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SENDLEWSKI v. TOWN OF SOUTHAMPTON

April 12, 1990

MICHAEL SENDLEWSKI AND CAROL ANN SENDLEWSKI, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
THE TOWN OF SOUTHAMPTON, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wexler, District Judge.

Plaintiffs Michael and Carol Ann Sendlewski, husband and wife, bring this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Town of Southampton (the "Town") and numerous Town officials (collectively, "defendants") seeking declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief and attorney's fees. Presently before the Court is defendants' motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, to stay the proceedings in this action pending the resolution of state court actions brought by the Town against plaintiffs. For the reasons below, the motion to dismiss is granted.

I. Background

As alleged in the complaint, plaintiffs are individuals doing business as "We Got It Auto Parts" in the Town of Southampton, New York, on a six acre plot of land which they purchased in February 1986.*fn1 The land has been used as an auto salvage or junkyard business by a succession of owners since before 1957, in which year the Town enacted a zoning ordinance designating the area as residential. Following enactment of the zoning ordinance, however, its use as a junkyard continued as a preexisting nonconforming use. Then, in 1964, the Town began to license junkyards. In that year, the Town adopted a law regulating junk dealers and storage of junk, and, until 1983, the Town purportedly licensed plaintiffs' predecessor "to operate a junk and/or motor vehicle junk business." Plaintiffs maintain that licenses issued between 1964 and 1983 placed no restriction as to the area of the property on which junk could be stored.

Plaintiffs claim that when they applied for another junkyard license in June 1987, the Town never took action on their application. Instead, plaintiffs contend, in October 1987, the Town inspected the property and found that the plaintiffs had expanded the area of the premises used for junkyard purposes beyond the northernmost two acres. Consequently, on October 28, 1987, the Town issued an appearance ticket to Michael Sendlewski charging him with expanding a nonconforming use in violation of the Town zoning code, and resulting in an enforcement proceeding against him in the Town of Southampton Justice Court — the local criminal court. Expressly based on the 1984 survey, the violation complaint accompanying the appearance ticket alleges that Sendlewski,

  as owner of We Got It Auto Parts, a previously duly
  licensed motor vehicle junkyard which is in a CR-80
  residential zone as prescribed in the Zoning Maps of
  the Town of Southampton and said motor vehicle
  junkyard is a pre-existing nonconforming use in said
  residential zone, did expand the area of use by
  storing and placing junked motor vehicles and junk
  parts on the southerly part of said parcel of land.
  . . . There had been no previous junk motor vehicles
  or junk parts stored or placed on the southerly
  portion of this parcel of land.

The action is currently pending.

In addition, in December 1987, the Town commenced a civil action in the New York State Supreme Court, Suffolk County, against both plaintiffs, seeking a preliminary and permanent injunction against the "expanded" nonconforming use. The Town alleges in the action that, without a permit, plaintiffs expanded the nonconforming use by storing and placing junk motor vehicles and junk parts on the southerly portion of the premises beyond that area indicated on the 1984 survey as the "average line of junk." In the action, plaintiffs cross-petitioned for an order compelling the Town to issue plaintiffs a junkyard license for the premises, and moved for an order staying prosecution of the justice court action.

On May 28, 1988, without opinion, the supreme court granted the Town's motion for a preliminary injunction and denied plaintiffs' cross-motions. However, on December 26, 1989, the Appellate Division, Second Department, reversed the supreme court's grant of the preliminary injunction, but otherwise affirmed the supreme court's order. In reversing the preliminary injunction and affirming the refusal to stay the justice court proceeding, the appellate division stated:

    As our review of the instant record discloses that
  the plaintiff [Town] has failed to establish that the
  southern portion of the subject premises was not in
  use as a junkyard in 1957 when its zoning ordinance
  became effective, or that the pre-existing
  nonconforming use of the southern portion of the
  premises as a junkyard has been abandoned, we
  conclude that the plaintiff has failed to establish a
  likelihood of success on the merits. Accordingly, the
  plaintiff is not entitled to a preliminary injunctive
  relief.

Town of Southampton v. Sendlewski, 549 N.Y.S.2d 434, 436 (App. Div. 2d Dep't 1989) (citations omitted).

Plaintiffs commenced this § 1983 action in January 1989. In this action, plaintiffs allege that defendants have unlawfully attempted to restrict them in the use of their property by disregarding the facts establishing that plaintiffs' use of the premises is a preexisting nonconforming use. Plaintiffs claim that the defendants' conduct, including failing to issue them a license and commencing the two state court actions, reflects an official Town policy of intentional, arbitrary and capricious interference with and deliberate indifference to their rights under the Constitution and laws of the United States. As a result of such conduct, they claim they've been deprived of property and liberty interests without due process. As for relief, plaintiffs ask this Court: (1) to enjoin the Town "from taking any action which has as its object or effect the denial, limitation, or interference with plaintiffs' right to utilize the entire Premises, or any part thereof, to conduct their junkyard business"; (2) to compel the Town to issue them an unconditional license to use the entire premises as a junkyard; (3) to declare that the defendants "acted without authority in seeking to restrict plaintiffs' right to utilize the entire Premises or any part thereof, to conduct their junkyard business"; and (4) to award plaintiffs damages and attorney's fees.

Defendants filed an answer in March 1989 but did not raise the applicability of Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 91 S.Ct. 746, 27 L.Ed.2d 669 (1971), and its progeny. However, defendants now raise the issue following recent substitution of their counsel in this action. By motion, defendants seek to dismiss ...


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