Posted by: Patricia Salkin | February 2, 2016

First Circuit Court of Appeals Rejects Owner’s § 1983 Claim of a Violation of First Amendment Rights and Eighth Amendment Right to be Free of Excessive Fines Resulting From Zoning Violation

In 2009, Robert Snyder sued the City of Waltham, Massachusetts, and several of its officials alleging that their vindictive application of a local zoning board’s authority violated state law as well as the United States and Massachusetts Constitutions. In 2014 the court previously ruled, on interlocutory appeal, that two individual defendants were immune to suit under 42 U.S.C. §1983 because Snyder’s Equal Protection claim—the “only preserved federal claim” in the case—failed because Snyder did not show that the defendants had treated him differently than any other similarly-situated individual.

As to the §1983 claims, the complaint contained no allegation that the municipal officials retaliated against Snyder because he supplied information to a state tribunal. Even though the complaint mentioned that a state tribunal requested information from Snyder, and denied Collura benefits, it did not allege that Collura knew what information he supplied to the tribunal. Moreover, the claim also expressly alleged that the retaliatory campaign began before the state agency even requested any information. As to the Eighth Amendment claim, while the complaint mentioned a “notice” of a “$300” fine for each day a zoning violation was not abated, it failed to offer any facts suggesting how such a fine was excessive, or was either paid or still threatened. Additionally, in response to the motion to dismiss and motions for summary judgment, Snyder omitted any mention of these theories. Accordingly, the court found that the point at which Snyder needed to reveal those theories passed well before he announced the theories that he attempted to pursue in this case.

Likewise, Snyder alleged in his earlier complaint that the defendants “conspired to retaliate against Snyder and deny him equal protection of the laws,” and that they were engaged in a “civil conspiracy to commit tortious conduct.” Because of this Snyder waived the opportunity to assert the second type of conspiracy based on the defendants’ allegedly unique ability to exert a “peculiar power of coercion” when acting in unison.

Lastly, Snyder asserted a claim under the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act. Like the federal claims, Snyder raised no such theories in opposing the motion to dismiss, nor did he otherwise raise them in response to the original motion for summary judgment until after discovery closed. For these reasons, the court affirmed the entry of summary judgment on all of Snyder’s claims and the denial of his motion for leave to amend.

Snyder v. Collura, 2016 WL 325091 (1st Cir. CA 1/27/2016)

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