Posted by: Patricia Salkin | October 30, 2019

Fed. District Court in MI Dismisses Takings Claim as Unripe Following the Denial of a Utility Easement

This post was authored by Matthew Loeser, Esq.

Since the 1970s, Plaintiffs owned eighteen separate parcels of land located in the Township of Canton. In 1975, Plaintiffs Daniel McCausland and Robert McCausland were approved to operate an auto service business on the property located at 1981 N. Lotz Road. In 2016, the Township began the Lotz Road paving project, which was “a $5-million project to transform a pothole-riddled, dirt-and-gravel stretch of Lotz Road into a three-lane, concrete road, between Ford and Cherry Hill.” As the project entailed extending water mains, Plaintiffs inquired about having the water mains extended to their main property on Lotz Road. in 2016, the Township requested an easement over the property, but the request was denied by Plaintiffs. In this case, Plaintiffs alleged that their denial of the easement request triggered retaliatory actions from the Township, as Plaintiffs already had a history of vocalizing their concern regarding land use and zoning classifications. Plaintiff further claimed that as a result of the Township’s failure to approve the drawings for the utility easement, Plaintiffs’ land had been rendered valueless.

Defendants first contended that Plaintiffs’ federal taking claim was not ripe as there had not been any adverse final decision on any Township zoning ordinance request by Plaintiffs. Additionally, it was undisputed that the First Amended Complaint did not contain any allegations that Plaintiffs availed themselves of pursuing any action in state court before filing this case. To this point, Plaintiffs argued that a “takings claim that challenges the constitutionality of an ordinance is ripe when the ordinance, as enacted, deprives an owner of viable economic use of his or her property.” Here, however, the court found that Plaintiffs’ federal taking claim was an as-applied challenge, not a facial challenge. Furthermore, all of Plaintiffs’ takings claim allegations specifically related to Defendants denying Plaintiffs the economic viability of the property, seemed to arise from Defendants’ conduct pursuant to the zoning ordinances, rather than the mere enactment or existence of those ordinances. As such, Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss was granted as to this claim.

Defendant next claimed that if an as-applied regulatory takings claim was joined with due process and equal protection claims related to the alleged regulatory taking, those claims must also satisfy Williamson County Regional Planning Commission v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson City, 473 U.S. 172 (1985), including the requirement of a final decision. In response, Plaintiffs asserted that because they were making a facial challenge to the regulations promulgated by the Township, their claims were ripe even in the absence of enforcement by the Township, since claims that a regulation is unconstitutional on its face are ripe when the regulation is enacted. In this case, Plaintiffs alleged that the Corporate Overlay District was unconstitutionally vague and alleged that Township Ordinance 19.03(B) was unconstitutionally vague on its face, as it gave the Township unbridled discretion. Because of this, the court denied Defendants’ motion as it related to the conspiracy claim in Count V – and their arguments related to the ripeness and plausibility of Counts I, II, and IV.

As a final matter, the court held that it was the most appropriate forum to determine the federal constitutional law issues – specifically, whether the Township ordinances were valid under the U.S. Constitution. The court also found that its rulings would not affect the state court’s ability to determine whether Plaintiffs violated the terms of the Township ordinances, even if the court invalidated the Township ordinances so that they could be enforced against Plaintiffs. Accordingly, the court denied Defendants’ argument that the court invoke the Younger or Colorado River doctrines to abstain from exercising jurisdiction over Plaintiffs’ cause of action.

McCausland v Charter Township of Canton, 2019 WL 4746763 (ED MI 9/30/2019)

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