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Sullivan v. City of Pittsburgh

filed as amended march 6 1987.: January 23, 1987.


On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania (D.C. Civ. No. 85-1228)

Author: Higginbotham



This appeal arises from a class action brought by a group of recovering alcoholics to enjoin the closing of alcoholic treatment centers by the City of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Alcoholic Recovery Center, Inc. ("ARC"), the non-profit corporation that manages and runs the treatment centers that treat class action plaintiffs-appellees, intervened in the action before the district court. The City now appeals the grant of the preliminary injunction enjoining it pendente lite from closing the treatment centers and requiring it to issue zoning and building permits and to distribute certain federal Community Development Block Grant ("CDBG") funds. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1292(a)(1), we have jurisdiction over the district court's interlocutory order granting preliminary injunctive relief. For the reasons set forth below, we will affirm the district court's order.


Since 1966, ARC has treated alcoholics in several facilities in the North Side section of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and elsewhere in Allegheny County. These facilities, located at 422-424 Tripoli Street, 1216 Middle Street and 800, 814, 816, 818 and 820 East Ohio Street in Pittsburgh and at 1831 Hulton Road, Verona and R.D. 1, Avella in Allegheny County, have served primarily low-income persons. In accordance with the then-existing Zoning Code of Pittsburgh,*fn1 ARC, on four occasions between 1966 and 1977, submitted applications for conditional use or occupancy permits required by the Code.*fn2 The Pittsburgh City Council never acted upon these Planning Department applications, although the Pittsburgh Planning Commission did recommend approval of the 1977 application. Despite its failure to act upon ARC's permit applications, the City sent a letter of commendation to ARC on March 23, 1977.

On September 15, 1980, Pittsburgh amended its Zoning Code with respect to facilities such as those operated by ARC.*fn3 Thereafter, in 1982, ARC applied for conditional use permits for group care facilities at 1216 Middle Street and 422-424 Tripoli Street and for an institutional facility at 800, 814, 816 and 818 East Ohio Street, seeking approval for a total of 99 residents. The Pittsburgh Planning Department recommended approval for only 1216 Middle Street and 800 East Ohio Street for a total occupancy of 65 residents. One senior planner for the Planning Department also recommended that the City of Pittsburgh allocate $75,000 to $100,000 of CDBG funds for necessary renovations of ARC facilities.

On September 14, 1982, at a public hearing held by the Planning Department, the East North Side Area Council, a community organization, expressed hostility towards ARC and reluctance about accepting a treatment center for alcoholics in its neighborhood. Later, in early May, 1983, ARC responded to potential overcrowding in the Allegheny County Jail by announcing it would accept persons convicted of driving while under the influence of alcohol for treatment in its North Side Facilities, apparently raising some concern in the surrounding community. On July 12, 1983, City Councilman William Robinson, on behalf of the East North Side Area Council, demanded that Pittsburgh close all ARC facilities. Soon thereafter, on July 18, 1983, Councilman Robinson, along with two other council members, introduced a resolution stating that the Council intended to impose a moratorium on the establishment of group homes in Pittsburgh, funded from whether source, until such time as a procedure acceptable to both the City and the County for locating such homes was established. The resolution was adopted by the City Council on that same date.

Apparently in partial response to the Council, the Planning Department, on October 25, 1983, recommended in an internal memo that conditional use permit applications for the 1216 Middle Street facility be approved, and that $200,000 in CDBG funds be used to relocate the residents of other ARC facilities outside Pittsburgh. On the same day, the Planning Department officially recommended approval of the Middle Street facility, but denied approval for the Tripoli and East Ohio Street locations. Later, Frederick Just, a senior planner for the Planning Department, indicated to Charles Cain, director of ARC, that community opposition had been a determinative factor in the Department's decision. On November 21, 1983, in keeping with its moratorium, the City Council, without providing a hearing or offering written reasons, rejected conditional use applications for the Middle Street, Tripoli Street, and East Ohio Street facilities.

After the Council's rejection of its applications, ARC worked with the Planning Department in an attempt to find alternate sites for its Pittsburgh facilities. Because the Planning Department concluded that community opposition had to be considered in selecting alternate sites, the Department rejected several proposals for relocation due to anticipated neighborhood hostility.

As a result of these developments, City and County officials and representatives of ARC met in the fall of 1984 to find a way to allay community fears and to allow ARC to remain in the North Side section. An agreement was reached which was to become effective, at the City's insistence, only with the consent of local community organizations. The agreement provided that (1) ARC would operate only its 800 East Ohio Street facility in the Northside section; (2) ARC would treat only 50 alcoholics in the facility; (3) the City would provide $100,000 and the County would provide $100,000 in the form of CDBG funds for renovations and improvements to the East Ohio Street facility, subject to formal approval by the City Council and County Commissioners; (4) the City Council would appoint one-third of the board members of ARC, and ARC in turn would remove all staff members from its Board while appointing community residents to it; (5) the City and County would monitor ARC's performance and ARC would regularly meet the neighborhood groups; (6) the County would seek funding so that it could hire a new administrative officer; (7) ARC would treat no persons convicted of driving while under the influence of alcohol at the East Ohio Street facility; and (8) the County would invest an additional $100,000 in CDBG funds to acquire or improve ARC facilities located in Allegheny County. City and County officials reached the agreement after having been given informal authority by their respective administrations to resolve the conflict. The agreement is significant because earlier, in January 1984, the City had filed suit against ARC in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas seeking preliminary and permanent injunctions to close all ARC facilities in Pittsburgh. The action was based on ARC's failure to meet fire and building codes, which ARC maintained could only be corrected with the appropriate zoning approval from the City. After an issuance and vacation of the injunctions, a consent agreement was entered on January 14, 1985, which essentially incorporated the terms of the agreement between ARC and City and County officials. Subsequently, in accordance with the agreement, ARC sought to attain the required zoning approval for the East Ohio Street Center. ARC was unable, however, to obtain the required consent of the East North Side Area Council. Another community organization, the East Allegheny Community Council, later agreed to the proposal, but only upon certain conditions, one being that ARC sell its other properties only when the organization agreed that it could.

Despite its inability to gain the unanimous support of community organizations, ARC continued to seek zoning approval. On February 5, 1985, the Planning Department recommended that ARC's application for the East Ohio Street facility be approved for 55 residents. The Department also recommended that (1) an outside full-time director be hired by the ARC Board within 60 days of approval by the Council; (2) three neighborhood residents be appointed to the ARC Board within 30 days of Council's approval; (3) funds for remedying Code violations be secured within 90 days of Council's approval; and (4) a site plan to include a privacy fence, landscaping, and a recreation area be submitted to the Planning Department within 30 days of Council's approval. On April 22, 1985, presumably after a Planning Commission hearing, City Council held a five-hour public hearing on the ARC application. Apparently still bound by its moratorium, the Council voted on May 20, 1985 to deny ARC's application on grounds that approval would diminish surrounding property values and hinder orderly community development.

Shortly thereafter, the instant action was filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania against the City by a class consisting of alcoholics in need of ARC services who could obtain those services nowhere else. ARC's subsequent motion to intervene was granted by the district court on grounds that ARC, as operator of the recovery centers, had an interest in the property and transactions which might be affected by class action plaintiffs' suit. After trial, pursuant to the Equal Protection Clause, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and 29 U.S.C. § 794, the district court granted preliminary injunctive relief pendente lite which directed (1) the City to grant ARC a conditional use permit for a group care facility at 1216 Middle Street, and a conditional use permit for an institutional facility at 800 East Ohio Street; (2) the City to grant ARC building permits to undertake repairs and renovations at 1216 Middle Street and 800 East Ohio Street to bring those facilities into compliance with relevant codes; (3) the City to grant occupancy permits for these locations without undue delay; (4) the City and County to pay to ARC the sum of $100,000 in CDBG funds for necessary repairs and renovations of both the 1216 Middle Street and 800 East Ohio Street facilities within 90 days; and (5) the City and County to appropriate additional CDBG funds after initial repairs to finance certain exterior renovations of the 800 East Ohio Street facility so that ARC might provide services to 50 residents at that facility. The City now appeals the district court's grant of injunctive relief. The County does not appeal.


This case requires us to make several injuries. First, we must determine whether plaintiffs in the action before the district court had standing to bring suit. Second, we must determine whether the district court abused its discretion in failing to abstain from deciding the action before it. Third, we must determine whether this action was barred by the statute of limitations. Fourth, we must determine whether the granting of the injunction under the circumstances of this case violated federal statutory law. And finally, we must determine whether the district court correctly concluded that appellees were entitled to an injuction on the basis of their federal constitutional and statutory claims. We will resolve these issues in the order set forth above.


We first consider the standing of class action plaintiffs in the action before the district court. On appeal, appellants assert for the first time that class action plaintiffs-appellees should be denied injunctive relief because appellees were not directly affected by the City's actions in denying ARC zoning approval. As indirectly affected parties without a property interest in the property denied zoning approval, appellants contend, class-action plaintiffs-appellees lack standing to challenge the City's actions. We are unpersuaded by appellants' argument.

The leading case on the issue of standing is Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 45 L. Ed. 2d 343, 95 S. Ct. 2197 (1975). In Warth, a non-profit corporation desiring to alleviate the housing shortage for low-and-moderate income persons, along with several racial and ethnic minorities, brought suit against a municipality alleging that its zoning ordinance effectively excluded low- and moderate-income persons from living in the town in contravention of, inter alia, the fourteenth amendment and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In ruling on plaintiffs' claims, the Supreme Court set forth the bifurcated inquiry which must be undertaken by a federal court resolving a standing question. First, a federal court must determine whether a plaintiff has "suffered 'some threatened or actual injury resulting from the putatively illegal action.'" Warth, 422 U.S. at 499 (quoting Linda R.S. v. Richard C., 410 U.S. 614, 617, 35 L. Ed. 2d 536, 93 S. Ct. 1146 (1973)), by the defendant. Second, if the federal court determines that the plaintiff has suffered such injury, the court must then determine whether non-constitutional, prudent limitations dictate that the court not exercise jurisdiction. Prudential limitations would so dictate where a plaintiff merely alleges a generalized grievance shared by a large class of citizens or where a plaintiff asserts the rights or interests of a third party. Id.

Here, class action plaintiffs-appellees' claims satisfy both Warth requirements. Since appellees contend in their pleadings that they will not receive treatment if an ARC facility is not kept open, see App. at 7a-10a, they have "alleged specific, concrete facts demonstrating that the challenged practices harm [them] and that [they] personally would benefit in a tangible way from the court's intervention." Warth, 422 U.S. at 508. Additionally, because class action plaintiffs-appellees are the intended recipients of ARC's services, they, like plaintiffs in federal cases the Warth Court cited approvingly, have "challenged zoning restrictions as applied to particular projects that would supply housing within their means, and of which they [are] intended residents. "*fn4 Id. at 507 (emphasis added). Moreover, prudential limitations are inapplicable to class action plaintiffs-appellees' claims since appellees allege harm to themselves from lack of treatment as opposed to a generalized harm to a society from lack of treatment centers for alcoholics. And clearly, class action plaintiffs-appellees assert their own rights (both under the Equal Protection Clause and under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973) rather than the rights of a third party. We therefore hold that appellees had standing to bring this suit before the district court.


[Text Deleted by Court Emendation] We next consider the district court's decision not to abstain from passing on class action plaintiffs-appellees' claims. Appellants contend that Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 27 L. Ed. 2d 669, 91 S. Ct. 746 (1971), and its progeny required abstention in this case. Appellants base their contention primarily on Ohio Civil Rights Commission v. Dayton Christian Schools, 477 U.S. 619, 106 S. Ct. 2718, 91 L. Ed. 2d 512 (1986). In Dayton Christian Schools, a private, non-profit religious educational institution (Dayton Christian Schools, Inc.) required its teachers to subscribe to a particular set of religious beliefs, including belief in the internal resolution of disputes. As a condition of employment, teachers were required to present any employment-related grievance to their immediate supervisors and to acquiesce in the final decision of Dayton's board of directors rather than to pursue a civil remedy in court. After a pregnant teacher was told her employment contract would not be renewed due to the school's religious doctrine that mothers should stay home with their preschool children, she contacted an attorney, who threatened Dayton with state and federal litigation. Dayton then rescinded its nonrenewal decision, but terminated the teacher for violation of the internal dispute resolution agreement. The teacher then filed an action with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, alleging that her termination violated Ohio sex discrimination statutes. Ultimately, the Commission initiated internal administrative proceedings against Dayton, which answered the complaint by asserting that the Commission's exercise of jurisdiction over the matter would violate the first amendment. While the administrative proceedings were pending, Dayton and other filed a federal action seeking an injunction against the state administrative proceedings.

After rulings by federal district and circuit courts, the Supreme Court held that the district court should have abstained. The Court held that Younger concerns are applicable to state administrative proceedings as well as state criminal proceedings and that so long as a state plaintiff has a full and fair opportunity to litigate his federal claims at some point in the state proceedings, abstention is appropriate. Dayton 106 S. Ct. at 2722-24. Accordingly, since Dayton could raise its constitutional claims before a state court reviewing the ...

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