Posted by: Patricia Salkin | November 25, 2018

Federal Dist. Court in PA Dismissed Bias Claims Based on Board Member Receiving Below-Market Rent Deal from Supervisor Absent Actual Evidence of Improper Motive

This post was authored by Touro Law student Thomas Brown ’20

Plaintiff Bohmier was issued an enforcement action for a sign at his house that lacked a permit. He appealed and was denied relief by the Zoning Board. Plaintiff claimed that his due process rights were infringed because one of the board members had an undisclosed conflict of interest. Plaintiff claims that this conflict was a result of one of the member’s receiving a below-market-value rental rate from the Town Supervisors, who also appoint the zoning board members. Plaintiff believed that the member would be biased after receiving a favorable rental deal from the Supervisors and would not evaluate cases with the Zoning Board objectively, since the member depended on the Supervisors for the rental deal. The township appointed a Solicitor to oversee the hearing with the Zoning Board, when the township itself was a party to the conflict. The plaintiff claimed that this created a conflict of interest because the Solicitor would be biased toward the township. The Court held that the plaintiff’s allegation itself was not conscience-shocking, and that it is insufficient merely to say that the member’s motive for voting against him was “open to question,” even when there is evidence of improper motive. In order to be conscience-shocking plaintiff at least needed a plausible allegation of self-dealing or a pecuniary interest. The Court stated that the jurisdiction has not “permitted assertions of improper motive to be transformed into allegations of self-dealing or corruption.”

Bohmier v. Arrell, 2018 WL 3818880 (E.D. Pa. 8/10/2018)

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