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Adrian v. Town of Yorktown

May 16, 2007

JOSEPH M. ADRIAN, ELAINE M. ADRIAN, AND ADRIAN FAMILY PARTNERS I, L.P., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
TOWN OF YORKTOWN, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mark D. Fox, United States Magistrate Judge.

MEMORANDUM ORDER

In September 2003, Joseph and Elaine Adrian and Adrian Family Partners I, L.P. (the "Plaintiffs") commenced this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and New York State law, against the Town of Yorktown (the "Town"), alleging that the Town, through its Town Supervisor, Linda Cooper, and other policy-making officials, maintained an official policy to deny the Plaintiffs the right to develop their property and to punish and retaliate against the Plaintiffs for exercising their First Amendment rights. The parties consented to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge for all purposes pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). Currently before the Court are Plaintiff's motions to modify the judgment, pursuant to Rule 60(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and Local Rule 6.3, and to amend the complaint. For the reasons, that follow, Plaintiffs' motion to amend the complaint is granted for the purpose of resolving the motion to modify the judgment and the motion to modify the judgment is granted in part and denied in part.

I. Procedural History

On April 26, 2006, this Court entered a decision and order granting summary judgment to the Town on all of Plaintiff's claims except for the First Amendment retaliation claim and the pendent state law claim for money had and received. A partial judgment was entered pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(b) on May 1, 2006. Before filing a notice of appeal, Plaintiffs moved, pursuant to Rule 60(b), for an order "correcting certain mistakes in the Decision and Order dated April 26, 2006, or in the alternative reconsidering and rearguing same . . . ." Notice of Motion dated May 3, 2006. On reconsideration, the Court clarified its previous order and modified it to reinstate Plaintiffs' malicious prosecution claim. Plaintiff appealed the partial judgment to the Second Circuit and the trial was stayed pending the outcome of the appeal.

In a summary order dated December 28, 2006, the Second Circuit dismissed Plaintiffs' appeal for lack of appellate jurisdiction. In a footnote, the Court made the following observations to aid this Court in its further consideration of the ripeness issues presented in this case: (1) the Court applied the second prong of the ripeness test set forth in Williamson County Reg'l Planning Comm'n v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson City, 473 U.S. 172 (1985), to Plaintiff's equal protection and procedural due process claims, despite the fact that the circuit court has not yet held whether this is appropriate; (2) the Court applied the first prong of the Williamson County ripeness test to the Plaintiffs' equal protection and procedural due process claims without first determining whether constitutional injury had already been inflicted; and (3) at oral argument before the circuit court, counsel for the Town suggested that the Town had no intention of returning the $150,000 the Plaintiffs contend has been wrongly withheld from them. With respect to the third observation, the Court stated that this Court should consider how counsel's representation affects the ripeness of Plaintiffs' claims.

After the Court of Appeals entered its decision, this Court held a conference with the parties and advised them that it would accept any Rule 60 motion for reconsideration limited to the issues raised by the circuit court in its December 28, 2006 summary order.

II. Plaintiffs' Motions

In their motion for reconsideration, the Plaintiffs argue that: (1) their equal protection and due process claims are not subject to the Williamson County ripeness test because they suffered immediate injury independent of the takings claim; (2) the takings claim was not subject to the Williamson County ripeness test because the property was taken for private purpose, not public use; (3) the Court incorrectly applied prong two of the Williamson County ripeness test to Plaintiffs' due process and equal protection claims; and (4) the Town's refusal to return the $150,000 mitigation payment is a final decision. See Adrian Aff. at 5-15.

In addition to their Rule 60 motion, the Plaintiffs seek leave to file an amended complaint. Noting that, at oral argument before the circuit court, the panel "criticized the [complaint] as 'hodgepodge,'" the Plaintiffs submit a proposed amended complaint in an attempt "to separate the claims and the facts that support each of the claims." Id. at 2, n.3. As part of this effort, the Plaintiffs have added to the first and second claims for relief (the equal protection and procedural due process claims) a list of fifteen specific alleged actions of the Town. The list includes: (1) the Town's refusal to process Plaintiff's application for approval of a car wash; (2) the Town's refusal to allow Plaintiffs to join the Hunterbrook sewer district; (3) the Town's refusal to process the Stop & Shop application unless Plaintiffs paid $150,000; (4) the Town's refusal to return the $150,000 mitigation payment; (5) the Town's refusal to take any action to enforce codes against surrounding property owners who were dumping stormwater on Plaintiffs' property; (6) the Town's refusal to issue a new wetlands map after being ordered to do so by a justice of the New York Supreme Court; (7) the Town's rezoning of most of Plaintiffs' property; (8) the Town's refusal to enforce codes against James Criniti; (9) the Town's refusal to allow additions to the auto body shop; (10) selective prosecution of the Adrians; (11) issuance of the Stop & Shop Findings Statement, which imposed obligations on Plaintiffs not imposed on other similarly situated property owners; (12) the filing of a motion to dismiss in Plaintiffs' 2002 Article 78 action against the Town Zoning Board of Appeals, the estate of James Criniti, DMB Realty, and John Bauso, when no such motion had been filed in another similar case; (13) the Town's refusal to process Plaintiffs' wetland permit applications; (14) the Town's refusal to enforce codes against other similarly situated property owners; and (15) the Town's refusal to provide responses to Plaintiffs' FOIL requests routinely given to other residents. See Amended Compl. at 32-34. Plaintiffs allege that each of these actions was a final decision that renders their constitutional claims ripe for adjudication.

III. Analysis

Rule 60(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permits a party to seek relief from a final judgment, order, or proceeding on numerous grounds, including, inter alia, mistake, inadvertence, surprise, excusable neglect, and newly discovered evidence. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b). Rule 60(b) further provides that the court may relieve a party from a judgment or order for "any other reason justifying relief from the operation of the judgment." Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b)(6). Such a motion is addressed to the sound discretion of the trial court and may only be granted on a showing of exceptional circumstances. See Mendell In Behalf of Viacom, Inc. v. Gollust, 909 F.2d 724, 731 (2d Cir. 1990).

In light of the comments made by the circuit court in its summary order, I find that reconsideration of the Court's April 2006 decision and order, limited to those issues raised by the Court of Appeals, is appropriate.

A. Whether Plaintiffs' Procedural Due Process and Equal Protection Claims are Subject to the Williamson County Ripeness Test

In land use cases, the Supreme Court has developed a two-pronged inquiry for determining whether a claim is ripe. See Williamson Cty. Reg'l Planning Comm'n v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson City, 473 U.S. 172 (1985). A court must determine, first, whether the government entity has made a "final decision" on the matter, and second, whether the plaintiff has exhausted state procedures for obtaining just compensation. See id. at 186, 194. In Williamson, the two-pronged ripeness test was applied to a takings claim; however, under certain circumstances, the same analysis applies to due process and equal protection claims that arise "in the context of land use challenges." Dougherty v. Town of North Hempstead Bd. of Zoning Appeals, 282 F.3d 83, 88 (2d Cir. 2002).

In its summary order in the instant case, the circuit court, citing its decision in Dougherty, suggested that, if Plaintiffs suffered immediate injury as a result of the Town's actions, then their equal protection and due process claims would not be subject to the Williamson County ripeness analysis. In Dougherty, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant Board of Zoning Appeals violated his constitutional rights to, inter alia, procedural due process and equal protection by denying his application for a building permit to allow construction on his cooperative bungalow unit. See id. at 87. The plaintiff also asserted a First Amendment retaliation claim against the defendant. See id. Applying the first prong of the Williamson County test to Plaintiff's equal protection*fn1 and procedural due process claims, the Court held that the plaintiff had not received a final decision on his permit application because he never applied for a variance from the Board after the Board's denial; therefore, the claims were not ripe. See id. at 88-89.

The Court noted the plaintiff's complaint that he had suffered a five and a half year delay as a result of the defendant's requirement that he file an Environmental Impact Statement along with his permit application, that the Board had treated him unfairly in changing its policy regarding prior nonconforming uses and requiring him to remove the addition he had constructed and an addition constructed by a prior owner, and that he had lost use of his property over a lengthy period and the rental income he could have earned; however, the Court held that Williamson County still applied and rendered his claims unripe. See id. at 89.

With respect to the plaintiff's First Amendment retaliation claim, the Court in Dougherty held that the Williamson County ripeness inquiry did not apply to this claim, noting that the claim was "significantly different from his due process and equal protection claims." Id. at 90. The Court explained that "[t]he latter claims each raise a question of administrative finality, but Dougherty's First Amendment claim of retaliation is based upon an immediate injury." Id. The Court concluded that the plaintiff had suffered a constitutional injury under the First Amendment the moment that his permit was revoked and that seeking a final administrative decision "would do nothing to further define his injury." Id. According to the circuit court in the instant case, in cases involving land ...


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