Posted by: Patricia Salkin | October 31, 2014

2nd Circuit Court of Appeals Extends Williamson County Ripeness Test to Variance Disputes Finding Matter Not Ripe Due to Failure to Comply with Final-Decision Requirement

Sunrise Detox V, LLC. wanted to establish a facility for individuals recovering from addiction in a building that was formerly used as a nursing home. However, because the site was located in the city’s R2–2.5 zoning district, Sunrise’s proposed facility would have to qualify as a “community residence” or a “domiciliary care facility” and be granted a special permit from the city’s Common Council in order to operate within the city’s zoning ordinance.  The Commissioner of the City’s Department of Building determined that the facility did not qualify as a community residence and that, as a result, the city could take no further action on the application until Sunrise either applied for a variance or appealed the determination.  Instead of applying for a variance, Sunrise brought this action alleging intentional discrimination, disparate impact discrimination, and failure to grant a reasonable accommodation in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).

The Second Circuit first noted that the Supreme Court held in Williamson Cnty. Reg’l Planning Comm’n v. Hamilton Bank, 473 U.S. 172, 186, 105 S.Ct. 3108, 87 L.Ed.2d 126 (1985) that  a takings claim would not be ripe until the government entity responsible for implementing the regulations has “reached a final decision regarding the application of the regulations to the property at issue.”  This is because a non-final decision on how a parcel of land may be used does not ordinarily give rise to an injury that is sufficiently concrete and particularized to satisfy the case or controversy requirement of Article III of the U.S. Constitution.  While the court admitted that Williamson County involved a challenge to a regulatory taking, the final-decision requirement was not to be strictly confined. In this case, because only after Sunrise completed the process would it be known whether the allegedly discriminatory decision of the official had any effect at all on Sunrise’s application, the court reasoned that a plaintiff alleging discrimination in the context of a land-use dispute was subject to the final-decision requirement unless he could show that he suffered some injury independent of the challenged land-use decision.  Since plaintiffs in such cases must first provide the governmental entity an opportunity to accommodate them through the entity’s established procedures, the court found that Sunrise’s failure to submit at least one meaningful application for a variance deprived the government entity the opportunity to do so.  Accordingly, the Second Circuit found the claims not yet ripe and affirmed the holding of the district court to dismiss the plaintiff’s claims.

Sunrise Detox V, LLC v. City of White Plains, 2014 WL 4922130 (2nd Cir. 2014)

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