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Thomas Turner and Michelle Turner v. the Village of Lakewood

October 14, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Richard J. Arcara United States District Judge



Pending before the Court are two separate motions to dismiss the complaint of plaintiffs Thomas and Michelle Turner under Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ("FRCP").*fn1 One motion to dismiss (Dkt. No. 8) comes from defendants Geoffrey Bond and Sally Bootey. Bond and Bootey argue that the complaint fails to state any federal claim against them, that the Court lacks supplemental jurisdiction over the state claims, and that plaintiffs are seeking to disturb state court decisions that resolved the issues that they present here. The other motion to dismiss (Dkt. No. 11) comes from the defendants the Village of Lakewood and its Board of Trustees (the "Village" collectively). The Village argues that plaintiffs have failed to state an equal protection claim, to establish a property interest that would support a due process claim, to show that judicial remedies were unavailable at the state level, to meet the requirements for a First Amendment claim, and to show that the complaint survives res judicata preclusion. Plaintiffs counter both motions by explaining why they pled their clams adequately under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and by asserting that the relief that they seek would be consistent with the decisions issued in state court.

The Court has deemed the motions submitted on papers pursuant to FRCP 78(b). For the reasons below, the Court grants both motions and dismisses the complaint with prejudice except as explained below.


A. The Parties' Properties Generally

This case concerns an ongoing dispute between plaintiffs, Bond and Bootey, and the Village as plaintiffs attempt to develop property that they own along Chautauqua Lake. Plaintiffs' dispute concerns two properties in particular. One property is a parcel designated as 33 East Lake Street, a parcel that they acquired in 2004 and that borders Chautauqua Lake. East Lake Street in the Village of Lakewood is a street that runs about three blocks from Lakeview Avenue before tailing off into the driveway of Bond's residence at 20 East Lake Street. Plaintiffs sought to build a two-story shed with associated landscaping improvements at 33 East Lake Street. The other property is a parcel designated as 46 Ohio Avenue, a parcel that plaintiffs acquired in 2007 and that also borders Chautauqua Lake. Ohio Avenue is what is known as a "paper street": a street noted on property maps that does not exist physically. Because Ohio Avenue theoretically ends at their parcel, plaintiffs have sought to establish easement rights along that street that would allow them to access the parcel with a motor vehicle and to build a single-family residence there. Alternatively, plaintiffs have sought to establish easement rights that would give them access to 46 Ohio Avenue from the end of East Lake Street. East Lake Street ends approximately 100 feet from 46 Ohio Avenue, and access from that street to plaintiffs' parcel would require an easement that runs across a narrow parcel that Bond owns that lies between plaintiff's parcel and East Lake Street.

Bond, Bootey, and the Village have resisted plaintiffs' development projects in several ways. The Village refused to authorize the project at 33 East Lake Street and refused to issue the necessary zoning variances because it claimed that the project would encroach on a public easement that is part of that street. Although East Lake Street physically is only 15--20 feet wide, maps dating back to 1875 show that it has a total width of 50 feet including a public right-of-way. The Village resisted the project at 33 East Lake Street also because it considered the parcel a corner lot subject to additional set-off restrictions under Village Code § 25-22. The Village refused to acknowledge easement rights for plaintiffs along Ohio Avenue because the history of the properties along that street did not give rise to any easements. In response to the Village's opposition, plaintiffs built their shed at 33 East Lake Street anyway and commenced litigation in state court regarding both 33 East Lake Street and 46 Ohio Avenue.

B. Prior State Litigation

In the first state action,*fn2 plaintiffs used N.Y. CPLR Article 78 to challenge the Village's determination that 33 East Lake Street was subject to additional setoff restrictions because it was a corner lot. In a decision issued on April 25, 2008, the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, affirmed the trial court, sided with plaintiffs, and found "that the record establishes that [plaintiffs]' property has only one street side and thus does not constitute a corner lot." Turner v. Andersen, 860 N.Y.S.2d 758, 759 (App. Div. 2008). The Appellate Division then concluded that the Village Zoning Board's "application of the setback requirements in section 25-22 to [plaintiffs]' property was unreasonable and irrational." Id. (citation omitted).

In the second state action, plaintiffs again commenced a proceeding under CPLR Article 78 and challenged the Village's denial of easement rights and vehicular access along Ohio Avenue. In a decision issued on November 20, 2009, the Appellate Division affirmed the trial court and ruled against plaintiffs. The Appellate Division held that "there is no indication in the record that the property in question was subdivided into lots by the original grantor in accordance with the subdivision map, and thus [plaintiffs] have failed to establish by clear and convincing evidence the original grantor's intent to create a 'paper street' easement over Ohio Avenue." Turner v. Anderson, 888 N.Y.S.2d 701, 703 (App. Div. 2009) (citation omitted).

In the third state action, Bond and Bootey commenced a declaratory judgment action against plaintiffs over the shed that they built at 33 East Lake Street.*fn3 Specifically, Bond and Bootey sought to establish that they had a public right-of-way for the entire 50-foot width of East Lake Street, and that plaintiffs' shed encroached on their easement rights. Bond and Bootey sought this determination because their properties lie at the tail end of East Lake Street and require passage on that street, past plaintiffs' property, for access. In a decision issued on November 12, 2010, the Appellate Division modified the trial court's determination and sided with Bond and Bootey. The Appellate Division held that plaintiffs' "construction of a retaining wall and a shed along the northern boundary of the parcel owned by Bootey impedes the rights of Bond and Bootey to light, air, and access to the entire 50-foot right-of-way and impedes the ability of Bootey to access Lake Street from her property. Thus, we remit the matter to Supreme Court for a determination of the appropriate equitable or legal relief to which [Bond and Bootey] are entitled based on the impediment of their rights." Bond v. Turner, 911 N.Y.S.2d 557, 559--60 (App. Div. 2010) (citation omitted).

C. Federal Litigation

After the Appellate Division ruled in the three state actions, plaintiffs commenced this action by filing a complaint on March 11, 2011. ...

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