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WWBITV, Inc. v. Village of Rouses Point

December 9, 2009

WWBITV, INC., SUSAN CLARKE, AND GARY CLARKE, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
THE VILLAGE OF ROUSES POINT, GEORGE RIVERS, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AND IN HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, MICHAEL TETREAULT, JR., IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AND IN HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, AND BRIAN PELKEY, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AND IN HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

After their building was demolished following a fire, plaintiffs-appellants WWBITV, Inc., Susan Clarke, and Gary Clarke brought civil rights claims and a supplemental state law*fn1 claim against defendants-appellees the Village of Rouses Point, George Rivers, Michael Tetreault, Jr., and Brian Pelkey. Plaintiffs-appellants now appeal from orders of the district court (Gary L. Sharpe, Judge) granting summary judgment for defendants-appellees on such of their federal claims as had not already been dismissed, and declining to accept jurisdiction over their state law claim.

AFFIRMED.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gerard E. Lynch, Circuit Judge

Argued: August 27, 2009

Before: MINER,KATZMANN, and LYNCH, Circuit Judges.

On June 6, 2006, an old hotel located in the Village of Rouses Point, New York, was badly damaged in a fire. The next morning, a team of contractors, acting under the direction of the Village's Board of Trustees, demolished most of what remained of the damaged building. Plaintiffs-appellants WWBITV, Inc.,which owned the building, Susan Clarke, who owned WWBITV, and Susan Clarke's husband Gary Clarke filed suit, bringing claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and under state law against defendants-appellees, the Village of Rouses Point, George Rivers (the Village's mayor), Michael Tetreault, Jr. (the Village's code enforcement officer) and Brian Pelkey (the Village's fire chief). Plaintiffs-appellants alleged that their due process rights and their rights against unlawful seizure had been violated, as well as that the demolition had been an unlawful taking of private property without compensation under the Fifth Amendment and under New York law. The district court (Gary L. Sharpe, Judge) dismissed the substantive due process and Fifth Amendment claims and declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claim. The court later granted summary judgment for defendants-appellees on plaintiffs-appellants' remaining claims. This appeal followed.

BACKGROUND

The Village of Rouses Point lies in New York's northeast corner, where the state borders Vermont and Canada. The Hotel Holland was located in the Village's downtown area, along State Road 11, an important thoroughfare connecting New York and Quebec. The Hotel was owned by WWBITV, Inc., a Delaware corporation wholly owned by Susan Clarke, who ran the company together with her husband Gary Clarke. WWBITV did not operate the building as a hotel, but did use it to store video equipment.

Shortly after midnight on June 6, 2006, the Hotel Holland caught fire. Teams of fire fighters from Rouses Point and neighboring towns responded. At 2:20 a.m., having been told of the fire by a friend, Susan Clarke arrived at the scene. She remained there until the fire was largely extinguished later that morning and then returned home. By the time Clarke left the scene, the building had been extensively damaged. The roof and the top floors had been completely destroyed.Debris hung off the hotel's facade, and officials were concerned that it would fall into the street.The instability of the building, as well as its proximity to the street, necessitated the closing of State Road 11.

At 11:30 a.m., the Board of Trustees for the Village held a special meeting to discuss the situation. The Board posted a notice of the meeting in the Village offices, but did not notify the Clarkes individually. At this meeting, the Board approved a motion pursuant to its local code to authorize the Village's fire chief, Brian Pelkey, to take measures to stabilize the building's remains and to make the street and sidewalk safe for the public.The Village then hired a contractor to demolish the portion of the building most damaged by the fire.

Demolition of the building began early on the afternoon of the 6th. As the demolition was starting, Susan Clarke learned from a friend that the hotel was being torn down. She immediately returned to the hotel to attempt to stop the demolition but was unsuccessful. That afternoon, the contractors demolished the burned portion of the building but left an unburnt annex to the building standing.This undemolished annex stood for several months, until it was itself condemned by the Village and torn down.

On June 10, 2006, Susan Clarke, together with her husband Gary Clarke, commenced suit against the Village of Rouses Point, as well as its mayor (George Rivers), code enforcement officer (Michael Tetreault, Jr.), and fire chief (Brian Pelkey), all of whom they sued in both their official and individual capacities. The plaintiffs asserted claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that their substantive and procedural due process rights had been violated, as well as their rights against unlawful seizure under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and against unlawful taking of their property without compensation under the Fifth Amendment. The plaintiffs also made a related inverse condemnation claim under state law.

Defendants moved pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim for which relief can be granted. At a hearing on the motion, the district court dismissed plaintiffs' Fifth Amendment claim, finding it premature, and dismissed plaintiffs' substantive due process claims as not cognizable because the rights in question were already explicitly protected by other provisions of the Constitution, citing Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266 (1994) (plurality opinion). The court then declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiffs' state law inverse condemnation claim, finding that New York courts were better situated to adjudicate it.

The parties proceeded to discovery, and, in due course, defendants moved for summary judgment. The court granted summary judgment for defendants on all remaining claims. Finding that there was competent evidence allowing Village officials to believe that an emergency existed and that nothing in the record indicated that this decision was abusive or arbitrary, the court ruled that there had been no procedural due process violation and no Fourth Amendment violation. Moreover, the court ruled that even if its determination that there had been no constitutional violation were mistaken, the individual defendants were entitled to qualified immunity, while ...


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