Posted by: Patricia Salkin | September 14, 2015

Fed. Dist. Court of Pennsylvania Dismisses FHA and ADA Claims as Unripe

Drew and Nicole Barnabei owned property in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, located in an area zoned by the Township as an R–1 residential district. The Barnabeis intended to lease this property to the Stonebridge Historical Society, doing business as Stonebridge Recovery (“Stonebridge”), a non- profit corporation that would offer substance-free housing and rehabilitation services to former substance abusers. On September 30, 2014, and again on October 13, 2014, the Barnabeis applied for a Certificate of Use and Occupancy, so they could lease their property to Stonebridge, but were denied by the local zoning officer via letter, which stated that the requested use was “commercial/residential” and therefore not permitted in an R–1 district. In December 2014, while their appeal to the Zoning Hearing Board was pending, Plaintiffs sent two more letters asking the Township to grant the Certificate of Use or grant a “reasonable accommodation.” The Township again denied the Barnabeis’ application on the grounds that “the proposed use is not permitted in the R–1 District.” By Plaintiffs’ request, their appeal to the Chadds Ford Zoning Hearing Board still remained pending while they pursue relief in federal court.

Plaintiffs argued that they were not required to file a complaint in state court or otherwise exhaust state remedies before filing in federal court; their claims became ripe as soon as the zoning officer first denied their requested use of the property. In cases where no suspect classification is alleged and no fundamental right infringed, a plaintiff’s equal protection claim is not ripe until the zoning authority has taken final action. Here, Plaintiffs admit that they have not received a disposition from the Township’s Zoning Hearing Board. In fact, Plaintiffs initiated the continuance of the Zoning Hearing Board’s review while they sought a remedy from this Court. Accordingly, Plaintiffs’ equal protection claims were found unripe and therefore dismissed.

Plaintiffs next argued their FHA and ADA claims were ripe because the Township zoning officer denied their request for a reasonable accommodation, and this initial denial was sufficient to support a claim under each statute. The court again rejected the Plaintiffs’ argument, since it was due to their own decision to delay the hearing that Plaintiffs did not present their claims to the local land-use board. The only “administrative record” that this Court could even arguably consider consisted of several brief letters that largely concern procedural matters and a few, simple, standard forms completed by Plaintiffs. The court therefore found Plaintiffs’ claims were unripe and dismissed them without prejudice to renew.

Barnabei v Chadds Ford Township, 2015 WL 5025456 (ED PA 8/24/2015)

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