Posted by: Patricia Salkin | March 31, 2016

Fed. Dist. Court in GA Dismisses Takings and Due Process Claims Arising from Denial of Conditional Use Permit to Construct and Operate an Automobile Service Station

Plaintiffs SP Frederica, LLC; Peach Consolidated Properties, LLC; and Flash Foods, Inc. are businesses that are incorporated or organized, and maintain their principal places of business, in Georgia. Peach contracted with SP Frederica to purchase a parcel of land that it owned in Glynn County, Georgia. As a condition to Peach’s purchase of the Property, the contract provided that Peach must be able to obtain a conditional use permit for an automobile service station and convenience store on the Property. The contracting parties intended that Flash Foods, a company that owns automobile service stations and convenience stores throughout Georgia and Florida, be the ultimate beneficiary of the contract. Peach and SP Frederica filed an application for a conditional use permit to construct and operate an automobile service station on the Property, and obtained the Planning and Zoning staff’s recommendation to approve their application for a conditional use permit. When numerous citizens expressed concerns about the traffic that would result from the proposed use, the Islands Planning Commission orally denied the Plaintiffs’ application at the conclusion of the hearing.

The Planning and Zoning staff informed Plaintiffs’ counsel that there was no appeal procedure available to Plaintiffs, so filed a Complaint against Defendants in the Superior Court of Glynn County setting forth several causes of action pursuant to Georgia law, which they amended to include federal causes of action as well. Citing Georgia law, Defendants argued that Plaintiffs could not proceed with their official-capacity mandamus claims, federal and state constitutional claims, and claims for declaratory and injunctive relief, because sovereign immunity and qualified immunity shielded Defendants from suit. At the outset the court noted that it is the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, rather than the Fifth Amendment, that explicitly applies to the states. While the Fifth Amendment establishes a basis for just compensation claims against the government for taking private property for public use without providing remuneration, the Fourteenth Amendment does not provide a private right of action for deprivations of due process and equal protection rights. Here, Plaintiffs erred in attempting to plead causes of action directly pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses.

The court rejected the Defendants attempt to invoke sovereign immunity as to Plaintiffs’ Fifth Amendment just compensation and inverse condemnation. Here Glynn County and the other government-entity Defendants were found to be outside the scope of Eleventh Amendment protection because these entities existed pursuant to a county ordinance as opposed to State law, and were therefore subject to local rather than State control. The Defendants’ motion to dismiss was granted, however, on qualified-immunity grounds insofar as it sought the dismissal of Plaintiffs’ Section 1983 claims for money damages against the individual Defendants. As to the due process claims, Plaintiffs’ Amended Complaint only put forth mere legal conclusions regarding the allegedly arbitrary and capricious nature of the zoning regulations, without offering any factual matter to support these contentions. Although Plaintiffs alleged that the provision regarding the appeal process was unclear, they failed to suggest that the actual substance of the ordinance, the scope of appeal rights afforded thereunder, was arbitrary or capricious.

Having granted the dismissal of the Plaintiffs’ federal claims, the court remanded the remaining state law claims.



SP Frederica, LLC v Glynn County, 2016 WL 1248391 (SD Ga. 3/25/2016)

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