statute, ordinance, regulation, custom or usage, of any right, privilege or immunity secured by the Constitution of the United States or by any Act of Congress providing for equal rights of citizens or of all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States. . . .

Where the plaintiff's complaint alleges sufficient facts to state a cause of action under section 1983, the jurisdictional requirements of section 1343 are satisfied, provided the claim alleged is not "obviously frivolous," "wholly insubstantial," or "essentially fictitious." See Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527, 532, 68 L. Ed. 2d 420, 101 S. Ct. 1908 (1981); Carey v. Piphus, 435 U.S. 247, 249-50, 55 L. Ed. 2d 252, 98 S. Ct. 1042 (1978); Hagans v. Lavine, 415 U.S. 528, 536-37, 39 L. Ed. 2d 577, 94 S. Ct. 1372 (1974); Bell v. Hood, 327 U.S. 678, 682-85, 90 L. Ed. 939, ...

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