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Telian v. Town of Delhi

United States District Court, N.D. New York

January 9, 2015

ERNIE TELIAN, Plaintiff,
v.
TOWN OF DELHI, PETER BRACCI, JOHN MATHIESEN, SHERRI TELIAN, JOHN DOE NO. 1, JOHN DOE NO. 2, JOHN DOE NO. 3, JOHN DOE NO. 4, AND JOHN DOE NO. 5, Defendants.

DECISION and ORDER

THOMAS J. McAVOY, Senior District Judge.

Plaintiff Ernie Telian commenced the instant action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, alleging that Defendants violated his Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Presently before the Court are Defendants' motions to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See dkt. #s 8, 22.

I. BACKGROUND

This matter concerns disputes over building permits on property where Plaintiff Ernie Telian and his former wife, Defendant Sheri Telian, resided. The property in question consisted of approximately 213 acres located in a "remote and highly rural area" of the Town of Delhi, New York. (Complaint, dkt. # 1, at ¶¶ 22-25). Plaintiff's Complaint alleges that Ernie and Sheri Telian purchased the property jointly between 1990 and 2004, but only in the name of Sheri Telian. (Id. at ¶¶ 22-24). She remains the owner of record. (Id.).

The couple built various structures on the property they purchased. They built a home on the property beginning in 1992. (Id. at ¶ 26). The Telians obtained a temporary certificate of occupancy for that property after sufficient completion of the structure. (Id.). In 1993, they built a wood shed on the property. (Id. at ¶ 27). In 2002, the couple added a machine shed. (Id. at ¶ 28). The Telians constructed a cabin/hay shed on their property in or around 2005. (Id. at ¶ 29). Sometime in the 2000s, Plaintiff and his then-wife built another shed. (Id. ¶ 30). This shed, which was on skids, did not require a building permit. (Id.).

Beginning around 2006, Ernie and Sherri Telian began experiencing marital difficulties. (Id. at ¶ 31). They continued to live together. (Id.). Sherri Telian brought an action for divorce in or around 2009. (Id. at ¶ 32). She moved out of the marital residence, though she remained the owner of record of the properties in question. (Id.). The divorce became very bitter, and continued throughout 2011. (Id. at ¶ 33).

Plaintiff alleges that on July 28, 2014, Defendant Sherri Telian visited Defendant John Mathiesen, Code Enforcement Officer for Defendant Town of Delhi. (Id. at ¶ 34). She discussed the real property that had been the Telians' marital residence. (Id.). Plaintiff alleges that the reason for Sherri Telian's visit to Mathiesen was to harass and intimidate Ernie Telian. (Id.). According to Plaintiff, she was motivated by her "bitterness and animosity... arising from the marital difficulties and divorce proceeding." (Id.). Plaintiff further alleges that Defendant Town of Delhi "and its representatives, including but not limited to" Defendant Mathiesen and Peter Bracci, the former Town Supervisor, "aided and abetted and conspired with Defendant Sherri Telian to accomplish her aims." (Id. at ¶ 35). All of these defendants "act[ed] with the intent to inflict maximum harm upon plaintiff Ernie Telian." (Id.).

On or about August 11, 2011, Plantiff saw Defendant Mathiesen in his driveway, accompanied by the Town Constable. (Id. at ¶ 36). When confronted by the Plaintiff, Mathiesen informed him that Defendant Sherri Telian had given him permission to enter the property and investigate alleged code violations. (Id. at ¶ 37). Plaintiff advised Mathiesen that he should call Plaintiff and make an appointment. (Id.). Mathiesen advised that he would. (Id.). Mathiesen did not make an appointment, and at first refused to return Plaintiff's calls. (Id. at ¶ 38). Plaintiff eventually contacted Mathiesen, who promised that the two could "work it out." (Id.). Eventually, however, Mathiesen informed Plaintiff that he had spoken to Defendant Bracci. (Id.). The two determined to issue appearance tickets because the buildings at issue had been constructed or installed without obtaining building permits. (Id.). The appearance tickets named both Plaintiff and Defendant Sherri Telian. (Id. at ¶ 40). Mathiesen originally stated that the appearance tickets would issue only to Sherri Telian, who was the record owner of the house. (Id.).

Plaintiff alleges that the Town is normally "very lax in enforcing building permits, " and that many buildings similar to those on Plaintiff's property "are erected without first obtaining building permits and without prosecution by the town." (Id. at ¶ 39). Plaintiff made numerous attempts to contact Mathiesen and resolve the situation. (Id. at ¶ 44). Mathiesen ignored these efforts, even though, Plaintiff alleges, municipalities acting in good faith often allow for informal resolutions of such matters. (Id.). Plaintiff also contends that the tickets were issued on the basis of information provided by Sherri Telian. (Id. at ¶ 41). The buildings in question, he alleges, were not visible from the driveway where Plaintiff encountered Defendant Mathiesen on August 15, 2011. (Id.).

Plaintiff's case eventually went to trial. (Id. at ¶ 42). Though the matter involved routine allegations of code violations, the case was prosecuted by a special counsel from Albany, Joseph Castiglione. (Id.). Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Bracci engaged Castiglione as counsel without obtaining approval from the Town Board. (Id.). Though the appearance tickets were issued to both Plaintiff and Sherri Telian and Sherri Telian was the record owner of the property and had been living on the property when the buildings were constructed, at trial Town Justice Richard Gumo informed Sherri Telian that she was not required to testify. (Id. at ¶ 43).

In February 2012, Town Justice Richard Gumo issued a decision that found Plaintiff solely guilty of violating the Town of Delhi's zoning ordinances. (Id. at ¶ 46). Plaintiff was fined $100, 000, an amount that Plaintiff alleges "was outrageous and shocking to the conscience." (Id. at ¶ 47). Plaintiff then attempted to contact Mathiesen and obtain the necessary permits and certificates of occupancy. (Id. at ¶ 54). Mathiesen ignored these efforts. (Id.). Plaintiff eventually secured the permits and certificates in question at minimal expense. (Id. at ¶ 57).

Defendant Town of Delhi obtained a civil judgment against Plaintiff individually. (Id. at ¶ 48). The Town then restrained the bank account of a business in which Plaintiff had an interest, Spring Lake Tree Service, Inc. (Id. at ¶ 49). The Defendant Town then caused the contents of that account to be paid to the Town. (Id.). Spring Lake Tree Service, Inc., was unable to conduct business during 2012 because of this restraint on its account. (Id. at ¶ 50). Plaintiff Ernie Telian was without income. (Id.).

Plaintiff also alleges that in or around March 2012 the Town of Delhi assessor informed Plaintiff that he would not be permitted to file an application for a farm exemption for the property because Sherri Telian, not Plaintiff, was the owner of record. (Id. at ¶ 51). Plaintiff had previously been permitted to file for an exemption in his own name. (Id.).

In or around March 2012, Defendant Town of Delhi instituted an action against Plaintiff seeking substantial civil penalties for non-compliance from January 2012 to August 2012. (Id. at ¶ 55). The court denied the Town's motion for summary judgment in June 2013. (Id.). On September 13, 2013, the Delaware County Court reversed and vacated Town Justice Gumo's February 2012 decision. (Id. at ¶ 53). The Town appealed both of these decisions. (Id. at ¶ 56). While the appeals were pending Defendant Bracci was voted out of office. (Id. at ¶ 57). The Town withdrew its appeals and agreed to vacate its judgment against Plaintiff by stipulation on June 20 and June 24, 2014. (Id. at ¶ 59).

Plaintiff contends that an unlawful conspiracy existed among the Defendants which was "undertaken with malice and the intention to harm him to the greatest extent possible[.]" Id. at ¶ 60. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants' actions were motivated by the Telians' bitter divorce and a history of political animosity between Plaintiff's family and those of the Defendants. (Id.).

Plaintiff filed his complaint on July 28, 2014. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants' conduct violated his rights to equal protection and due process. (Id. at ¶ 64). He contends that he was forced to expend considerable attorneys' fees as a result of Defendants' conduct, and that he suffered extreme emotional distress that required psychological counseling. (Id. at ¶ 52). Plaintiff also contends that Defendants acted outrageously and he is therefore entitled to punitive damages in this case. (Id. at ¶ 67). Defendants filed motions to dismiss and the parties have briefed the issues, bringing the case to its present posture.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Plaintiffs have filed motions to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). In addressing such motions, the Court must accept "all factual allegations in the complaint as true, and draw[] all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor." Holmes v. Grubman, 568 F.3d 329, 335 (2d Cir. 2009). This tenet does not apply to legal conclusions. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. at 678. "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id . (quoting Bell Atl. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)).

III. ANALYSIS

Defendant Sherri Telian filed a motion to dismiss, as did Defendants Town of Delhi, Peter Bracci and John Mathiesen. The Court will address each motion in turn.

A. Defendant Sherri Telian

Defendant Sherri Telian moves for dismissal on two grounds: that Plaintiff's equal protection claim must fail because he has not alleged that a comparatively situated person was treated differently and that Plaintiff has not alleged that Sherri Telian engaged in state action by ...


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