Posted by: Patricia Salkin | August 19, 2014

Fed. Dist. Court in NY Finds Sufficient Facts to Defeat a Motion To Dismiss In A Equal Protection And Substantive Due Process Claim

On February 6, 2014, the Plaintiff 545 Halsey Lane Properties, commenced an action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 challenging two decisions by the Defendant Southampton Town Planning Board involving conditional approvals of the Plaintiff’s applications for a building permit for the construction of a barn and/or barns on its property. The Plaintiff alleges both a violation of its Fourteenth Amendment right to Substantive Due Process, and a violation of its Fourteenth Amendment right to Equal Protection under the law. On April 3, 2014, the Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint.

As to the Due Process claim, the court noted that for an interest in a particular land-use benefit to qualify as a property interest for the purposes of the due process clause, a landowner must show a “clear entitlement” to that benefit. In attempting to show a constitutionally protected property interest, Plaintiff alleged that: (1) agricultural structures are exempted from site plan review by Town Code § 330–181(A)(2); and (2) some grants entered into by the Town with other property owners specifically conditioned the property owners’ reserved rights on site plan approval and/or certain provisions of the Town Code, thereby suggesting that such approval and compliance was not required in this case. Furthermore, the Plaintiff alleged that the Defendants arbitrarily and without explanation required the Plaintiff to submit to site plan approval; refused to permit the Plaintiff to erect structures permissible under the Grant which complied with the Town Code’s dimensional requirements; and required the Plaintiff, as a condition of erecting the proposed barn, to remove certain improvements permitted under the Grant, including a recreational playground, baseball diamond, art installations, and landscaping, and to relinquish its right to store landscaping equipment on the Property. Accordingly, the court held that the Plaintiff had adequately stated a plausible claim for denial of its Substantive Due Process based upon alleged conduct that was arbitrary, conscience shocking, or oppressive in the constitutional sense, not merely incorrect or ill-advised.

In analyzing the Equal Protection claim, the Court found that the complaint sufficiently alleged that the Plaintiff’s property was treated differently than similarly situated properties. With regard to the second element of a “class-of-one” claim, the Plaintiff must adequately plead that any differential treatment was without a rational basis. Here, the Court found that the Plaintiff sufficiently alleged that no rational basis supports not permitting the Plaintiff to erect its proposed barn, while (1) permitting the Plaintiff’s predecessor-in-interest to erect a single-family residence, (2) taking a directly contrary legal position in the Mantello litigation, or (3) allowing landowners nearby to erect barns with greater building density.

Therefore, the Court dismissed the Defendants’ motion to dismiss the Complaint.

545 Halsey Lane Properties v Town of Southampton, 2014 WL 4100952 (EDNY 8/19/2014)

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