Posted by: Patricia Salkin | January 13, 2016

Fed. Dist. Court in NY Precludes Concrete Recycler’s Suit on Res Judicata Grounds

Plaintiff James Meaney, the principal of co-plaintiff Green Materials of Westchester, leased property in the Town of Cortlandt from co-plaintiff George Liaskos to use the parcel as a “Specialty Trade Contractor,” a permitted use under the Town’s applicable zoning ordinance. Meaney received a favorable decision from the ZBA, and then applied to the Town’s Planning Board for site plan approval. the Planning Board held a public hearing on plaintiffs’ site plan application to recycle concrete and adjourned consideration of the application. One week later, the Town Board enacted a one-year moratorium on the processing of applications for site plan approvals for certain uses, including specialty contractor yards. In March 2011, plaintiffs appeared before the Planning Board and their site plan application was denied. Plaintiffs submitted a new site plan application, but this was denied by the ZBA, finding plaintiffs “cannot apply to the planning Board for a Special Permit for a Specialty Trade Contractor where the applicant’s activities require the processing of raw materials.”

Green Materials and Meaney then commenced a combined Article 78 and declaratory judgment action in Supreme Court, Westchester County, against the Town, the ZBA members, the Planning Board members, and the Town’s building officials, seeking a reversal of the ZBA’s determination, and declaratory relief pursuant to C.P.L.R. § 3001. The court granted the Article 78 petition nullifying the ZBA’s April 23, 2012, determination, and severed the claim for declaratory relief. Green Materials and Meaney sought leave to amend their complaint to add causes of action alleging violations of their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and association, as well as their Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process and equal protection. The first and second leaves to amend were denied and plaintiffs commenced this action in federal court.

Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint under Rule 12(b)(1) pursuant to the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, which “directs federal courts to abstain from considering claims when four requirements are met: the plaintiff lost in state court, the plaintiff complains of injuries caused by the state court judgment, the plaintiff invites district court review of that judgment, and the state court judgment was entered before the plaintiff’s federal suit commenced.” This doctrine was inapplicable because the Town and Town officials allegedly violated plaintiffs’ constitutional rights; thus, the plaintiffs’ injuries were not caused by the state court judgment. As to the applicability of res judicata, the court first determined that the decisions denying plaintiffs’ motions to amend their complaint were adjudications on the merits with preclusive effect. Next, the court found that plaintiffs Green Materials and Meaney, as lessees of Liaskos’s property, were in privity with Liaskos. Likewise, plaintiffs could not avoid res judicata merely by suing the same officials again in their individual capacities. Lastly, because all of these claims were brought in state court, all of the elements of res judicata had been met. As such, the plaintiffs’ claims were dismissed.

Green Materials of Westchester v. Town of Cortlandt, 2015 WL 9302838 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 21, 2015)

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