Posted by: Patricia Salkin | February 8, 2017

Fed. Dist Court in PA Dismisses Claims Challenging Township’s Enactment of the Zoning Ordinance

Plaintiff Peter Sauers sued Lower Southampton Township alleging violations of his rights under the United States and Pennsylvania constitutions. Specifically, Sauers alleged that the Township failed to provide the public with notice and a hearing in connection with the Township’s passage of a zoning ordinance, which resulted in rezoning from residential use to heavy commercial use a plot of land in close proximity to Mr. Sauers’s home. With the Court’s permission, Mr. Sauers filed an Amended Complaint specifically alleging violations of: state and federal constitutional rights to due process; federal constitutional right to equal protection; civil rights under both the United States and Pennsylvania constitutions; and of Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Law.

As to the substantive due process claim based on a land use decision by a municipality, the court found that apart from generic allegations of self-dealing and fraud, Mr. Sauers’s Amended Complaint failed to allege any facts to suggest that the Township or any of its employees acted in a way that shocked the conscience. Additionally, the court found the Amended Complaint failed to make out a cognizable procedural due process claim, as the record indicated that the Township afforded its residents with fair and due process. Here, the Township provided the public with notice of its proposed zoning ordinance by publication in a local newspaper and by then holding public hearings on the proposed zoning ordinance.

Next, the court found that Mr. Sauers failed to make out a cognizable equal protection claim because his allegations did not contain and evidence that the Township “irrationally distinguished between similarly situated classes.” Additionally, the court found that the allegations contained in Mr. Sauers’s Amended Complaint failed to make out a cognizable First Amendment retaliation claim because the Amended Complaint did not describe the constitutionally protected conduct Mr. Sauers engaged in, or the actions taken by the Township in retaliation. The court held that even if Mr. Sauers could make out a plausible Takings Clause claim, he failed to demonstrate that he exhausted the procedures provided by Pennsylvania law for seeking compensation for the alleged taking.

Sauers v Lower Southampton Township, 2016 WL 7319679 (ED PA 12/15/2016)


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