Posted by: Patricia Salkin | April 24, 2015

Fed. Dist. Court in NY finds Members of a Planning Board Entitled to Qualified Immunity

The Plaintiff, 545 Halsey Lane Properties, LLC commenced this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Defendants Town of Southhampton, Town of Southhampton Planning Board, and the members of the Planning Board in their individual capacities. The Plaintiff challenged two decisions by the 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 also commenced two related state court proceedings pursuant to Article 78 of the New York Civil Practice Law and Rules (“CPLR”) to challenge the decisions of the Planning Board as affected by errors of law, arbitrary and capricious decisions, abuses of discretion, and decisions not supported by a rational basis. On August 19, 2014, the Court denied the Defendants’ motion to dismiss the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction; failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, and, as to the individual defendants, on the basis of qualified immunity. On September 16, 2014, the Court dismissed the Plaintiff’s substantive due process claim and dismissed the Plaintiff’s breach of contract claim, declining to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over it. The Plaintiff appealed that order to the Second Circuit, while the Defendant made a motion of reconsideration of the August 19, 2014 order.

In this case, the Defendants sought dismissal of the complaint as against the individual defendants on the basis of qualified immunity on the basis that the individual defendants were performing a “discretionary function.” Thus, the question of whether the individual defendants are entitled to qualified immunity may be decided as a matter of law and the undisputed facts. For this reason, the court erred, at the motion to dismiss stage, in declining to decide the issue of qualified immunity. Accordingly, the Court held it would entertain a motion for partial reconsideration of that part of the August 19, 2014 Order denying the Defendants’ motion to dismiss the complaint as against the individual defendants on the basis of qualified immunity, on the condition that the Defendants withdraw their notice of appeal without prejudice within 14 days of the date of this order.

The court rejected the Defendants’ ripeness argument, finding that the Resolutions issued by the Planning Board, which was not appealable to the Town’s Zoning Board of Appeals, constituted “final, definitive positions as to how it could use its property,” sufficient to establish the ripeness of its Equal Protection claim. As to the qualified immunity claim, the court found the members of the Planning Board could not be deemed to have violated “clearly established law” under the Town Code. Furthermore, even if they could be deemed to have violated “clearly established law,” the Court determined that their actions were objectively reasonable under the circumstances. Thus the Court granted in part and denied in part the Defendants’ motion for reconsideration of the August 19, 2014 order.

545 Halsey Lane Properties v Town of Southampton, 2015 WL 1565487 (EDNY 4/8/2015)


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