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Reynolds v. Krebs

March 18, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: William M. Skretny United States District Judge



In this civil rights action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Plaintiff Walter F. Reynolds, III, alleges that Defendants, all of whom are officials of the Village of Springville, NY, violated his First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights when they demolished his property - the Leland House - after a fire. Presently before this Court are the parties' Motions for Summary Judgment.*fn2 For the following reasons, Plaintiff's motion is denied, and Defendants' motion is granted.


A. Facts

Plaintiff owned and lived in the Leland House, a three-story, historic structure located at 26 E. Main Street in the Village of Springville, N.Y. (Defendants' Rule 56 Statement of Undisputed Facts*fn3 ("Defendants' Statement"), Docket No. 20, ¶¶ 1-3; Reynolds Aff., Docket No. 26-6, ¶¶ 2, 3, 5.) At times, Plaintiff operated a restaurant and tavern out of the Leland House that was intermittently open to the public. (Reynolds Aff., ¶¶ 3, 7.)

The Leland House was situated within feet of Main Street (a state road) in the middle of the Village's downtown business district. (Defendants' Statement, ¶¶ 4, 5.) Attached to the Leland House was a wooden structure that extended the length of the building and overhung the public sidewalk to the curb of the street. (Defendants' Statement, ¶ 6.) The support columns for this structure were located near the curb. (Defendants' Statement, ¶ 7.)

On the morning of January 18, 2006, there was a fire at the Leland House. (Defendants' Statement, ¶ 8; Reynolds Aff., ¶ 11.) Although it appears that the fire was extinguished by emergency personnel without incident, Main Street was closed to traffic through the afternoon of January 19, 2006. (Reynolds Aff., ¶ 12; Defendants' Statement, ¶ 22.)

After the fire, Defendant Krebs was called to the scene to assess the damage and determine whether the building posed a threat to public safety or the security of adjoining properties. (Krebs Aff., Docket No. 21, ¶¶ 2, 3.) Krebs observed "extensive fire damage" to the Leland House: the wooden frame was damaged; the roof was partially collapsed onto the first level; the cupola was damaged and not sufficiently supported; pieces of the roof and siding were hanging down; and the exterior sign was not secured. (Krebs Aff., ¶ 3.)

Based on what he saw, Krebs was concerned about the safety and security of Village residents, as well as the properties surrounding the Leland House. (Krebs Aff., ¶ 4.) Specifically, he was concerned that the Leland House would collapse into Main Street or onto an adjacent property, or that pieces of the exterior would fall and damage property or hit a passing individual or vehicle. (Krebs Aff., ¶ 6.) Because of these concerns, Krebs sought the advice of Defendant Kaleta, the Village Building Inspector/Code Enforcement Officer. (Krebs Aff., ¶ 6; Kaleta Aff., Docket No. 23, ¶ 1.)

Along with being the Building Inspector/Code Enforcement Officer, Kaleta was a volunteer fireman, and he responded to the initial fire call and helped extinguish the fire. (Kaleta Aff., ¶ 2.) After the fire was out, Kaleta, in his role as Building Inspector, inspected the building to determine the extent of the damage. (Kaleta Aff., ¶ 3.) He observed the following conditions: smoke and water damage to the bar, kitchen, and front dining room on the first level; fire damage in the rear dining area; damage to the column at the rear of the stairway; and damage to the support beam for the second level. (Kaleta Aff., ¶ 4.) Kaleta was unable to climb the interior stairway to access the second level because "it was gone due to fire damage." (Kaleta Aff., ¶ 5.) Instead, he climbed the fire escape, from which he observed major fire damage to the second level, including a two to three foot sag in the ceiling-floor assembly between the second and third levels. (Kaleta Aff., ¶¶ 4, 6.) He also observed that the third level ceiling-roof assembly was destroyed. (Kaleta Aff., ¶ 6.)

Based on these observations, Kaleta joined in Krebs's concern that the Leland House posed a threat to the safety of the public and adjoining property. (Kaleta Aff., ¶ 7; Krebs Aff., ¶ 7.) He therefore requested that Robert Runge, II, a professional civil engineer, inspect the Leland House and determine whether it was structurally safe. (Kaleta Aff., ¶ 8; Krebs Aff., ¶ 8; Runge Aff., Docket No. 22, ¶¶ 1-3.)

Runge arrived at the Leland House just as the fire department was in the final stages of extinguishing the fire. (Runge Aff., ¶ 4.) Runge was unable to enter the building at that time and unable to see the understructure of the first floor. (Runge Aff., ¶¶ 4, 5). Instead, he ascended the fire escape with Kaleta. (Runge Aff., ¶¶ 4, 5; Kaleta Aff., ¶ 9.) From the fire escape, Runge could see clear through the second floor down into the first floor due to the damage caused by the fire. (Runge Aff., ¶ 6.) He observed that most of the interior walls were "burned out" and that the entire structure was soaked with water. (Runge Aff., ¶¶ 5, 6.) On the exterior, Runge observed pieces of the roof and facade hanging from the building, and saw the sign of the building hanging in an unsecured manner. (Runge Aff., ¶ 6.) Based on these observations, his knowledge that high winds were predicted for the area, and the Leland House's close proximity to the public sidewalk and road, Runge concluded that the Leland House was a danger to the public, and he advised Kaleta that he could not certify that it was structurally sound and safe. (Runge Aff., ¶ 9; Kaleta Aff., ¶ 9.)

Kaleta reported Runge's opinion to Krebs. (Kaleta Aff., ¶ 11; Krebs Aff., ¶ 8.) After receiving Runge's opinion, further discussing the situation with Kaleta, and consulting the Village's attorney, Krebs invoked his authority under § 77-11 of the Code of the Village of Springville and directed Kaleta to arrange for the immediate demolition of the Leland House on an emergency basis. (Krebs Aff., ¶¶ 10-12; Kaleta Aff., ¶ 11.) This decision was based on (1) the opinions of Kaleta and Runge that the Leland House lacked structural integrity, (2) the Leland House's location in the business district and close proximity to public ways, and (3) the expected weather conditions, including anticipated winds of 50-60 MPH. (Krebs Aff., ¶ 10.)

But before the demolition took place, Krebs and Kaleta allegedly spoke to Plaintiff and advised him that demolition would proceed unless Plaintiff could provide documentation from a professional engineer by noon on January 19, 2006, that the Leland House could either be saved or at least secured. (Krebs Aff., ¶ 13; Kaleta Aff., ¶ 12.) No such documentation was ever received; the demolition therefore went forward. (Krebs Aff., ¶ 13; Kaleta Aff., ¶ 13.)

Plaintiff paints a different picture. He states that according to investigators,*fn4 the fire originated in a closet beneath the main staircase between the first and second floors. (Reynolds Aff., ΒΆ 14.) He further states that damage to the Leland House was limited primarily to the third floor, that the structure had "no or virtually no fire damage," and that notwithstanding the fire, the Leland House remained structurally ...

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