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Pietroniro v. Borough of Oceanport

June 18, 1985

FRANK PIETRONIRO, VICE-PRESIDENT OF PIET CORPORATION; MARY PIETRONIRO, PRESIDENT OF PIET CORPORATION; AND PIET CORPORATION
v.
BOROUGH OF OCEANPORT, NEW JERSEY, AND LOUIS J. SYLVAIN, AND NICHOLAS LEONE, AND GEORGE BARRETT, AND CLEMENT SOMMERS, AND ELWOOD L. BAXTER V. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, DEPARTMENT OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT, THIRD PARTY DEFENDANT FRANK PIETRONIRO, MARY PIETRONIRO V. GEORGE BARRETT, FRANK PIETRONIRO, MARY PIETRONIRO, V. CLEMENT V. SOMMERS, FRANK PIETRONIRO, MARY PIETRONIRO V. ELWOOD L. BAXTER, FRANK PIETRONIRO, MARY PIETRONIRO V. NICHOLAS LEONE BOROUGH OF OCEANPORT, NEW JERSEY, LOUIS J. SYLVAIN, AND NICHOLAS LEONE, AND GEORGE BARRETT, AND CLEMENT SOMMERS, AND ELWOOD L. BAXTER, APPELLANTS



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey (D.C. Civ. Nos. 79-1836, 79-1837, 79-1838, 79-1839, and 79-1840).

Seitz, Higginbotham, Circuit Judges and Giles, District Judge.*fn*

Author: Higginbotham

Opinion OF THE COURT

A. LEON HIGGINBOTHAM, JR., Circuit Judge.

Piet Corporation ("Piet"), a New Jersey corporation, brought this action for damages, and declaratory and injunctive relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1982) against the Borough of Oceanport ("Oceanport") New Jersey and certain public officials who were administering Oceanport's urban renewal program.*fn1 Piet, through its sole shareholders and corporate officers -- Frank and Mary Pietroniro -- charged that the defendants illegally deprived relocation assistance as required by the Housing Act of 1949, 42 U.S.C. § 1455(c)(1) (1982), the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970, 42 U.S.C. § 4625 and the Applicable federal regulations. 24 C.F.R. § 42.1 et seq. (1971). A jury rendered a verdict for the plaintiffs for $197,950.00. The district court entered judgment and denied the defendants' motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and alternative motion for a new trial. Despite the complexity and novelty of the issues in this case, the district court filed no opinion, either oral or written, to explain the basis for his denial of the post-trial motions. Because we find, as a matter of law, that the evidence was insufficient to support the conclusion that Piet was denied relocation assistance as required by law, we now reverse the judgment of the district court.

I.

Piet Corporation owned and operated a combination package store, bar, and tenement business (consisting of three apartment) in Oceanport, New Jersey from July of 1961 until July of 1975. The Piet property was located in the downtown business district which in 1972 was a blighted are that consisted of several small businesses, a few gas stations, and abandoned properties.

Defendant Elwood Baxter became Mayor of Oceanport in 1972, and the Oceanport Council then included defendants George Barrett and Clement Sommers. Sommers became Councilman in 1960 and remained a Councilman until January 1, 1976, when he replaced Baxter as Mayor, Barrett served as Councilman until 1978. The offices of Mayor and Councilman were part-time positions paying a salary of $250 per year.

Beginning in February of 1972, the Council held public hearings concerning urban renewal proposals. Frank Pietroniro attended at least one such hearing on behalf of Piet. The Borough of Oceanport Approved an urban renewal plan in June 1972, and in September the program received Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD") Approval and became operational under the Neighborhood Development Program, Project No. NJA-15.

The mayor and Council served as the Local Public Agency ("LPA") for the administration of the Neighborhood Development Program ("NDP"). Baxter, as Mayor, served as the initial Chairman and Barrett and Sommers served as members. Baxter had no vote at Council meetings except in the event of a tie. As chairman of the LPA he did have a vote.

The LPA delegated the day-to-day administration of the Oceanport NDP to the "Oceanport Redevelopment Agency", which later became the "Oceanport Office of Community Development". In October, 1972 the LPA hired defendant Louis Sylvain as Executive Director of the Redevelopment Agency; he served in that capacity until May, 1980. The defendant Nicholas Leone was hired in April, 1973 as Relocation Officer and shortly thereafter was made Assistant Director. In 1976 Leone ceased his involvement in the program. HUD monitored the program.

The urban renewal plan called for the demolition of several properties, including Piet's. Eighteen businesses and forty residences were displaced. The former business district was rezoned for residential use. Negotiations between the Borough and Piet over the removal and relocation of the business began in 1973 and have been the source of much controversy and hostility among the parties. Since the implementation of the NDP there have been disputes over the adequacy of the compensation offered for Piet's real property, allegations of official harassment, conspiracy and unethical conduct, and charges that the relocation assistance provided by the Borough as required by federal law was a "sham" designed to obscure the machinations of "sinister" political plots.

At the time of its eviction on July 2, 1975, Piet had received from Oceanport $95,885.13 in displacement payments, including a $58,225.00 (plus interest) award for the land and building as determined by a judgment in state court condemnation proceedings. Piet did not receive compensation for the value of its liquor license or the licensing fee, but was allowed to retain the ...


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