Posted by: Patricia Salkin | June 14, 2015

Fed. Dist. Court in GA Finds County Board Member’s Opposition to Proposal to Subdivide Property Was Not Unethical and it Did Not Shock the Conscience

Plaintiffs owned a parcel of land in the Druid Hills neighborhood of DeKalb County, which had been designated an historic district. Under that designation, property owners are required to obtain a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) under certain circumstances if they want to make changes to their home that would change the exterior appearance of existing buildings. Plaintiffs sought to subdivide the property and believed that they did not need a COA to do so, however the Druid Hills Civic Association opposed this action. The Plaintiffs then brought action against current and former county officials under § 1983 alleging violations of their constitutional rights, and state law claims for interference with enjoyment of property and for abusive litigation.

In their § 1983 claim, Plaintiffs asserted that Defendants violated their substantive due process right to the lawful use of their property. The court noted that in making a substantive due process claim asserting that government officials have abused their power, the Plaintiff must allege facts which “shocks the conscience” and violates the “decencies of civilized conduct.” Here, there was no indication that any Defendant engaged in self-dealing or graft or was motivated by anything other than a principled opposition to Plaintiffs’ plans. Moreover, Defendant Rader’s belief that it was necessary for Plaintiffs to obtain a COA did not lack any rational basis. Finally, Plaintiffs did not challenge the Dekalb County zoning ordinances, and presented no argument that there was no economically viable use for their land based solely on their inability to subdivide their property. Accordingly, the court concluded that Plaintiffs have failed to allege facts sufficient to state a claim that their constitutional rights have been violated, and their claim brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 was therefore dismissed.

Buckler v Rader, 56 F. Supp. 3d 1371 (ND GA 10/28/2014)

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