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Ruston v. Town Board for the Town of Skaneateles

September 30, 2009

LAWRENCE RUSTON AND JANET RUSTON, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
THE TOWN BOARD FOR THE TOWN OF SKANEATELES; PAUL "BILL" PAVLUS; THADDEUS ASTEMBORSKI; BARBARA SPAIN; DAVID G. LAXTON; THEODORE MURDICK; THE PLANNING BOARD FOR THE TOWN OF SKANEATELES; MARK TUCKER; JOSEPH SOUTHERN; KENNETH JONES; ALAN BRIGGS; LEWIS WELLINGTON; DESSA BERGEN; ROBERT LOTKOWICTZ; AND THE VILLAGE OF SKANEATELES, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Scullin, Senior Judge

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

On January 12, 2009, Plaintiffs filed their amended complaint asserting four causes of action: (1) a substantive due process claim; (2) a class-of-one equal protection claim; (3) a facial challenge to provisions of the Town of Skaneateles' Zoning Code, Subdivision Regulations, and Comprehensive Plan; and (4) a vested-rights claim. Plaintiffs assert these claims against all Defendants except Defendant Village of Skaneateles ("Village"), against whom Plaintiffs only assert their equal protection claim.*fn1

Currently before the Court are Defendant Village's motion to dismiss the equal protection claim for failure to state a claim and the motion of the other Defendants to dismiss the claims against them on the following grounds: (1) failure to plead personal involvement of the individual Defendants; (2) the Town Planning Board is not a proper Defendant; (3) the Town Board members are entitled to legislative immunity; and (4) failure to state a claim.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs own twenty-seven acres of property in the Town of Skaneateles ("Town"), but outside Defendant Village. Starting first from 1990-1991 and again from 2000 until the filing of this action, Plaintiffs have endeavored to subdivide and develop their property.

Defendant Town Board for the Town of Skaneateles ("Town Board") is the municipal corporation with jurisdiction over the Town. Defendant Planning Board for the Town of Skaneateles ("Planning Board") is a delegated entity in the Town that reviews site plans. At the relevant time, Defendant Pavlus was the Supervisor and Chairman of Defendant Town Board and Defendants Astemborski, Spain, Laxton, and Murdick were members of Defendant Town Board (collectively the "Individual Town Board Defendants"). At the relevant time, Defendant Tucker was the Chairman of Defendant Planning Board and Defendants Southern, Jones, Briggs, Wellington, Bergen, and Lotkowictz were members of Defendant Planning Board (collectively the "Individual Planning Board Defendants"). These Defendants constitute the Town Defendants. Defendant Village is a municipal corporation.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Standard of review

Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires that a pleading contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief...." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). As the Supreme Court explained in Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), Rule 8's pleading standard does not require "detailed factual allegations," but it does require "more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action...." Id. at 555 (citations omitted). "Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders 'naked assertion[s]' devoid of 'further factual enhancement.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, No. 07-1015, - U.S. -, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting [Twombly, 550 U.S.], at 557, 127 S.Ct. 1955).

As the Supreme Court explained in Iqbal, "[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Id. (quoting [Twombly, 550 U.S.], at 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. (citing [Twombly, 550 U.S.], at 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955).

Furthermore, the Court stated that there are "[t]wo working principles [that] underlie [its] decision in Twombly. First, the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions... [and] [s]econd, only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss...." Id. at 1949-50 (internal citations omitted). The Court also stated that

[d]etermining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will... be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.... But where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged -- but it has not "show[n]" -- "that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 8(a)(2).

Id. at 1950 (internal quotation and citations omitted).

Therefore, the Court instructed that, "[w]hen there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Id.

B. Defendant Village's Motion To Dismiss Plaintiffs' Class-Of-One Equal Protection Claim

The Supreme Court has recognized a class-of-one equal protection claim where a plaintiff "does not allege class-based discrimination, but rather that he... has been irrationally singled out as a 'class of one.'" Marino v. Shoreham-Wading River Cent. Sch. Dist., No. CV-08-0825, 2008 WL 5068639, *6 (E.D.N.Y. Nov. 20, 2008) (citing Village of Willowbrook v. Olech, 528 U.S. 562, 120 S.Ct. 1073, 145 L.Ed. 2d 1060 (2000)). Since Plaintiffs have not alleged membership in any identifiable group against which Defendants have discriminated, the Court will analyze this claim as a class-of-one equal protection claim.

In Engquist v. Oregon Dep't of Agric., - U.S. -, 128 S.Ct. 2146 (2008), the Supreme Court added an additional limit to class-of-one claims, that such claims must result from a non-discretionary action. See Marino, 2008 WL 5068639, at *6-*7 (citing Engquist, 128 S.Ct. 2153-54). Accordingly, "[f]ollowing Engquist, in order to state an equal protection 'class of one' claim, a plaintiff must allege (1) that she was treated differently from others similarly situated in all relevant respects; (2) that defendants had no rational basis for the differential treatment, see Olech, 528 U.S. at 564, 120 S.Ct. 1073, 145 L.Ed. 2d 1060; and (3) that the differential treatment resulted from a non-discretionary state action, Engquist, 128 S.Ct. at 2154." Id. at *7.

Plaintiffs' allegations in support of their equal protection claim against Defendant Village all relate to the decision to deny Plaintiffs sewer-system access for the proposed development. In its prior decision, this Court discussed the discretionary nature of the decision to grant sewer access when discussing Plaintiffs' previously asserted substantive due process claim against Defendant Village and concluded that Plaintiffs lacked a property interest because Defendant Village had discretion. See Memorandum-Decision and Order dated December 22, 2008, at 8-11. The only new allegation related to this issue is Plaintiffs' assertion that Defendant Village denied them sewer access "notwithstanding the fact that the Plaintiffs had been paying an ad valorem sewer tax...." See Amended Complaint at ¶ 44.

With respect to Plaintiffs' alleged "ad valorem sewer tax," this Court previously declined to address the issue finding that Plaintiffs had not alleged payment of such a tax in their complaint. See Memorandum-Decision and Order dated December 22, 2008, at 9 n.13. In their amended complaint, Plaintiffs now assert only one allegation of an "ad valorem sewer tax" in paragraph 44 and allege no facts to support that such a tax was levied or paid. In its reply papers, Defendant Village submitted the sewer bills for Plaintiffs' property from February 10, 2003, to February 1, 2009. See Declaration of Terry Rice dated March 23, 2009, at Exhibit "A." These bills all show charges based ...


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