Posted by: Patricia Salkin | June 6, 2012

Fed. Dist. Court in NY Dismisses Motion for Preliminary Injunction to Prevent Moratoria on Mootness Grounds and Dismisses Takings Claim on Ripeness Grounds

Plaintiff owned a 100-acre parcel in the Village of Muttontown, which it wanted to develop into a large lot residential community.  Due to a series of two fifteen-month moratoria put into place beginning in April of 2010 due to the Village’s desire to review its master plan which, according to the Village, had not been updated since 1969, plaintiff was not able to submit its application for review and approval.  The plaintiff alleged that the Village put the moratoria into place, along with using “the spectre of a review of [the] municipality’s master plan and zoning” in order to cause a decrease in property values in the area, so that it could purchase a piece of land in a bankruptcy auction for a lesser price.  In early October of 2011 the plaintiff commenced an action against the Village.  In December plaintiff amended its complaint, alleging that the Village’s actions violated its due process and equal protection rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, as such conduct caused a deprivation of property with due process of law, and such actions constituted a taking of property without just compensation.

The court agreed with defendant’s assertion that the complaint should be dismissed because it was not ripe for adjudication.  The court stated that ripeness in a zoning case is shown by the plaintiff once they have obtained a final, definitive position as to how their property could be used from the entity charged with zoning regulations, and once they have demonstrated that they sought compensation for an alleged taking before proceeding to the federal court.  Plaintiff failed to do either.  The court recognized that the plaintiff had never attempted to submit an application, even after the moratoria ended.  The moratoria contained a hardship exception, but the court noted that the plaintiff never took advantage of this.  The hardship exemption, as stated by the court, is akin to a variance, and provided plaintiff with a chance to remedy its problem.  The court also addressed the futility exception to the first prong, though the plaintiff never directly raised it, because the complaint inferred it and alleged bad faith on the part of the Village.  It stated, however, that the obstacle that caused the futility has to be alleged clearly, which was not the case here, and that bad faith claims have been rejected by other courts.  The second prong, according to the court, was also not met, because the plaintiff did not bring the takings claim in New York state court first, which was the appropriate first step.  As it did not seek state compensation before bringing this action, the plaintiff did not meet the second prong either.  Therefore, the court held that the plaintiff’s claim was not ripe for adjudication.

The court lastly rejected the plaintiff’s claim that the laws which imposed the moratoria were unconstitutional on their face.  The plaintiff must demonstrate that the moratoria bear no rational relationship to any legitimate governmental purpose.  The village’s subjective motivation is irrelevant; the court can consider any legitimate purpose.  As the plaintiff failed to negate any and all conceivable basis that could be thought up, and the only allegation actually given by the plaintiff bore on subjective intent, this claim was rejected.  As a result, the plaintiff’s complaint was dismissed in its entirety.    

Easton LLC v. Inc. Village of Muttontown, 2012 WL 1458211 (E.D.N.Y. 4/27/2012)

The opinion can be accessed at: http://law.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/new-york/nyedce/2:2011cv04791/322821/32


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