Posted by: Patricia Salkin | February 7, 2014

Fed. District Court of DE Holds Refuses to Dismiss a Viable § 1983 Claim Where a City Council Member May Have a Created a Potentially Partial Panel

L.T. Associates is a Delaware limited liability company that applied to amend the Comprehensive Zoning Map (“CZM”), regarding 45.7 acres of land. The plaintiff planned to convert the land from an AR–1 Agricultural Residential District to a CR–1 Commercial Residential District. A public hearing occurred regarding the land before the Sussex County Planning and Zoning Commission, which deferred action to defendants for further consideration and recommendation by the Commission. The Commission recommended Sussex County Council (“defendants”) deny the application and the defendants did so.

Joan Deaver is the council member who represents the district the land is located. According to the plaintiff’s complaint, prior to her election on the Council, Deaver, as a representative of an organization opposed to a prior, similar request by plaintiff to amend the CZM at the same land site, sent a letter in opposition of the amendment to Council. Plaintiff further claims that Deaver met with several opposition groups and attended several anti-commercial development meetings, and therefore should have recused herself from plaintiff’s application process. The defendants maintain that although Deaver appeared at the meetings, she was not meeting with oppositions groups and did not attend them during the time the application was under consideration.

The court reasoned that under Rule 12(b)(6), the plaintiff had sufficiently pleaded a § 1983 claim by alleging a state action depriving it of a federally protected right, that is, and provides specific dates, times, events, and facts making the harms complained of plausible. Deaver’s involvement with plaintiff’s applications (C.Z. Nos. 1630 and 1690) to amend the CZM, as well as her attendance at several anti-commercial development meetings, shows in a light most favorable to the plaintiff that a potentially partial tribunal denied the application request, constituting a violation of plaintiff’s procedural due process rights at the application hearing.

Since under a § 1983 claim nominal damages are sufficient, even absent proof of actual injury, the court held that this claim should survive a motion to dismiss.

L.T. Associates, LLC v. Sussex County Council, 2013 WL 3998462 (D. Del. 8/5/2013)

The opinion can be accessed at:

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