Plaintiffs purchased a home in the Village of Four Seasons, Missouri, in 2003. They moved into the home in July 2004, prior to obtaining an occupancy permit. In September 2004, one of the defendants (a Deputy Building Inspector) inspected their home, allegedly finding numerous code violations and offering the plaintiffs the business card for his contracting business which he said could help fix the violations. Shortly thereafter, the Village Building Inspector took the Deputy’s inspection form, prepared a new, typed version and forwarded the new form to the Village attorney. The Village attorney proceeded to bring charges against the plaintiffs for the code violations. Several months later the Village attorney filed a memorandum of Nolle Prosequi after reading an appellate court decisions from another state that led him to believe the Village zoning code may not have been adopted properly.
The plaintiffs brought suit against the Village and several Village officials alleging that their actions violated the plaintiffs’ substantive and procedural due process rights. The defendants sought summary judgment on all claims and raised the defense of qualified immunity. The Court rejected the plaintiffs’ substantive due process claim because they failed to articulate the deprivation of a constitutionally protected right. Even if they had, the Court did not find that the defendants’ conduct was arbitrary or irrational. The plaintiffs could not have a right to the occupancy permit because the state had discretion in granting them. The Court also rejected the possibility that the alleged malicious prosecution gave right to a substantive due process claim because the Constitution does not guarantee that criminal charges will be filed only against guilty individuals. The Court also rejected plaintiffs’ assertion that because the zoning ordinance turned out to be void for not having been properly adopted, the enforcement of the invalid ordinance amounted to a substantive due process violation. The Court applied Eighth Circuit precedent from Chesterfield Development Corp. v. City of Chesterfield, 963 F.2d 1102 (8th Cir. 1992). Applying Chesterfield, the Court held that the substantive due process claim could not survive even if the defendants knowingly applied the invalid zoning ordinance.
The Court also found against the plaintiffs’ takings claim. To constitute a taking, a zoning ordinance must fail to substantially advance a legitimate government interest or deny the owner of economically viable use of the land. Here the plaintiffs did not dispute that the Village had a legitimate interest in establishing and enforcing building code requirements. Similarly the second prong could not be satisfied because one of the plaintiffs admitted that they had not been deprived of any use of the property in question. The Court likewise found that the plaintiffs’ allegations could not support an Equal Protection claim as a matter of law because the plaintiffs did not claim to be members of a protected class or dispute that the Village had a legitimate interest in establishing and enforcing building codes.
Lastly the Court examined the plaintiffs’ malicious prosecution claim. Significantly, the Court found that the plaintiffs had not produced evidence that would support inferring malicious intent by and of the defendants. The only allegation that hinted at malice was that the Deputy Building Inspector labeled the home a “red flag” house and offered his services to fix the alleged problems. The Court held that even this could not allow a reasonable jury to find the presence of malice without engaging in speculation. The Court granted the defendants’ motions for summary judgment.
Mitchell v. Village of Four Seasons, WL 1543761 (W.D.Mo. 6/3/2009)