Posted by: Patricia Salkin | October 19, 2019

Fed. Dist Court in NY Finds Neighboring Property Owners Had No Legal Entitlement to the Enforcement of Local Zoning or Traffic Laws

This post was authored by Matthew Loeser, Esq.

Pro se plaintiffs Ronald and Catherine Macera, bought a home locating at 12 English Street in 2007. In 2008, Janne and Joe Lawrence rented the house next door at 14 English Street. These houses shared a driveway. In 2009, the Lawrences began operating a day care out of their home. Plaintiffs allege that the Lawrences allowed children at the daycare to run up and down the shared driveway and enter Plaintiffs’ barn. In 2011, Plaintiffs wrote a letter to the then mayor of Ilion, Mayor Stevens, to express concerns about the day care and about other purported harassment by the Lawrences, including running a motorcycle outside Plaintiffs’ kitchen window and “flipping Plaintiffs off.” In 2012, the Lawrences applied for and received a permit from the Ilion Zoning Board of Appeals (“ZBA”) to operate their home occupation day care at 14 English Street. After the Lawrences moved in 2014, Plaintiffs’ troubles with 14 English Street ceased. In 2016, however, plaintiffs started to develop concerns about a new neighbor, Mark Lyman, who lived at 16 English Street. On March 16, 2016, Plaintiffs emailed Leonard to complain that Lyman’s house was in such disrepair that it posed a health hazard. Ultimately, Plaintiffs alleged First Amendment retaliation, claiming that Defendants punished Plaintiffs’ exercise of their first amendment rights by failing to enforce zoning regulations against the Lawrences’ day care and Lyman, violations of their Fourteenth Amendment due process rights, and FOIL claims.

At the outset, the court noted that the FOIL claim had been properly dismissed, finding that even if Plaintiffs’ Complaint asserted a state-law challenge to the denial of their FOIL request, it would fail since Plaintiffs only sought monetary damages and FOIL does not give rise to a private cause of action to recover money damages. As Plaintiffs failed to clarify their FOIL claim or amend their demand for damages, the court dismissed their state-law FOIL claim.

The court next analyzed Plaintiffs’ due process claims against state actors: the Village, Parisi, and Trevett and found Plaintiffs had no legal entitlement to the enforcement of local zoning or traffic laws. The court reasoned that no municipality has the resources necessary to prosecute each and every violation of the law and “the executive must, therefore, exercise her or his discretion in determining how to allocate those finite resources.” Since Plaintiffs had no property interest in the enforcement of town ordinances against the Lawrences, they could not establish a violation of their due process rights due to Village enforcement decisions. Similarly, Plaintiffs due process claims against Trevett, for failing to stop the Lawrences from relocating their fence, and Parisi, for failing to adequately enforce the parking regulations, were rejected.

As to Plaintiffs’ First Amendment claim, the court found that Plaintiffs failed to raise a genuine dispute as to whether Parisi acted with retaliatory animus. As for Trevett and the Village, the court determined that there was a disputed issue of material fact as to those Defendants’ intent during June and July 2016, when they apparently failed to respond to Plaintiffs’ complaints about Lyman demolishing a structure on his property, burning construction materials, and harassing Plaintiffs. However, as to all other issues, inclusive of: the 2013 fence incident, the failure to train, and the availability of Village codes on the website – the court held that Plaintiffs failed to raise an issue of material fact as to Defendants’ motives, and Defendants were consequently entitled to judgment as a matter of law on those issues.

Macera v Village Board of Ilion, 2019 WL 4805354 (NDNY 9/30/2019)

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