Posted by: Patricia Salkin | October 16, 2016

Fed. Dist. Court in NY Dismisses Due Process and Equal Protection Claims Arising from a Delay in the Approval of a Cluster Subdivision Application

Plaintiff AYDM Associates, LLC, commenced this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 42 U.S.C. § 1985 against Defendant Town of Pamelia and Defendant Lawrence C. Longway, arising from Plaintiff’s submitted application for a subdivision to the Planning Board. After submitting its initial application, Plaintiff submitted a revised application for a “cluster” subdivision of fifty townhouse units on 5.471 acres of land located at State Route 37 and Graham Road in the Town of Pamelia (“Emerald Acres” or the “subdivison”). Plaintiff asserted claims for procedural and substantive violations of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and violations of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as well as claims of conspiracy. Additionally, Plaintiff asserted a state claim for tortious interference with a contract.

Plaintiff first claimed that Defendants’ treatment of its approved, single-family subdivision was both harmful and different from Defendants’ treatment of the Liberty townhouse complex, a similarly situated subdivision. The Court found that Emerald Acres and Liberty Acres were not “roughly equivalent” or “similarly situated” as required in a selective enforcement claim. The subdivision approval for the Liberty townhouse complex required and followed a different procedure than Plaintiff’s subdivision, and the properties were located in different zoning districts. Plaintiff’s property was located in a commercial zone, and the proposed Liberty townhouse complex was located in an agricultural residential zone. As a result, Liberty and Emerald Acres were proposed with significantly different residential development plans. Emerald Acres was approved as single-family dwellings that were townhouses with subdivided property lots. Additionally, Liberty Acres was not the same size as the approved development on Emerald Acres, was approved in 2006 while Emerald Acres was approved in 2010, and Liberty underwent a Type-I SEQR review by Defendant Town prior to approval.

On its Due Process claim, Plaintiff alleged that the Planning Board tried to redo the SEQR review as a Type-I action after it was already was approved under a Type-II action. Plaintiff’s benefit at issue in this due process claim was that Plaintiff was entitled to the DOH’s approval without a Type-I review by Defendants. Plaintiff argued that when it received conditional, final approval from the Town Planning Board that Defendants had no further discretion in accepting ownership. However, only the Town Board can accept a dedication of infrastructure, as Section 660 of the Town of Pamelia Subdivision Law specifically authorized the Town Board to accept roads or facilities of a subdivision by resolution. Furthermore, the local law stated that the Town Board “may” proceed to accept a facility; the law did not use the mandatory language “shall” accept. The idea that the Town Board did not have discretion or that its authority to accept ownership and maintenance was merely a ministerial act was therefore contradictory to the local law’s use of the word “may.” The court also noted that the Second Circuit found that, where the statute authorizing the dedication of the roads uses the term “may,” the municipality acts with discretion. As a result, the court found that the Town Board had the authority to act at its discretion to accept Plaintiff’s water improvement in Emerald Acres. Plaintiff did not have a clear entitlement to these benefits and, therefore, there was no federally protected interest.

Plaintiff next alleged that “Defendants conspired with and among each other, and with defendant Town of Pamela’s Town Attorney Renzi, Town Engineer Dimmick, and other Town officials, to violate and deprive Plaintiff’s rights to equal protection and due process.” However, because Plaintiff’s claims of constitutional violations did not withstand Defendants’ motion for summary judgment, Plaintiff was unable to maintain a valid conspiracy claim under § 1983. Furthermore, even if Plaintiff had a surviving constitutional violation claim, the court held that conclusory or vague allegations that Defendants engaged in a conspiracy were insufficient, unless amplified by specific instances of misconduct.

Plaintiff lastly claimed that Defendants knew or should have known that Plaintiff intended to lease or sell the townhouses in its subdivision, and Defendants actions “thwarted and delayed” Plaintiff’s plans to make the homes available for occupancy, depriving Plaintiff of reasonably anticipated revenues and profits. The Court found that the record was void of evidence that Plaintiff ever had any contractual relations between itself and any third-party purchasers or lessees. Accordingly, the court granted Defendants’ motion for summary judgment as to its tortious interference claim.

AYDM Associates, LLC v. Town of Pamelia, 2016 WL 4705568 (N.D.N.Y. 9/8/2016)

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