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W.D.D. Inc. v. Thornbury Township

filed: February 8, 1988.

W.D.D., INC.

Appeal from the United States District Court For the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, D.C. Civil No. 86-3972.

Greenberg, Scirica, and Hunter, Circuit Judges.

Author: Hunter


HUNTER, Circuit Judge

This is an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Appellee W.D.D., Inc. ("WDD") alleged that its civil rights were violated in connection with certain land use restrictions imposed by a municipality. Appellants Thornbury Township and John G. Copeland, Jr. appeal the denial of their motion for reconsideration of the denial of summary judgment in their favor. For reasons stated below, we will dismiss the Township's appeal for lack of appellate jurisdiction, and reverse the denial of summary judgment with regard to appellant Copeland.


This dispute arose over a proposed subdivision of WDD's 164-acre tract of land located in Thornbury Township, and appellant Copeland's consistent opposition to that proposal. On October 7, 1985, WDD submitted to the Thornbury Township Board of Supervisors ("the Board"), as well as to the Township's Planning Commission ("the Commission"), a preliminary subdivision plan. At that time, the members of the Board were Wayne Gersen, Ben Johnson and Theodore Pauley. Copeland was then a member of the Commission; he did not take office as a Supervisor until January 6, 1986, at which time he replaced Supervisor Gersen.

The Commission, a strictly advisory board, reviewed WDD's plan, and prepared a report which outlined numerous deficiencies and recommended disapproval by the Board. The report was signed by all members of the Commission, including Copeland, who was then its Chairman. The Board of Supervisors then reviewed the preliminary plan and on December 19, 1985, recommended that certain changes be made. WDD consequently revised the plan to incorporate the Board's recommendations.

On December 30, 1985, WDD appeared at a public meeting of the Board with the modified plan. Supervisors Pauley and Johnson expressed support for the modified plan, and Supervisor Gersen reserved comment because he was soon to leave office. The Board suggested that WDD apply to the Thornbury Township Zoning Hearing Board for variances required due to the modified plan's non-conformance with the township's land development ordinances. WDD filed such an application on January 9, 1986.

The Zoning Hearing Board held a hearing on the WDD application on February 20, 1986. Supervisors Pauley and Johnson testified in support of the application. Supervisor Copeland appeared through counsel at the hearing, and opposed the application. Copeland's counsel stated that he was appearing for Copeland as an individual resident. The Zoning Hearing Board granted the application on April 3, 1986, notwithstanding Copeland's opposition. Several weeks later, on May 5, 1986, Irl and Lois Duling, property owners in Thornbury, filed an appeal from the decision of the Zoning Hearing Board with the Chester County Court of Common Pleas.

On April 22, 1986, Copeland sent a letter to WDD advising that the Board had not approved the plan. At that time however, the Board had not yet taken any formal action at a public meeting with respect to the plan. The Board's formal action did not come until it held a special meeting on May 21, 1986. At that meeting the Board voted, pursuant to 53 P.S. § 10908(3), to intervene in the Duling's appeal of the Zoning Hearing Board's grant of variances. The Board also at that meeting formally voted to deny the subdivision plan. Both decisions were passed by a 2-1 vote, with Supervisors Copeland and John C. Budzinski*fn1 in the majority, and Supervisor Pauley, who had consistently supported WDD, dissenting.

The day after the meeting, WDD commenced an action in the Court of Common Pleas, seeking to force the Township to approve its original plan. On June 13, 1986, the court decided that because the township had not acted on the plan within the time prescribed by 53 P.S. § 10508, the Board must "approve [the original] plan in terms as submitted." Appendix at 270.

While the dispute between WDD and the township continued to wind its way through the state courts for another year after this ruling,*fn2 it was at this point that the instant matter entered the federal court. WDD filed a complaint in state court against the Township and Copeland, alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, on June 18, 1986; the defendants then removed the case to the District Court, and later moved for summary judgment. The motion was denied as to both defendants on March 19, 1987.

Following the denial of the motion, the defendants filed both a motion for reconsideration in the District Court on March 30, 1987, and a notice of appeal to this court on April 10, 1987. Apparently because the appellants had different trial and appellate counsel, neither court was aware of the fact that both proceedings were pending at the same time. This court dismissed the appeal on May 13, 1987. Appellants sought a clarification of the dismissal of the appeal, and on May 28, 1987, this court announced that it had dismissed the appeal because there was a factual issue remaining as to Copeland's immunity from suit. ...

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