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Rivendell Winery, LLC v. Town of New Paltz

July 21, 2010

RIVENDELL WINERY, LLC; AND SUSAN L. WINE. PLAINTIFFS,
v.
THE TOWN OF NEW PALTZ; THE ZONING BOARD OF APPEALS OF THE TOWN OF NEW PALTZ; LINDA DONOVAN, GAIL CHRISTMAN, PATRICIA SCHWARTZ, ROBERT HUGHES, JEFFREY CLOCK, THOMAS WIACEK, RODNEY WATROUS, AND SUSAN ZIMET, EACH INDIVIDUALLY; THE COUNTY OF ULSTER; AND JOHN DOES AND/OR JANE DOES # 1 - 8, INDIVIDUALLY AND PERSONALLY, REPRESENTING THE FICTITIOUS OR PARTIALLY FICTITIOUS NAMES OF INDIVIDUALS, WHOSE FULL NAMES ARE UNKNOWN TO THE PLAINTIFFS, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David N. Hurd United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM -DECISION and ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiffs Rivendell Winery, LLC, and its principal owner, Susan L. Wine ("plaintiffs"), bring eight causes of action against the following defendants: Town of New Paltz, The Zoning Board of Appeals of the Town of New Paltz, Linda Donovan, Gail Christman, Patricia Schwartz, Robert Hughes, Jeffrey Clock, Thomas Wiacek, Rodney Watrous, Susan Zimet, and the County of Ulster.*fn1

Plaintiffs' First and Second Causes of Action allege a violation of their right to petition the government for the redress of grievances pursuant to the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 9 of the New York State Constitution. Plaintiffs' Third and Fourth Causes of Action allege a procedural and substantive due process violation pursuant to the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Plaintiffs allege, as their Fifth Cause of Action, a due process violation under Article I, Section 1 of the New York State Constitution. Plaintiffs' Sixth and Seventh Causes of Action allege an equal protection violation under both the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution as well as Article I, Section 11 of the New York State Constitution. Finally, plaintiffs' Eighth Cause of Action alleges that defendants conspired to violate plaintiffs' civil rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. §1983.

Defendants Town of New Paltz, the Zoning Board of Appeals of the Town of New Paltz, Linda Donovan, Linda Christman, Patricia Schwartz, Robert Hughes, Jeffrey Clock, Thomas Wiacek, Rodney Watrous (the "Town defendants") filed a motion to dismiss plaintiffs' complaint pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). Defendants Susan Zimet and the County of Ulster (the "County defendants") filed a separate motion to dismiss plaintiffs' complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Plaintiffs oppose both motions. Defendants' motions were considered without oral argument.

II. BACKGROUND

The following facts alleged in the complaint are accepted as true for purposes of defendants' motions to dismiss. See McCarthy v. Dun & Bradstreet Corp., 482 F.3d 184, 191 (2d Cir. 2007) (citation omitted).

Plaintiff Rivendell Winery, LLC, ("Rivendell") is a limited liability company with its principal place of business located in the Town of Gardiner, within the County of Ulster. Plaintiff Susan L. Wine is the principal owner of Rivendell.

Rivendell operated a 15-acre vineyard and winery from 1987 until 1994 when it was forced to remove the winery due to irreparable damaged caused by severe storms. Ms. Wine, hoping to resume activity in the winery and grape-growing business, acquired two contiguous parcels of land in the Town of New Paltz, New York. Each parcel consisted of approximately two acres. One parcel was improved with a newly constructed building.

However, the newly constructed building was not occupied prior to Ms. Wine's purchase. Ms. Wine leased the two parcels of land to Rivendell on January 11, 2007.*fn2

The parcels are located within the A-1.5 zoning district of the Town of New Paltz. According to Town of New Paltz Code Chapter 140 ("Town Code"), which regulates Zoning, "Agriculture" is one of a number of permitted uses within the A-1.5 Zoning District. TOWN OF NEW PALTZ, NY, CODE § 140-8. However, the term "Agricultural" is not listed in the definition section of Chapter 140. TOWN OF NEW PALTZ, NY, CODE § 140-4.

Alternatively, § 140-4 provides that "if a term is not listed below, but is defined... in Chapter 140 of the Town Code, then for the purpose of these regulations the meaning of that term shall be defined as therein." Id. Under § 140-117.3 and § 140-134 of the Town Code, the term "Agriculture" is defined as "[a]ll agricultural operations and activities related to the growing or raising of crops, livestock or livestock products, and agricultural products, as such terms are defined in or governed by the Agricultural and Markets Law of the State of New York on land qualified under Ulster County and NYS law for an agricultural exemption by the Assessor of the Town of New Paltz."

In March 2007, plaintiffs submitted their first application to include the two parcels of land in Ulster County Agricultural District No. 2 ("Agricultural District"). Inclusion into an Agricultural District provides State protection from unreasonable interference, restriction, or regulation of farming operations by local entities. See N.Y. AGRIC. & MKTS. LAW § 305-a. If the application is granted, the New York State Commissioner of Agriculture and Markets is empowered to review local rules and their application to determine whether such rules are overly restrictive or being applied in a way that unreasonably interferes with the farm operation. Id. If the Commissioner determines that the local rule is overly restrictive or being applied in an unreasonable manner, he or she may prohibit the local action. Id.

On March 30, 2007, plaintiffs also filed an application with the Town Planning Board ("Planning Board") seeking approval of plaintiffs' proposed use of the property within the A-1.5 zoning district. Prior to submitting their application, plaintiffs received confirmation from the Planning Board Chairman that their proposed use of the property was "agricultural" and therefore permissible within the A-1.5 zoning district. Nonetheless, on May 1, 2007, the Town Building Inspector, Defendant Wiacek, visited the premises to determine if plaintiffs' proposed use was permitted within the A-1.5 Zoning District. In a letter to the Planning Board issued that same day, defendant Wiacek concluded that while the "winery is not specifically mentioned in our zoning [law],... I do agree it is agricultural which is allowed in A-1.5. " (Pls.' Compl., Dkt. 1, ¶ 80.) However, he also expressed concern about the additional proposed uses of the building, including the "retail sale of wine from the house" since, the Town Code only provides for "[r]etail sale of agricultural produce grown on the same lot from a road stand." Id. Accordingly, he indicated that a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals would be necessary. (Wiacek May 1, 2007 Letter, Ex. B to Town Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss, Dkt. 25-2.)

Plaintiffs allege Ulster County Assistant District Attorney Kevin Harp contacted defendant Wiacek shortly thereafter to pressure him into reversing his initial determination that plaintiffs' proposed use of the property was for agricultural purposes. Allegedly, Mr. Harp acted for his ...


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