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Androme Leather Corp. v. City of Gloversville

January 14, 2010

ANDROME LEATHER CORPORATION, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF GLOVERSVILLE; ZONING BOARD OF APPEALS OF THE CITY OF GLOVERSVILLE; D. ROBERT ROBBINS, JR.; THOMAS RENDA; FRANCES MOSCONNI; MARGARET RALBOVSKY; GARRISON SEELOW; DEBORAH ASHE; KELLY OCTIGAN; KAREN SMITH; MICHAEL CAPPARELLO; ABRAHAM SEROUSSI; COMMON COUNCIL OF CITY OF GLOVERSVILLE; ANTHONY J. CARUSO; MARIE A. SCHUTZ; FRANK A. CLEMENTE; ANTHONY P. CHRISTIANO; PAUL E. REID; AND MARY LOUISE R. MELE, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Glenn T. Suddaby, United States District Judge

DECISION and ORDER

Currently before the Court in this civil rights action filed by Androme Leather Corporation ("Plaintiff") is a motion for summary judgment filed by the City of Gloversville ("City"), the Zoning Board of Appeals of the City of Gloversville ("ZAB"), D. Robert Robbins, Jr., Thomas Renda, Frances Mosconni, Margaret Ralbovsky, Garrison Seelow, Deborah Ashe, Kelly Octigan, Karen Smith, Michael Capparello, Abraham Seroussi, Common Council of the City of Gloversville, Anthony J. Carusa, Marie A. Schutz, Frank A. Clemente, Anthony P. Christiano, Paul E. Reid, and Mary Louise R. Mele (collectively, "Defendants"). (Dkt. No. 79.) For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion is granted.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Plaintiff's Claims

Generally, liberally construed, Plaintiff's Complaint alleges that Defendants violated Plaintiff's equal protection rights under the Fourteenth Amendment by selectively, and without any rational basis, treating Plaintiff differently from other similarly situated individuals (or entities) when Defendants denied Plaintiff's building permit application (or zoning variance) to permit it to add a certain manufacturing process to its plant, while permitting a competitor to engage in the same manufacturing process in its nearby plant. (See generally Dkt. No. 1 [Plf.'s Compl.].)*fn1 Familiarity with the particular factual allegations supporting this claim in Plaintiff's Complaint is assumed in this Decision and Order, which is intended primarily for review by the parties. (Id.)

B. Undisputed Material Facts

The following material facts are undisputed by the parties. (Compare Dkt. No. 79, Attachment 1 [Defs.' Rule 7.1 Statement] with Dkt. No. 90 [Plf.'s Rule 7.1 Response].)

Plaintiff operates a leather processing facility in the City of Gloversville. The leather-manufacturing process includes (1) "beaming" (i.e., removing hair from animal hide), (2) "pickling" (i.e., preserving the hide), (3) tanning (i.e., turning hides into preserved pieces of leather using oils and chemicals), (4) coloring (i.e., dying the leather), and (5) finishing (i.e., applying paint to the leather).

Since March 1981, Plaintiff has been engaged in the tanning and finishing of animal hides, but not beaming. In 1988, the zoning district in which Plaintiff's facility is located was re-zoned "M-1." As a result, leather processing (including beaming) was neither permitted nor allowed as a matter of right. However, facilities involved in leather manufacturing before the implementation of the restriction were permitted to continue their "pre-existing non-conforming leather processing uses."*fn2

JFB Industries, Inc. ("JFB") is a leather processing facility located in the City of Gloversville, a short distance from Plaintiff, and in the same M-1 zoning district. JFB was established in 1968. Upon establishment, JFB was a full-range leather processing facility, involved in every aspect of the manufacturing process, including beaming.

On October 10, 2000, Plaintiff submitted a building permit application to Defendant D. Robert Robbins, Jr., who was then the City Building Inspector, "to add beaming process to present finishing and tanning plant." On October 12, 2000, Defendant Robbins denied Plaintiff's building permit application on the grounds that leather treatment was not allowed in an M-1 zone. Plaintiff subsequently applied to Defendant ZBA for a review of Defendant Robbins's interpretation of the zoning ordinance and, in the alternative, for a use variance to conduct beaming. Defendant ZBA held hearings on Plaintiff's interpretation appeal and use variance application on December 6, 2000, January 3, 2001, February 7, 2001, and January 2, 2002. In advancing the argument that Plaintiff should be allowed to engage in beaming at ZBA meetings, Plaintiff's President pointed out that JBF, which was located directly across the street from Plaintiff's plant, was engaged in beaming.

Defendant ZBA ultimately upheld Defendant Robbins's interpretation of the zoning ordinance, and denied Plaintiff's use variance application. Plaintiff subsequently appealed Defendant ZBA's denial of his variance application by filing an Article 78 Proceeding in the Supreme Court of New York, Fulton County. The Supreme Court, followed by the Appellate Division, Third Department, upheld Defendant ZBA's decision. Plaintiff's request to appeal the matter to the New York Court of Appeals was denied.

In September 2004, JFB submitted a request to the Defendant Common Council for a tax installment plan under NYS Real Property Law § 1184. At the Common Council's public meeting, the Common Council approved JFB's tax installment plan upon the finding that it would protect employment for 37 to 50 workers at JFB's facility. Plaintiff never submitted its own request for a tax installment plan.

Familiarity with the remaining undisputed material facts of this action, as well as the disputed material facts, as set forth in the parties' Rule 7.1 Statement and Rule 7.1 Response, is assumed in this Decision and Order, which (again) is intended primarily for review by the parties. (Id.)

C. Parties' Arguments on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment

1. Defendants' Initial Moving Papers

Generally, in support of their motion for summary judgment, Defendants argue as follows: (1) Plaintiff's "class of one" claim cannot survive summary judgment because Plaintiff has failed to establish either that Plaintiff and JFB had a "high degree of similarity," or that Defendants intentionally treated Plaintiff differently from JFB; (2) Plaintiff has failed to establish that a majority of the members of either the ZBA or the Common Council had an unconstitutional motive for rendering their respective decisions; (3) Plaintiff's official capacity claims lack merit because it is well settled that a claim against an individual in her official capacity is nothing more than a claim against the municipality itself; (4) Plaintiff's claim against the City lacks merit because a municipality cannot be held liable under a theory of respondeat superior; and (5) the ...


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