Posted by: Patricia Salkin | January 20, 2016

Fed. Dist. Court in CT Dismisses Equal Protection Class of One Claim Against Town

In 2003, Plaintiff Thomas Beard acquired, from his father, property located at 462 Fan Hill Road in Monroe, Connecticut in a Residential and Farming District D Zone (“RD Zone”). Plaintiff owned several businesses that were based on the Property: an excavation business, a trucking and hauling business, a salvage business, a loam business, a demolition business, and a snow plowing business. In 2007, ZEO John “Jack” Brandt reported to the Commission that after investigating the matter of whether Mr. Beard was operating an illegal earth-moving operation, he had concluded that Mr. Beard’s use of the land was a prior nonconforming use. Mr. Brandt stated that he “did not visit” Mr. Beard’s property but did meet with Mr. Beard, who explained to him “that a business has been operating from the property since 1963,” and on that basis, Mr. Brandt concluded that the business had been “there forever” and was “not illegal.” In March 2010, neighbors Michael and Teresa Bauer, spoke with Mr. Brandt about his determination and asked him to reconsider.

The Bauers filed a lawsuit against Mr. Beard in Connecticut state court, alleging that Mr. Beard’s activities on his property violated the Zoning Regulations and created a private nuisance. The state court issued a temporary injunction against Mr. Beard, and the new Monroe ZEO, Joseph Chapman, issued Mr. Beard a cease and desist letter soon after. Beard first unsuccessfully appealed to the ZBA, and then again to the state court. The state court issued a permanent injunction against him, and he brought this action claiming a violation of his Fourteenth Amendment right of Equal Protection.

After finding the claim was ripe, the court turned to the substance of the class-of-one claim. Plaintiff contended that Mr. Twombly and Mr. Smith, were similarly situated since they manufactured and sold loam on their properties. As to the comparison to Mr. Twombly, not only was it disputed that Mr. Twombly also sold loam (an illegal activity under the Town of Monroe Code), Mr. Beard admitted to keeping eight vehicles on his property that each weighed over one ton; this activity was prohibited in RD Zones, and was a violation not shared by Mr. Twombly. Furthermore, the record was absent any evidence that neighbors to Mr. Twombly ever complained about his use of his property. The court therefore found that Mr. Twombly was not an appropriate comparator. Next, Mr. Smith stated that he did not manufacture topsoil or loam on his property and that although he sold topsoil prior to about 2007 or 2009, he has largely stopped doing so. Moreover, although Mr. Smith engaged in some nonconforming activities on his property, unlike Mr. Beard, he appeared to use his property primarily for farming: for which the land is zoned. Finally, as with Mr. Twombly, there was no evidence that the quantity, volume, and intensity of complaints came close to that of the Bauers’ complaints.

The Court said that even if they had found Mr. Smith to be a similarly situated comparator, Plaintiff’s claim would still have failed since Mr. Beard failed to show defendant’s action was a proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury. Even assuming that Plaintiff did suffer some physical or financial harm as a result of the judgment in the state court action, he had not shown that Defendants were “a substantial factor in bringing about” that harm. Here, no reasonable person could conclude that the Bauers likely would have settled the lawsuit with Mr. Beard had Defendants not intervened. Finally, because the superior court had already found irreparable harm when it granted the temporary injunction (before the Town and Mr. Chapman intervened in the suit), Plaintiff failed to offer any basis to conclude the court would likely have later reversed itself if the Town and Mr. Chapman had not intervened. Defendants’ motion for summary judgement was therefore granted.

Beard v Town of Monroe, 2015 WL 8023632 (D. Conn. 12/4/2015)


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