Posted by: Patricia Salkin | June 9, 2019

Fed. Dist. Court in NY Dismisses Takings and FOIA/FOIL Claims Arising from the Demolition of a Mobile Home

This post was authored by Matthew Loeser, Esq.

Plaintiffs Kathleen Herman and Jeff Ghiazza were the owners of a mobile home situated in the Riveredge Mobile Home Park located on Riverview Avenue in the Town of Cortlandt, New York. Plaintiffs were renting the home to a tenant for $850.00 per month, resulting in annual rental income of $10,200.00. In 2016, plaintiffs learned that the Town’s employee Robert Dykeman, “under instruction and order” from the Town, broke into and demolished plaintiffs’ mobile home. The Town offered $3,000.00 in compensation, which plaintiffs refused. The Plaintiffs filed an information request pursuant to New York’s Freedom of Information Law (“FOIL”). Defendants provided only the previous offers from the Town to acquire plaintiffs’ property, but not the documents plaintiffs requested. Plaintiffs then made a second FOIL request, which they allege was ignored. Following this, plaintiffs brought an action in court, and defendants filed a motion to dismiss. Despite being granted an extended deadline to file opposition papers, plaintiffs failed to do so.

In their motion to dismiss, defendants contended that plaintiffs had failed to exhaust available state remedies, and that plaintiffs’ takings claim and due process claims should be dismissed as unripe. Under Williamson, the court found plaintiffs satisfied the first requirement for a federal takings claim to be ripe, finality, because they adequately pleaded that the Town perpetrated a physical taking of their mobile home. However, plaintiffs’ property takings claims and procedural due process claims were unripe under the second Williamson prong as plaintiffs did not allege that they availed themselves of state procedures that could have provided them with adequate compensation for their takings claim. Here, the court found that the proper proceeding to compel public officials to comply with their responsibilities would have been an Article 78 proceeding.

Plaintiffs’ second cause of action under §1983 was for violations of both FOIA and FOIL stemming from the Town’s failure to provide records pursuant to plaintiffs’ two requests for information relating to the demolition of their mobile home. The court noted that contrary to plaintiffs’ allegations, plaintiffs’ information requests were filed pursuant to New York’s FOIL, not the federal statute FOIA. This proved fatal to plaintiff’s second cause of action as a violation of New York’s FOIL does not, standing alone, support a §1983 claim. Instead, the court held, an allegedly wrongful denial of a FOIL request is a matter of state law that is to be addressed in an Article 78 proceeding. Accordingly, defendants’ motion to dismiss was granted.

Herman v. Town of Cortlandt, Inc, 2019 WL 2327565 (SDNY 5/30/2019)

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