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Michael W. Oldfield v. Village of Dansville

January 18, 2011

MICHAEL W. OLDFIELD, AMY L. OLDFIELD, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
VILLAGE OF DANSVILLE,LIVINGSTON COUNTY, DEBORAH BABBITTS, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David G. Larimer United States District Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

Plaintiffs, Michael and Amy Oldfield ("the Oldfields"), brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Livingston County, New York ("County"), the villages of Dansville and Wayland, both of which are in Livingston County, and one individual, Deborah Babbitt, who at all relevant times was the Code Enforcement Officer ("CEO") for both Dansville and Wayland. Plaintiffs, who reside in Dansville, own about a dozen rental properties in Livingston and nearby counties, including some properties in Dansville. They allege that defendants have violated their constitutional rights in connection with certain incidents involving Dansville's municipal code provisions relating to rental properties.

In October 2008, the Court issued a Decision and Order, familiarity with which is assumed, granting summary judgment in favor of the Village of Wayland. 583 F.Supp.2d 440. The County has now moved for summary judgment as well. For the reasons that follow, the County's motion is granted, and plaintiffs' claims against the County are dismissed.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs allege that since 2001, they have had a number of problems and disputes with defendants regarding plaintiffs' rental properties in Dansville. Plaintiffs allege they have been subject to unwarranted inspections and condemnations of their property without proper notice, as well as interference by the Village of Dansville ("Dansville" or "the Village") and the County with plaintiffs' actual and prospective tenants.

Much of the friction between the parties relates to Dansville's "Certification of Building Code Compliance Local Law #3" ("Code Compliance Law"), which, according to plaintiffs, requires an owner of real property in Dansville to submit to a "warrantless code enforcement inspection" after tenants vacate a property, and issuance of a Certificate of Compliance ("COC") by the Dansville CEO, before new tenants can occupy the apartment. Complaint (Dkt. #42) ¶ 16. The Code Compliance Law was passed in 1992 and amended in 2004 to include provisions for criminal prosecution and fines for violations of the law. Complaint ¶¶ 17, 18.*fn1

In early May 2004, Babbitt, in her capacity as Dansville CEO, charged Michael Oldfield with violations of several provisions of the Code Compliance Law. The charges were based on an allegation that a new tenant had moved into a building owned by Oldfield in Dansville and that he had not requested or obtained a prior COC for that property from the Village. Dkt. #78, Ex. X. Plaintiffs allege that the charges were unwarranted and that other property owners were not charged with violations in similar circumstances. In July 2004, Oldfield was granted a conditional discharge of the charges against him. Complaint ¶ 23.

In late August or early September 2004, Oldfield complained to the Village that the Code Compliance Law was unconstitutional under Sokolov v. Village of Freeport, 52 N.Y.2d 341 (1981).

In Sokolov, the New York Court of Appeals held unconstitutional a village ordinance which provided that no one could rent a property within the village without obtaining a permit from the village, and which required landlords to submit to inspections after any tenant moved in or out and before the property could be bought or sold. The ordinance also provided for criminal penalties for its violation.*fn2 Plaintiffs allege that on September 9, 2004, the Village, relying on faulty information or bad advice that it had received from Babbitt, informed Oldfield (incorrectly) that Sokolov had been overturned, and that his arguments were therefore in error.

Plaintiffs allege that after Michael Oldfield made this challenge to the constitutionality of the Code Compliance Law, the Village and Babbitt retaliated against him in a number of ways, such as by charging him with violations of the Code Compliance Law, conducting warrantless searches of his properties, denying various permit applications that he had submitted to the Village, and so on. Plaintiff also alleges that at some point after this lawsuit was filed, the Village repealed the criminal enforcement provisions of the Code Compliance Law. Dkt. #42 ¶ 29.

Plaintiffs' allegations concerning the County generally relate to two entities, the County's Office of Housing Assistance ("OHA") (referred to in the complaint as the County Housing Administration) and the County Department of Social Services ("DSS"). Plaintiffs allege that OHA was the local administrator of the New York State Section 8 housing assistance program for low-income households, and that OHA required plaintiffs to submit to and comply with local code requirements as a condition of OHA's approval of contracts for financial assistance for prospective tenants. Plaintiffs allege that this virtually forced them to submit to warrantless searches of their properties if they wanted to obtain approval for Section 8 tenants.

The complaint also alleges that the County "did not require other owners of residential rental property within the county to obtain a certificate of compliance before approving contracts for rental assistance." Dkt. #42 ¶ 51. The complaint identifies three other owners of rental property--David and Barbara Oldfield (who are Michael Oldfield's parents) and Gene Jackson--who allegedly were not subjected to this requirement.

As to DSS, plaintiffs allege that it had a policy of requiring a COC before it would approve applications for temporary assistance for DSS clients seeking to rent in Dansville. Plaintiffs allege that this policy was only applied in the Village of Dansville and the Town of North Dansville, although it is not clear from the complaint if any other municipalities in Livingston County had similar code compliance requirements and procedures in place. Plaintiffs contend that this policy also caused them to be subjected to warrantless searches of their properties if plaintiffs wanted to rent to persons who received or needed assistance from DSS.

The complaint contains twenty causes of action, four of which were asserted only against the Village of Wayland and which were dismissed pursuant to the Court's October 2008 Decision and Order. Of the remaining sixteen causes of action, five are brought against Livingston County.

Plaintiffs' equal protection claim against the County alleges that the County treated other similarly situated rental property owners differently from plaintiffs, in order to punish plaintiffs for the exercise of their rights, or out of malice or a bad faith intent to injure plaintiffs. Dkt. #42 ¶¶ 89-93. Plaintiffs also assert a claim alleging that plaintiffs had property interests in their rental properties, and that the County has deprived plaintiffs of their property without due process of law. Dkt. #42 ¶¶ 106-09.

In addition, plaintiffs assert that the County has violated their rights under the First and Fourth Amendments to the United States Constitution. The First Amendment claim is based on Michael Oldfield's complaints to the Village about the Sokolov issue. Plaintiffs allege that the County retaliated against them because of Oldfield's exercise of his First Amendment rights, by insisting that he obtain a COC before OHA or DSS would approve or provide financial assistance to any tenants. Dkt. #42 ¶¶ 125-31, The Fourth Amendment claim alleges that County's actions violated plaintiffs' right to be free from unreasonable searches. Dkt. #42 ¶¶ 138-40. The fifth claim against the County does not state a separate cause of action, but simply incorporates by reference all of the allegations that precede it, and alleges that the County's actions were taken under color of state law, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Dkt. #42 ¶¶ 155-57.

The County has also asserted a counterclaim against plaintiffs. The County alleges that plaintiffs owe it over $12,000 in security deposits that were paid by the County on behalf of its Section 8 clients. Plaintiffs have cross-moved for summary judgment dismissing this counterclaim, but plaintiffs' counsel has stated in a letter to the Court that plaintiffs wish to withdraw that motion. There is a dispute between plaintiffs and ...


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