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MacPherson v. Town of Southampton

September 30, 2009

DONALD C. MACPHERSON, 10 BATHING BEACH CO., INC., 16 BATHING BEACH CO., INC., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
TOWN OF SOUTHAMPTON, SOUTHAMPTON TOWN BOARD, STEPHEN A. FRANO, THE HONORABLE JUSTICES OF THE SOUTHAMPTON TOWN JUSTICE COURT AND DOES 1-5, DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiffs Donald MacPherson ("MacPherson"), 10 Bathing Beach Co., Inc. ("10 Bathing") and 16 Bathing Beach Co., Inc. ("16 Bathing") (collectively, "Plaintiffs") filed the present action against the Town of Southampton (the "Town), Southampton Town Board, Stephen A. Frano ("Frano"), and the Justices of the Southampton Town Justice Court (the "Justices") (collectively, "Defendants") challenging the Town's promulgation and enforcement of its rental ordinances. The Justices move to dismiss the First Amended Complaint, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("Rule") 12(b)(6), insofar as the pleading asserts claims against them. The Justices also move for sanctions pursuant to Rule 11. For the reasons stated below, the Justices' motion to dismiss is granted and their motion for sanctions is denied.*fn1

BACKGROUND

The following summary of facts is taken from the First Amended Complaint. Plaintiffs each own residential property in the Town, where MacPherson is a part-time resident. The two properties in question, 10 Bathing Beach Road and 16 Bathing Beach Road, are owned and operated by MacPherson through the 10 Bathing and 16 Bathing corporate entities, respectively. Plaintiffs rent both properties for residential use.

Frano, a Town code enforcement officer, visually inspected and otherwise researched the properties in question in June 2007. Frano concluded that the properties were in violation of several Town ordinances due to: (1) occupancy by renters without a permit, (2) lack of certificates of occupancy, and (3) improper gates on the properties' pool enclosures. On June 17, 2007, Frano filed three complaints against MacPherson in the Southampton Town Justice Court. Thereafter, on August 1, 2007, Justice Barbara L. Wilson issued a criminal summons against MacPherson for each of the houses directing that MacPherson "appear in person before this Court for arraignment." (First Am. Compl. ¶ 24.) The summonses further stated that an arrest warrant would issue if he failed to appear.

Plaintiffs allege, upon information and belief, that "JUSTICE WILSON may not have personally reviewed the complaints for legal sufficiency prior to issuance of a criminal summons because JUSTICE WILSON may have allowed a court clerk to use her 'name stamp' on the criminal summons, notwithstanding the strictures of the Fourth Amendment." (Id.)

Plaintiffs filed the instant action on August 22, 2007, asserting claims against Defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 premised upon the alleged unconstitutionality of the Town rental law, as well as for common law indemnification for Plaintiffs' legal expenses. At that time, Plaintiffs alleged that MacPherson expected to be arraigned later that day for violations of § 330-71A of the Town Code, which provides that no dwelling shall be occupied as a seasonal rental unless the Town has issued a seasonal rental permit.

On October 6, 2007, Plaintiffs filed the First Amended Complaint. This amended pleading alleges that MacPherson was arraigned on the six charges (three per property) on August 22, 2007. (Id. ¶ 27.) Plaintiffs allege that § 330-71A "is unconstitutional on its face and as applied and therefore none of the Plaintiffs should be administratively required to follow it, nor judicially punished for failure to do so." (Id. ¶ 28.)

The First Amended Complaint asserts two claims against the Justices. (First Am. Compl. ¶ 10.) Count VII seeks various forms of declaratory relief, presumably against all Defendants. First, it seeks a declaration that the Town rental law is unconstitutional. As against the Justices, Count VII asserts as follows:

Plaintiffs seek a declaration that the JUSTICES['] practice of allowing Clerks to use their 'name stamps' to issue criminal summonses prior to one of the JUSTICES carefully having reviewed the accusatory instrument and/or complaint for legal sufficiency violates the United States Constitution because "no warrants shall issue except upon reasonable cause."

Plaintiffs seek a declaration that the JUSTICES['] practice of enforcement of the TOWN's "seasonal rental law" has violated the United States Constitution because that law is unconstitutional . . . .

Plaintiffs seek a declaration that it would be unconstitutional for the JUSTICES to enforce or adjudicate cases brought under the TOWN's new Rental Law because that law is unconstitutional . . . .

(Id. ¶¶ 134-36.)

Count VIII seeks a preliminary injunction seeking various forms of relief, including an injunction halting enforcement of the Town rental law until its constitutionality has been determined by this Court, an injunction halting the enforcement of the Town's manner of issuing criminal summonses for alleged violations of local law until its constitutionality has been determined by this Court, and an injunction "staying the pending criminal adjudication by the JUSTICES of any alleged violations by MacPherson or others concerning 10 Bathing Beach Road . . . and 16 Bathing Beach Road . . . until the constitutionality or unconstitutionality has been decided . . . ." (Id. ¶¶ 139-42.)

The Justices move to dismiss both counts on the grounds that the First Amended Complaint fails to state a claim and that Plaintiffs' claims are barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and absolute judicial immunity. While, for the reasons indicated infra, the Court finds that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine is inapplicable and judicial immunity does not bar all of Plaintiffs' claims, the Justices' motion is nonetheless granted. As explained below, the Court finds that Plaintiffs' claims related to the practice of name-stamping fail to state a claim and Plaintiffs' claims regarding the alleged unconstitutionality of the Town rental law are barred by the Younger abstention doctrine.

The Justices also move for sanctions pursuant to Rule 11. For the reasons stated below, their motion for sanctions is denied.

DISCUSSION

I. Motion to Dismiss: Legal Standards

Rule 8(a) provides that a pleading shall contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). The Supreme Court has recently clarified the pleading standard ...


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