Posted by: Patricia Salkin | April 20, 2019

CT Supreme Court Holds Exhaustion of State Administrative Remedies in Blight Enforcement Case was Not Required Prior to Filing §1983 Claims in State Court

This post was authored by Matthew Loeser, Esq.

 

Plaintiff, Enrico Mangiafico, was a homeowner who was the subject of a series of enforcement actions under a municipal blight ordinance in the town of Farmington. In 2013, the plaintiff commenced this state court action alleging that the defendants’ designation of his property as blighted, their assessment of daily punitive fines, and their imposition of municipal blight liens constituted an unconstitutional taking of his property. The defendants successfully moved in the trial court to dismiss the plaintiff’s §1983 claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction on the ground that the plaintiff had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies because he had not filed an appeal pursuant to General Statutes § 7-152c(g). The Appellate Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment.

 

On appeal, plaintiff argued that exhaustion was not a prerequisite to an action for damages or equitable relief under §1983 and, even if it were, exhaustion would have been futile because the town’s citation appeals process did not permit him to challenge: the inclusion of his property on the blighted buildings list, the unconstitutional vagueness of the blight ordinance as applied to his property, or the defendants’ failure to follow the proper statutory and regulatory procedures. The court noted that while it was well established as a matter of Connecticut law that a plaintiff could not circumvent the requirement to exhaust available administrative remedies merely by asserting a constitutional claim, §1983 claims are not governed by state law, but are instead governed by federal law. Specifically, the United States Supreme Court eliminated any exhaustion requirement under §1983 because the purpose of the statute was to provide “immediate access” to the courts for “individuals who were threatened with, or who had suffered, the deprivation of constitutional rights…notwithstanding any provision of state law to the contrary.” As such, plaintiff was not required to exhaust his state administrative remedies prior to filing his §1983 claims in state court.

 

The court next addressed defendants’ alternative argument that the plaintiff’s claims were not ripe for judicial review under the finality doctrine established by the United States Supreme Court in Williamson County. However, because the defendants raised their Williamson County defense for the first time in this certified appeal, and because the defense was non-jurisdictional, the viability of that defense was not preserved for appellate review. Accordingly, the court declined to address whether there was a final decision by the initial decision maker. The judgment of the Appellate Court was therefore reversed with respect to the plaintiff’s §1983 claims, and the case was remanded with direction to deny the defendants’ motion to dismiss as to the plaintiff’s §1983 claims.

 

Mangiafico v. Town of Farmington, 2019 WL 1591526 (CT 4/16/2019)


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