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CHAPEL FARM ESTATES v. MOERDLER

August 19, 2003

CHAPEL FARM ESTATES, INC., PLAINTIFF, AGAINST CHARLES G. MOERDLER, COMMUNITY BOARD 8, THE CITY OF NEW YORK, THE FIELDSTON PROPERTY OWNERS ASSN., MICHAEL GOODWIN, MARC MOLLER, AND TRAVIS EPPS, DEFENDANTS


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael Mukasey, Chief Judge, District [ Page 1]

OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Chapel Farm Estates, Inc. sues Charles G. Moerdler, Community Board 8, the City of New York ("the City"), The Fieldston Property Owners Association ("FPOA"), and FPOA members Michael Goodwin, Marc Moller, and Travis Epps,*fn1 under 18 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging multiple deprivations of constitutional rights. Plaintiff also alleges injurious falsehood and seeks two declaratory judgments. Defendants move to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). For the reasons set forth below, defendants' motions are granted, and the complaint is dismissed.

I.

The relevant facts alleged in the Amended Verified Complaint, which are accepted as true for purposes of this motion, are as follows:

Plaintiff, a New York corporation, is the owner of 15.75 acres of undeveloped land ("the property") in the Riverdale area of the Bronx. The property lies within Community Board 8 of the City of New York and is contiguous to the Fieldston section of Riverdale. (Am. Verified Compl. ¶ 10). Plaintiff also owns the streets abutting the property, "to the center line of those streets, including West 250th Street and Iselin Avenue where [ Page 2]

those streets abut" the property. (Id. ¶ 12) Portions of the property were acquired from Fieldston, Inc., the predecessor to FPOA, and plaintiff has paid dues to FPOA since acquiring those portions of the property. (Id. ¶ 13) Plaintiff also owns several easements which benefit the property. (Id. ¶¶ 14-16).

Since 1990, plaintiff has been in the process of applying to subdivide the property, and has spent considerably toward that end. (Id. ¶ 17) Plaintiff wishes to create 14 tax lots for the construction of 13 new homes, and for a home already built on one of the proposed lots. (Id. ¶ 19) Plaintiff's proposal falls under the City's Uniform Land Use Review Procedure ("ULURP"). Pursuant to ULURP, plaintiff has filed a two-part subdivision application: application C 000444 ZSX for a special permit, authorizations, and a certification under four sections of the Zoning Resolution; and application C 851115 MMX for the demapping of certain unbuilt streets within the property. (Id. ¶ 24) On February 12, 2001, the City Planning Commission ("CPC") issued a "Negative Declaration" stating that plaintiff's proposal would have no significant effect on the environment. (Id. ¶ 27) That same day, CPC certified plaintiff's application as complete, triggering ULURP. (Id. ¶ 28)

Defendant FPOA consists of the owners of approximately 250 homes and owns the title to the beds of certain streets in Fieldston. (Id. ¶ 29) FPOA acquired its title to the beds of [ Page 3]

certain of those streets subject to plaintiff's easements. (Id. ¶ 30). FPOA does not have title to West 250th Street or Iselin Avenue where those streets abut plaintiff's property. (Id. ¶ 31) FPOA has carried out a "campaign" against plaintiff's application, arguing falsely that plaintiff has no right to access its property via West 250th Street or Iselin Avenue because FPOA owns those streets and can restrict access to them. (Id. ¶ 36) As one part of this campaign, defendant Goodwin, a former president of FPOA (id. ¶ 8), sent letters making this claim to defendant Moerdler, who is the Chair of the Land Use Committee of Community Board 8 (id. ¶ 3), Councilwoman June M. Eisland, Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, State Senator Guy Velella, Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, and the CPC. (Id. ¶ 36)

At a meeting of the Land Use Committee of Community Board 8 on March 15, 2001, defendant Moller, a spokesman for FPOA (id. ¶ 9), repeated FPOA's false claim regarding access to the property. (Id. ¶ 39) At that meeting, Moerdler, who was chairing the meeting, argued with John E. Fitzgerald, plaintiff's principal, over access to the property and stated that he would volunteer his own law firm to litigate the matter. (Id. ¶¶ 48-50, 54) At the end of the meeting, the Committee voted to reject plaintiff's application. (Id. ¶ 55) No findings of fact were made at the meeting. (Id. ¶ 56) [ Page 4]

On April 4, 2001, Community Board 8 held a hearing on plaintiff's application. (Id. ¶ 57) At that meeting, Fitzgerald was not permitted to speak despite his efforts to do so, but two opponents of the application were. (Id. ¶ 62) This prohibition was contrary to multiple rules governing the community board meetings. (Id. ¶¶ 59-60) Moerdler, a member of Community Board 8, spoke against the application again at the Community Board meeting. (Id. ¶¶ 67-68) Moerdler also introduced a resolution to disapprove plaintiff's application and included "findings of fact," which he implied had been passed at the Land Use Committee meeting, but which had not been discussed at that meeting. (Id. ¶¶ 72-84) Community Board 8 adopted the resolution, and the resolution, with the findings of fact, was used to oppose plaintiff's application throughout ULURP. (Id. ¶¶ 85, 87)

On April 19, 2001, the Bronx Borough President's office held a hearing on plaintiff's application. (Id. ¶ 88) At the meeting, defendant Epes, then president of FPOA, presented the findings of fact from the Community Board meeting. (Id. ¶¶ 89-90) A statement from Councilwoman Eisland opposing plaintiff's application was also read into the record. (Id. ¶ 91) In letters dated April 20, 2001 and April 27, 2001, plaintiff informed FPOA, Goodwin, Moller, and Epes that these statements were false and defamed plaintiff and Fitzgerald. (Id. ¶ 42) On April 26, 2001, Fitzgerald attended a conference at the Bronx [ Page 5]

Borough President's office. At that meeting, Fitzgerald was asked if he would donate some of the property to FPOA, and he said he was not prepared to do so. (Id. ¶ 92) On May 4, 2001, the Bronx Borough President issued a written disapproval of plaintiff's application, relying on the findings of fact in his decision. (Id. ¶ 93)

On May 9, 2001, CPC held a hearing on plaintiff's application. (Id. ¶ 94) At that meeting, Community Board 8's District Manager put a copy of the findings of fact into the record. (Id.) On June 27, 2001, CPC issued decisions approving both parts of plaintiff's application. (Id. ¶ 95) The findings of fact were attached to these decisions as well. (Id.) CPC's approval of plaintiff's application was subject to the requirement that plaintiff not apply for or receive any permit from the Department of Buildings until a drainage plan for the property was approved by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection ("DEP").

On July 6, 2001, CPC filed its decisions with the New York City Council. (Id. ¶ 99) On July 26, 2001, the City Council voted to review CPC's approval of plaintiff's application. (Id. ¶ 104) On August 21, 2001, the Zoning and Franchises Subcommittee ("the Subcommittee") of the City Council's Land Use Committee held a hearing on plaintiff's application. (Id. ¶ 110). Community Board 8's resolution and [ Page 6]

the findings of fact were used to oppose the application. (Id. ¶ 106) Councilwoman Eisland spoke against plaintiff's application at the meeting. (Id. ¶ 161) The Subcommittee voted to disapprove the CPC's decisions on plaintiff's application. (Id. ¶ 110) The next day, the Land Use Committee of the City Council voted to disapprove the application. (Id. ¶ 111) Councilwoman Eisland chairs that committee. (Id. ¶ 106) Later that same day, the full City Council voted to disapprove plaintiff's application. (Id. ¶ 111)

Earlier, on August 14, 2001, FPOA had issued a memorandum to its members announcing an "annual" street closing to take place on August 26, 2001. Entry onto Fieldston's streets was to be limited to two intersections policed by FPOA's private security personnel. (Id. ¶ 112) The street closing was not, in fact, an annual event and had actually never occurred before. (Id. ¶ 113) On August 21, 2001, representatives from the 50th Precinct of the New York Police Department ("NYPD") met with representatives of FPOA to discuss the street closing. (Id. ¶ 116) FPOA was not required to apply for or obtain any permit for its activities. (Id. ¶ 117) On August 22, 2001, counsel for plaintiff write to the 50th Precinct advising that the Fieldston streets ...


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