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Lexjac, LLC and Richard Entel v. the Incorporated Village of Muttontown

March 18, 2011

LEXJAC, LLC AND RICHARD ENTEL, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
THE INCORPORATED VILLAGE OF MUTTONTOWN, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Seybert, District Judge:

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

Pending before the Court is a motion for partial summary judgment and sanctions filed by Lexjac, LLC and Richard Entel ("Plaintiffs", "Entel" and "Lexjac") against the Incorporated Village of Muttontown ("Muttontown" or "Defendant")*fn1 , pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 and 28 U.S.C. § 1927, respectively. (Docket Entry 93.) Plaintiffs move for summary judgment on their procedural due process, substantive due process, and equal protection claims, all made pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART; their motion for sanctions is DENIED.

BACKGROUND

This controversy concerns a 1.1 acre parcel of land in the Village of Muttontown, designated as Section 15, Block A, Lot 2079A and Lot 2079B on the Nassau County Land and Tax Map ("Smallacre").

In July 1969, the Planning Board of the Village of Muttontown approved a 28 home residential development, later called "Pond's Edge" by the developer Foreal Homes, Inc. ("Foreal"). Pl.'s Rule 56.1 Statement ("Pl.'s Stmt"), ¶ 7. This approval, however, was conditioned on Foreal's offer to "dedicate" Smallacre, which lies within Pond's Edge and adjacent to Plaintiff Entel's home, to Muttontown. Id., ¶ 8. Complying with this condition, Foreal offered Smallacre to Muttontown on July 27, 1972. See Mot. for Summ. J., Exhibit Record on Appeal from State Court Action ("Record"), p. 103. That offer would remain open for more than thirty years. Id., p. 108 (acknowledging that on October 17, 2005 Muttontown finally declined the offer).

On July 1, 1985, Foreal filed a lawsuit against Muttontown and the landowners of the 28 home development, seeking a declaration that Smallacre was not encumbered by an irrevocable offer of dedication. Def.'s Rule 56.1 Statement ("Def.'s Stmt"),¶ 16. Ultimately, on March 17, 1988, the litigation culminated in a decision by the New York Court of Appeals that affirmed the dismissal of the lawsuit on the grounds, inter alia, that "although there has been no formal acceptance by the [V]illage, [Foreal] may not now revoke its offer of dedication because the subdivision residents purchased their properties in reliance upon the park land dedication offer noted upon the subdivision map." Foreal Homes, Inc. v. Incorporated Village of Muttontown, 128 A.D.2d 585, 512 N.Y.S. 2d 849 (1987) aff'd on op. below 71 N.Y.2d 821, 527 N.Y.S.2d 756 (1988).

Offers, even irrevocable ones, may be declined, however. On December 18, 2003, Plaintiff Entel, through his wholly owned corporation Lexjac LLC, purchased Smallacre from Foreal for $90,000.00 intending to add the parcel to the yard of his home. Pl.'s Stmt, ¶ 21. The deed for Smallacre was recorded on May 17, 2004. Def.'s Stmt, ¶22.

Then, on October 17, 2005, the Village Board of Trustees, of which Plaintiff Entel was a member but from which he recused himself on this occasion, adopted a Resolution that formally declined Foreal's decades-old offer of dedication ("2005 Resolution"). Pl.'s Stmt, ¶ 23. Voted on and approved in a public session, the 2005 Resolution provided that "any and all right, title and interest the Village of Muttontown may have to [Smallacre] is hereby extinguished." Record, p. 220; see also Murcott Dep., p. 28; Floyd-Jones Dep., p. 19, 26; MacKinnon Dep., p. 104, 139. As a part of a quid pro quo for declining the longstanding offer of dedication, the Village Board conditioned its declination on Lexjac's pledge to install "screen planting" along Noel Lane in a "first class manner." Record, p. 221. A couple of months later, on December 12, 2005, Entel voluntarily offered--and the Board of Trustees formally accepted by Resolution--a conservation easement in which Entel, Lexjac and any future owner of Smallacre formally relinquished their right to develop the property. Pl.'s Stmt., ¶26.

In 2006, Entel ran for Mayor of Muttontown against the current Mayor, Julianne Beckerman. The hotly contested election resulted in Beckerman suing Entel, as well as Muttontown, over her position on the ballot, among other things. Record, p. 70-71. After her election victory and at her behest, the newly constituted Board of Trustees adopted a Resolution on July 10, 2007 ("2007 Resolution") that purported to rescind the 2005 Resolution declining Foreal's offer of dedication and, instead, accepting this offer, effectively purporting to confiscate Smallacre from Entel. Pl.'s Stmt, ¶ 28. Aside from a terse and ambiguous exchange between Entel and Beckerman prior to the Board of Trustees' vote on the 2007 Resolution (Beckerman obliquely hinted to Entel that she wanted to "make sure he didn't do anything illegal", Entel Dep., p. 340), Entel received neither notice nor a hearing before Muttontown purported to appropriate Smallacre. Def.'s Stmt, ¶ 35.

Thereafter, Plaintiffs filed suit on November 5, 2007, and now move for summary judgment on their procedural due process, substantive due process and equal protection claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

DISCUSSION

I. Rule 56: Standard of Review

A district court may properly grant summary judgment only "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986); McLee v. Chrysler Corp., 109 F.3d 130, 134 (2d Cir. 1997).

"In assessing the record to determine whether there is a genuine issue to be tried . . . the court is required to resolve all ambiguities and draw all permissible factual inferences in favor of the party against whom summary judgment is sought." McLee v. Chrysler Corp., 109 F.3d 130, 134 (2d Cir. 1997).

Mere conclusory allegations, speculation or conjecture will not avail a party opposing summary judgment, see Kulak v. City of New York, 88 F.3d 63, 71 (2d Cir. 1996), and "[f]actual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted." Andersonv. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986) (citing 10A Charles A. Wright, Arthur R. Miller, & Mary Kay Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2725, at 93-95 (1983)).

Rule 56 places the initial burden on the moving party to demonstrate that there are no material facts in dispute and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. If and when that burden is satisfied, the burden of production shifts to the non-moving party, who may survive summary judgment only by showing that there is indeed a "genuine" issue of material fact to be decided. See Matsushita Elec. ...


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