Posted by: Patricia Salkin | March 19, 2014

9th Circuit Finds Plaintiff’s §1983 Conspiracy Claims Over the Granting of a Variance for an Adult Use Establishment was Precluded because Administrative Process was Clearly Adjudicatory

The City of Los Angeles’s granted a variance allowing a certain piece of property to operate a “sexual encounter establishment.” McQuiston brought suit in federal court challenging the variance, the defendants moved to dismiss, and the district court held for the defendants. McQuiston then appealed the decision of the district court, arguing a conspiracy claim, and other procedural arguments related to the finality of the defendant’s decision. The court found that McQuiston’s conspiracy claim failed because he did not allege, “any defendant’s actions were motivated by some racial, or … otherwise class-based, invidiously discriminatory animus.”

To successfully allege a conspiracy claim under 42 U.S.C § 1983, a plaintiff must set forth facts which demonstrate, if true, that “at least one private individual reached a specific agreement with at least one state actor to violate the plaintiff’s constitutional rights.” McQuiston failed to satisfy this requirement because he merely alleged that the defendants sought a variance, which they knew they were not entitled to receive, and that they “could not have obtained the variance without the cooperation of city officials.” Thus, McQuiston failed to allege a viable conspiracy claim.

McQuiston also argued that his claim under California state law was in fact timely because the City’s final decision on the variance was never mailed to him. However, the court found that McQuiston misinterpreted the relevant municipal law on this point, which states “the grant of a variance shall become final after 15 days from the date it was mailed to the applicant, unless an appeal is filed with the Council within that period.” The court found that it was uncontested that McQuiston filed an appeal within this fifteen-day window, and as such the proceedings were stayed until a final decision was made. The relevant law states that such an appeal would be decided by the Mayor, and once approved by the Mayor the ninety-day window to appeal would begin to run. Thus, because McQuiston did not file an appeal during that ninety-day window, his state law claim was untimely. The court found that McQuiston’s §1983 claims were precluded because the administrative proceedings were adjudicatory in nature, and the legal standard in the municipal law was followed, where facts were developed via testimony and evidence.

McQuiston v. City of Los Angeles, 2014 WL 1016789 (9th Cir. 3/18/2014)

The opinion can be accessed at:

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