Posted by: Patricia Salkin | February 26, 2019

Fed.Dist.Court in CT Finds Claims Arising from Fast Food Restaurant Development were Ripe for Review

This post was authored by Matthew Loeser, Esq.

Plaintiff Farmington-Girard, LLC brought this action against Defendants City of Hartford and the Planning & Zoning Commission of the City of Hartford (“PZC”), alleging that PZC has unlawfully blocked the development of Farmington-Girard’s property at 510 Farmington Avenue in Hartford, Connecticut as a drive-through fast food restaurant. The Municipal Defendants moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint, arguing that Farmington Girard’s claims were not ripe, that the Amended Complaint failed to allege any constitutional violations, and that it did not adequately plead the state law claims.

As to ripeness, the Municipal Defendants contended that the “final decision” prong was not met, because “the final determination of the permissible use of 510 Farmington Avenue depends upon a decision” by the Connecticut Appellate Court in Farmington-Girard II. The court rejected this contention, finding that, under Connecticut law, the Appellate Court was a purely remedial body; thus, Farmington-Girard had already obtained a final decision before its appeal. Moreover, Farmington-Girard alleged enough facts to show that the futility exception applies. Here, the ZBA denied a variance from the Text Amendments for lack of hardship on January 20, 2015, and the court determined that the manner of the ZBA’s rejection made it clear that no drive-through project would be approved at 510 Farmington Avenue. Accordingly, the Municipal Defendants’ motion to dismiss Farmington-Girard’s claims as unripe was denied.

The Municipal Defendants next moved to dismiss Farmington-Girard’s claims against them under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. Here, the court found that Farmington-Girard failed to provide any statute that designated PZC as a body politic or authorized it to sue and be sued.  As such, PZC was neither a “person” for Farmington-Girard’s § 1983 claims nor was a separate “body politic” for its state law claims. The Municipal Defendants’ motion to dismiss on this ground was therefore granted, and the court dismissed all claims against PZC.

As to the substantive and procedural due process claims, the Municipal Defendants contended Farmington-Girard failed to show that it had a constitutionally protected property interest. The court found Farmington-Girard’s amended complaint did not reference any zoning regulation under Connecticut law that indicated PZC had no discretion to deny its December 10, 2012 site plan and special permit application. Additionally, the court found Farmington-Girard failed to cite any relevant support for the proposition that it had a vested properly interest under Connecticut law. Accordingly, the Municipal Defendants’ motion to dismiss Farmington-Girard’s substantive and procedural due process claims was granted.

Next, the equal protection claim alleged that 510 Farmington Avenue abutted a Burger-King with a drive through window. Here, however, the record reflected that 510 Farmington Avenue was the “only property” affected by the December 11, 2012 rezoning from B-3 to B-4, the October 28, 2014 rezoning from B-3 to B-4, and the December 9, 2014 re-approval of the October 28, 2014 change. As the amended complaint gave no other “examples of applications and hearings that were similar to plaintiff’s application,” this claim was denied.

 

The court next found that Farmington-Girard sufficiently pleaded an inverse condemnation claim. Specifically, Farmington-Girard alleged that, as a result of the Municipal Defendants’ actions, “any other use of 510 Farmington Avenue besides for fast food restaurant uses with drive-through window service renders the property highly unmarketable for purposes of generating sufficient cash flow to recoup the purchase, remediation and carrying costs of the property.” While the court found that Farmington-Girard might ultimately fail to prove that 510 Farmington Avenue could not be used for any “reasonable and proper purpose,” its pleadings support this inference at this early stage.  Accordingly, the Municipal Defendants’ motion to dismiss Farmington-Girard’s Inverse Condemnation claim was denied.

 

As to the claim for municipal estoppel, Farmington-Girard plausibly alleged that authorized agents of the Municipal Defendants made representations to Farmington-Girard to induce it to believe its December 10, 2012 application was pending under the then-existing regulations. Here, the amended complaint alleged that DDS accepted its $300 application fee and assigned an application number, and that Kim Holden, who was a Chief Staff Planner with DDS, told Farmington-Girard by letter that its application was “considered incomplete,” and that Farmington Girard would need to submit additional information. Additionally, Farmington-Girard plausibly alleged that it acted reasonably by relying on the Municipal Defendants’ representations, and plausibly alleged that it acted in reliance on the Holden letter by “not submitting a new site plan/special permit application immediately after the August 19, 2014 decision. The court further found that Farmington-Girard adequately pleaded substantial loss, as the Municiple Defendants failed to contest this claim. Thus, the court held that Farmington-Girard adequately pleaded a claim for municipal estoppel, and the Municipal Defendants’ motion to dismiss this count was denied.

 

Finally, as the declaratory judgment count failed to state an independent cause of action, the Municipal Defendants’ motion to dismiss this claim was granted.

 

Farmington-Girard, LLC Plaintiff, v. Planning and Zoning Commission of the City of Hartford, 2019 WL 935500 (D. Conn. 2/26/2019)


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