The opinion of the court was delivered by: BRODY
Before me for disposition are the Motions to Dismiss filed by defendant Township of Lower Merion ("Township"), defendant Township Commissioners ("Commissioners"), and defendant neighbors ("Neighbors"). Oral argument on these motions was held on May 10, 1996. After reviewing the various arguments, I will grant the Neighbors' Motions to Dismiss on grounds of first amendment immunity (Noerr-Pennington doctrine), and will deny the Township's and the Commissioners' Motions to Dismiss the § 1983 and § 1985(3) claims. I refuse to abstain under Younger.
Plaintiff Barnes Foundation ("Barnes") filed this action in January, 1996, alleging that the Township, the Commissioners and the Neighbors had infringed upon Barnes' constitutional rights by acting in concert to discriminate against and harass Barnes. These actions included: enforcing existing parking, police, fire and zoning ordinances in a discriminatory manner; interfering with the reopening of Barnes in November 1995; "closely monitoring" the actions of Barnes, including picketing and videotaping the entrance to Barnes; preventing Barnes from creating a parking lot; interfering with existing and prospective business relationships; and filing a retaliatory law suit in state court. Through these actions, Barnes claims that the defendants infringed upon its fundamental liberty and property interests; violated its right to equal protection under the 14th amendment (by selectively enforcing local laws and treating Barnes differently than other similarly situated institutions); violated its substantive due process rights (by depriving Barnes of its property interest in an irrational manner); and infringed on its first amendment rights (by filing a retaliatory law suit). Barnes brings this action pursuant to § 1983 and § 1985(3), and seeks compensatory damages, punitive damages, an injunction, and attorneys' fees and costs.
Defendants move to dismiss Barnes' claims on 12(b)(6) grounds. Rule 12(b)(6) permits the court to dismiss an action for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). In considering such a motion, the court must accept as true all allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that may be drawn therefrom, viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Rocks v. City of Philadelphia, 868 F.2d 644, 645 (3d Cir. 1989). The claims may only be dismissed on 12(b)(6) grounds if Barnes cannot demonstrate any set of facts that would entitle it to relief. See Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 2 L. Ed. 2d 80, 78 S. Ct. 99 (1957); ALA, Inc. v. CCAIR, Inc., 29 F.3d 855, 859 (3d Cir. 1994); Ransom v. Marrazzo, 848 F.2d 398, 401 (3d Cir. 1988).
A. § 1983 and § 1985(3) Claims
The § 1983 and § 1985(3) claims against the Neighbors, although perhaps otherwise cognizable, are dismissed under the Noerr-Pennington Doctrine.
B. First Amendment Immunity / Noerr-Pennington Doctrine
The Neighbors are dismissed from this action due to their first amendment immunity under the Noerr-Pennington doctrine.
The Noerr-Pennington doctrine protects citizens from being penalized for exercising their first amendment right to petition government. First recognized in the anti-trust context by the Supreme Court in Eastern R.R. Presidents Conference v. Noerr Motor Freight, Inc., 365 U.S. 127, 5 L. Ed. 2d 464, 81 S. Ct. 523 (1961) ("Noerr ") and United Mine Workers v. Pennington, 381 U.S. 657, 14 L. Ed. 2d 626, 85 S. Ct. 1585 (1965) ("Pennington "), and further developed by the Supreme Court in City of Columbia v. Omni Outdoor Advertising, Inc., 499 U.S. 365, 111 S. Ct. 1344, 113 L. Ed. 2d 382 (1991) ("Omni "), the Noerr-Pennington doctrine has been extended to protect citizens in a variety of contexts; for example, see Professional Real Estate Investors, Inc. v. Columbia Pictures Indus., Inc., 508 U.S. 49, 123 L. Ed. 2d 611, 113 S. Ct. 1920 (1993) (Noerr-Pennington doctrine applied to copyright infringement action); ( NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co., 458 U.S. 886, 73 L. Ed. 2d 1215, 102 S. Ct. 3409 (1982) (Noerr-Pennington doctrine immunizes citizens from liability for exercising right to boycott); Video Int'l Prod., Inc. v. Warner-Amex Cable Communications, Inc., 858 F.2d 1075 (5th Cir. 1988), cert. denied 490 U.S. 1047, 104 L. Ed. 2d 424, 109 S. Ct. 1955 (1989) (Noerr-Pennington protects defendant from liability for claim of conspiracy with city in violation of civil rights under § 1983); Gorman Towers, Inc. v. Bogoslavsky, 626 F.2d 607 (8th Cir. 1980) (private citizens immune from liability in § 1983 claim regarding zoning dispute). Like these other courts, the Third Circuit has also applied the Noerr-Pennington doctrine outside of the anti-trust context, to protect citizens from liability for ...