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NORTHEAST MINES, INC. v. TOWN OF SMITHTOWN

February 3, 1984

NORTHEAST MINES, INC., National Sand & Gravel Corp., and Richard K. Steck and Gerald J. Philbin, individually and d/b/a Richard Steck, Gerald Philbin Development Co., Plaintiffs,
v.
The TOWN OF SMITHTOWN, The Town Council of the Town of Smithtown, Patrick R. Vecchio, et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MISHLER

Memorandum of Decision and Order

MISHLER, District Judge.

 Plaintiffs allege that defendants, acting in concert and under state law, have unlawfully demanded "exorbitant and extortionate "fees' and other charges from the plaintiffs for the right to excavate sand and gravel from their own land notwithstanding the issuance of a valid state mining permit and have misused their governmental power to manipulate the price of sand and gravel, thereby reaping enormous windfall profits at the expense of the plaintiffs and other private competitors. To accomplish this unlawful policy the defendants have engaged in a continuous and systematic course of conduct calculated to coerce the plaintiffs to capitulate to their extortionate demands, including harassing "inspections' of the plaintiffs' premises, the issuance of numerous and unfounded summonses, the continuous unjustified refusal to permit the plaintiffs to dump debris at the Town's sanitary landfill site, the discriminatory enforcement of Town ordinances and laws against the plaintiffs and the bad faith commencement of civil litigation against the plaintiffs." (Complaint P1).

 Plaintiffs sseek declaratory and injunctive relief and monetary damages for violations of the rights, privileges and immunities secured under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Defendants move to dismiss the action or, in the alternative, to stay proceedings in this court pending the resolution of the related state action.

 FACTS

 On March 11, 1980, plaintiffs' application for an excavation permit was approved by the Board of the Town of Smithtown. The permit was issued for one year and expires January 27, 1984. Plaintiffs began their excavation work but defendants, on several occasions, objected that the work was not being properly performed. Defendants then ordered that the work on the site be stopped. Proceedings were commenced in New York State Supreme Court by defendants to enjoin plaintiffs from continuing to excavate. Plaintiffs subsequently agreed in a stipulation to refill an excavation and to pay to the Town $216,000 on a time payment schedule. Judgment was entered pursuant to the stipulation on June 16, 1983 by Hon. Robert W. Dole, J.S.C. On July 1, 1983, plaintiffs commenced an Article 78 proceeding in State Court claiming that Chapter 30 of the Town's Code of Ordinances was preempted and invalidated by state law and that the Town's efforts to enforce the Ordinance were unconstitutional. On July 27, 1983, plaintiffs commenced the instant action in this court. On August 30, 1983, the Hon. Thomas V. Mallon, J.S.C., converted the Article 78 proceeding into an action. Defendants now move to dismiss or stay the instant action pending the resolution of the action in New York State Supreme Court. Defendants contend that this court should dismiss or stay its proceedings on four separate but interrelated grounds: (1) Younger Abstention or "Equitable Restraint;" (2) Burford Abstention; (3) Pullman Abstention; and (4) "Wise Judicial Administration."

 DISCUSSION

 Initially, we note and agree that "[a]nalysis of the cases which have considered the issue of abstention indicates that the various abstention doctrines are more distinct in theory than in actual practice. They overlap and mix together to form the basis for abstention in particular cases. This is especially true in cases challenging in federal court state attempts to implement local land use policy." Kent Island Joint Venture v. Smith, 452 F. Supp. 455, 461 (D.Md.1978).

 I. "Younger Abstention"

 "Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 91 S. Ct. 746 [27 L. Ed. 2d 669] (1971), and its progeny espouse a strong federal policy against federal court interference with pending state judicial proceedings absent extraordinary circumstances. The policies underlying Younger abstention have been frequently reiterated by this Court. The notion of "comity" includes a "proper respect for state functions, a recognition of the fact that the entire country is made up of a Union of separate state governments, and a continuance of the belief that the National Government will fare best if the States and their institutions are left free to perform their separate functions in their separate ways." Middlesex County Ethics Committee v. Garden State Bar Association, [457] U.S. [423], 102 S. Ct. 2515, 2521 [73 L. Ed. 2d 116] (1982) (quoting Younger, 401 U.S. at 44, 91 S. Ct. at 750). "Minimal respect for the state processes, of course, precludes any presumption that the state courts will not safeguard constitutional rights." Id.

 "The policies underlying Younger are fully applicable to noncriminal judicial proceedings when important state interests are involved." Id. (citations omitted). "Proceedings necessary for the vindication of important state policies or for the functioning of the state judicial system also evidence the state's substantial interest in the litigation. Where vital state interests are involved, a federal court should abstain "unless state law clearly bars the interposition of the constitutional claims." [T]he . . . pertinent inquiry is whether the state proceedings afford an adequate opportunity to raise the constitutional claims. . . ." Id. (citations omitted).

 As established by the Supreme Court in Middlesex County, supra, the question before us is threefold: first, is there an ongoing state judicial proceeding; second, do the proceedings implicate important state interests; and third, is there an adequate opportunity in the state proceedings to raise constitutional challenges. The answer to the first question is clear and undisputed. There is a pending state action in New York State Supreme Court. The parties are essentially the same and the action arises from the same transactions or occurrences.

 The proceeding in state court clearly implicates important state interests. The action involves the applicability and constitutionality of Smithtown's land use policy and its possible preemption by New York State law. The declaration of policy of Smithtown's regrading and excavating law, which has been in effect since 1956, states that "[t]he regulation and control of the general regrading of land, extraction and removal of earth products and other excavations are necessary to protect and to prevent serious and irreparable damage to the public health, safety and general welfare as well as to make effective the general purposes of comprehensive planning and zoning." Smithtown, N.Y. Code § 30-1. Whether New York State law preempts the Smithtown Ordinance certainly implicates important state interests in New York land use policy.

 Finally, there has been no allegation that plaintiffs have not had an adequate opportunity to bring their federal cause of ...


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