Posted by: Patricia Salkin | August 27, 2018

Fed. Dist. Court in NY Finds Defendants were Immune from Claims Arising from Notices of Violation to Historic Inn

This post was authored by Matthew Loeser, Esq.

In this case, the owners of a historic inn, Plaintiffs Jaime H. Weinberg, Bradford J. Minnick, Thousand Islands Inn Holdings, LLC, and Thousand Islands Enterprises, LLC alleged violations of their federal constitutional rights and state law by Defendants Village of Clayton, the Board of Trustees of the Village, Village Mayor Norma Zimmer, Code Enforcement Officer Richard Ingerson, Bruce Beattie, and Beattie Enterprises, LLC, and by Defendants Menter, Rudin & Trivelpiece, P.C. and Joseph Russell. Plaintiff Weinberg admitted that he had authorized the Inn’s cook to “crash” at the Inn the night before, and Ingerson ordered Weinberg to eject the cook immediately. Weinberg refused to do so, given the source of the citizen complaint was the business owner across the street, as well as Ingerson’s and Fry’s inability to “articulate a sensible legal basis for their belief” that the cook’s presence overnight was illegal. Within hours of this confrontation, Ingerson “declared and posted the Inn as unsafe and unfit for human habitation, ordering it vacated and not to be used or occupied.” Two other unsafe declarations and Notices of Violation followed. Plaintiffs’ amended complaint sought compensatory damages, punitive damages, and injunctive relief.

At the outset, the court noted that although the Village Code itself did not provide for criminal prosecution of Village Code violations, it specified that its remedies were “not exclusive” and did not displace penalties under state law. Based on these provisions, the court could not find that the Menter Defendants acted in the “clear absence of all jurisdiction” or “without any colorable claim of authority.” Additionally, the Complaint was clear that the Menter Defendants had a prosecutorial role in both the civil enforcement and the criminal proceedings against Weinberg and TI Inn Holdings. Thus, the court held that the Menter Defendants were absolutely immune from monetary liability under § 1983 for their role in prosecuting the civil and criminal proceeding against Weinberg and TI Inn Holdings.

In addition to the allegations concerning the Menter Defendants’ prosecutorial role, the Complaint contained allegations that Menter attorneys harassed Plaintiffs. Specifically, Plaintiffs alleged on information and belief, without indicating the basis for their belief, that Russell helped Zimmer and the Village Board change the public comment rules to prevent discussion of ongoing litigations. The court held that these conclusory allegations failed to satisfy the pleading standard under Twombly. Having also dismissed the federal claims against the Clayton defendants, the court granted defendants’ motion to dismiss.

Weinberg v Village of Clayton, 2018 WL 4214363 (NDNY 3/21/2018)

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