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Ruston v. Town Board for the Town of Skaneateles

July 8, 2010

LAWRENCE RUSTON, JANET RUSTON, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
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, THE VILLAGE OF SKANEATELES, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES,
JOHN DOE, JANE DOE 1-20, DEFENDANTS.



SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

Appeal from a judgment of the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York (Scullin, J.), dismissing on the pleadings a "class of one" equal protection claim by property owners, who were denied sewer hookups for their proposed subdivision, against the Village of Skaneateles, the Town Board, and the Town Planning Board (and individual members of the Boards). We affirm, relying on Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009) and Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) to supersede DeMuria v. Hawkes, 328 F.3d 704 (2d Cir. 2003).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dennis Jacobs, Chief Judge

Argued: April 15, 2010

Before: JACOBS, Chief Judge, McLAUGHLIN and SACK, Circuit Judges.

Plaintiffs-appellants Lawrence and Janet Ruston ("the Rustons") allege a "class of one" equal protection claim against local authorities that denied applications for a subdivision and additional sewer hookups for plaintiffs' lot fronting Lake Skaneateles.

I.

The Rustons own a 27-acre lakefront lot within the Town of Skaneateles ("Town"), but outside of the Village of Skaneateles ("Village"). In 1990, the property had a single house, in which the Rustons lived, and three other structures, all connected to the Village's sewer system. They plead that the Town and the Village unconstitutionally frustrated their development plans.*fn1

In 1990, the Rustons presented to the Town a plan to subdivide their lot and build a new housing development. The Town required the Rustons first to get permission from the Village to connect the proposed new homes to the Village sewer system. In 1991, the Village denied the Rustons' request. The Rustons, for a time, abandoned their efforts.

In 2000, the Rustons sought permission from the Town to subdivide their property and build a development containing 14 residential units, each to be serviced by its own septic system in a new sewer district. The Rustons allege that the

This account of the dispute is derived from the Town delayed and raised a series of obstacles to their application. While the application to the Town was stalled, the Rustons twice sought permission to connect their proposed new units to the Village sewer system. Both requests were denied. After the Village issued its final rejection in November 2004, the Rustons renewed the pending application to the Town to create the new sewer district for the development and to approve the new development as a whole. The Town delayed consideration until December 2005, by which time a new zoning law had been put into place. It is alleged that this law was designed to block the Rustons' proposed development, and did so: The Town considered the Rustons' development application in December 2005 and, citing the new zoning law, denied it.

In July 2006, the Rustons filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985 in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York (Scullin, J.) against the Village of Skaneateles and the Town Board of Skaneateles, the Town Planning Board, as well as several individual members of the Town Board and the Town Planning Board (collectively, the "Town defendants"). This (first) complaint alleged: (1) conspiracy to violate the Rustons' civil rights; (2) violation of their substantive due process rights; and (3) violation of their equal protection rights. Additionally, the Rustons brought claims against the Town defendants claiming that the Town's new zoning law was unconstitutionally vague, and violated their substantive due process rights and their right to equal protection. The Rustons also asserted a state law claim against the Town defendants to enforce vested property rights.

The Village moved to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), joined by the Town defendants (as relevant to them). On December 24, 2008, the district court dismissed: (1) with prejudice as to the § 1985 conspiracy claims against all defendants; (2) with prejudice as to the substantive due process claim against the Village; but (3) without prejudice as to the equal protection claim against the Village. See Ruston v. Town Bd. for Skaneateles, No. 5:06-CV-927, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 104129 (N.D.N.Y Dec. 24, 2008).

On January 12, 2009, the Rustons filed an amended complaint, renewing all claims against the Town defendants (except the § 1985 conspiracy claims), and re-casting the equal protection claim against the Village. The Town defendants and the Village again moved to dismiss, and the district court dismissed with prejudice all federal claims against the Town defendants and the Village; and, having dismissed all federal law claims, the court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the Rustons' state law claim, and dismissed it without prejudice. See Ruston v. Town Bd. for Skaneateles, No. 5:06-CV-927, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 90964 (N.D.N.Y Sept. 30, 2009).

The Rustons appeal, inter alia, the dismissal of their equal protection claim. We affirm, holding that the*fn2 complaint failed to state an equal ...


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