Posted by: Patricia Salkin | April 12, 2015

Fed. Dist. Court in NY Dismisses Equal Protection Claim Arising Out of Rebuilding Following Hurricane Irene

Plaintiffs David Witt and Kinuyo Gochaku Witt brought an action against the Village of Mamaroneck and Building Inspector Robert Melillo pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.  The action arose from the legal requirements Defendants imposed on Plaintiffs in connection with their efforts to repair their home in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene.  Plaintiffs maintained that similarly situated homeowners were not subjected to the same treatment, which therefore constituted a violation of their equal protection and substantive due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.  Plaintiffs also alleged a Monell claim against the Village. These claims were dismissed, and the Plaintiffs were given leave to amend their complaint. The Amended Complaint consisted of equal protection, substantive due process, and procedural due process claims, along with a Monell claim against the Village and various claims for relief under state law.

Here, Plaintiffs did not allege that other damaged properties had a similar market value and required the same relative dollar amount of repairs. Furthermore, beyond the houses located on their street block, Plaintiffs did not make any allegations with respect to the market value of the other homes identified in the SAC, and the SAC was silent as to whether the other homeowners on Plaintiffs’ block spent the same, or even a similar amount, on repairing their homes. Since Plaintiffs failed to allege differential treatment from similarly situated individuals, their equal protection claim was dismissed. The failure to establish other similarly situated property owners also led to the dismissal of the Plaintiffs’ “class of one” and selective enforcement claims.

As to the due process claims, the court found that even if Plaintiffs had carried their burden of establishing the deprivation of a cognizable property interest, it was doubtful that Defendants’ acts against their land were arbitrary, conscience-shocking, or oppressive in the constitutional sense, and not merely incorrect or ill-advised.  Here, under Chapter 186 of the local code, a homeowner may appeal the application of Chapter 186 by the building inspector to the Board.  The court found that to the extent that Defendants genuinely believed that Plaintiffs were subject to Chapter 186, they were within their right to enforce it. Finally, the court held that a Monell claim cannot be made absent an underlying constitutional violation; a §1983 claim can only be brought against a municipality if the action that is alleged to be unconstitutional was the result of an official policy or custom. Because Plaintiffs did not establish a constitutional violation, their Monell claim also failed. Accordingly, the Defendants’’ motion to dismiss was granted.

Witt v Village of Mamaroneck, 2015 WL 1427206 (SDNY 3/27/2015)

The opinion can be accessed at: http://www.village.mamaroneck.ny.us/pages/mamaroneckny_attorney/Witt%20033114.pdf


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