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NATALE v. SCHWARTZ

May 31, 2001

RONALD L. NATALE ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
LESTER W. SCHWARTZ ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Yohn, J.

Memorandum and Order

The plaintiffs, Ronald L. Natale, Janet L. Natale, Augustine L. Natale, and Kathleen Natale [collectively "plaintiffs"], brought this suit against defendants Lester W. Schwartz, Eleanor Morris, and French and Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust, Inc., its board members, directors, officers, successors, and assigns [collectively "defendants"], claiming the defendants violated their civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 1985, and asserting a number of state law claims. Pending before the court is the defendants' motion for summary judgment. Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. (Doc. No. 82). After considering defendants' motion, plaintiffs' response in opposition, Pls.' Resp. to Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. (Doc. No. 83), defendants' reply, Defs.' Reply to Pls.' Opp'n to Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. (Doc. No. 86), and other evidence submitted by the parties, I conclude that the defendants are entitled to summary judgment.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs are the record owners of a tract of land located in East Vincent Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania. See First Am. Compl. ¶ 10. On April 5, 1989, plaintiffs acquired title in the tract of land subject to a conservation easement or restrictive covenant. See id. ¶¶ 10 & 93.*fn1 On November 9, 1989, the Building Inspector of East Vincent Township issued the plaintiffs a permit to build a house on the property. See Second Am. Compl. ¶ 5; Pet. for Review of the Issuance of and for a Stay Restraining Any Use of a Demolition Permit Ex. B (Doc. 82, Ex. M2). After plaintiffs obtained the permit, defendants instituted a lawsuit in state court to prevent the plaintiffs from building the farmhouse. See First Am. Compl. ¶ 116. During the pendency of the state court litigation, the plaintiffs built a 4900 square foot house. See Order of Sup. Ct. of Pa., Oct. 1993 (Doc. No. 82, Ex. C). Ultimately, the state court litigation resulted in court orders requiring the plaintiffs to vacate their house and remove it from the property, or, should the plaintiffs refuse to remove it, authorizing the defendants to do so. See Order of Judge Sanchez, Chester County Ct. C.P., Oct. 22, 1998 (Doc. No. 82, Ex. H); Order of Judge Sanchez, Chester County Ct. C.P., Sept. 17, 1998 (Doc. No. 82, Ex. G); Order of Judge Sugerman, Chester County Ct. C.P., July 17, 1997 (Doc. No. 82, Ex. E).

On November 23, 1998, crews from PECO Energy disconnected electrical service to the property. See First Am. Compl. ¶ 19. A demolition contractor then entered plaintiffs' land and demolished plaintiffs' house, its contents, and their well. See id. ¶¶ 19 & 100.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On June 26, 1998, plaintiffs filed a pro se complaint raising a wide variety of claims against various defendants. See Compl. (Doc. No. 1). After retaining an attorney, plaintiffs filed a wide-ranging and confusing amended complaint containing a total of seventy-four counts against the current defendants. See First Am. Compl. (Doc. No. 46). Before considering the defendants' motion to dismiss the amended complaint, the court held oral argument for the purpose of clarifying the claims the plaintiffs were pursuing. See Natale et al. v. Schwartz et al., No. CIV. A. 98-3298, 1999 WL 1134535, at *3 (E.D.Pa. Dec. 10, 1999). On June 18, 1999, the court entered an order construing the amended complaint in the manner set forth by plaintiffs' counsel at oral argument so that the parties would have a structure on which to base their motions and discovery. See Order of June 18, 1999 (Doc. No. 55). In this order, the court dismissed Counts II and XV-LXXIV (15-74) as duplicative and unnecessary. See id. As a result, only thirteen counts remained, eight of which were state law claims. See id.

On December 10, 1999, the court granted in part and denied in part the defendants' motion to dismiss the amended complaint. See Natale et al., 1999 WL 1134535. The court dismissed with prejudice Counts V.A, V.C, VI, and VII. See id. at *11. Although, the court also dismissed Counts III, IV, and V.B, it did so without prejudice and granted the plaintiffs leave to amend those counts. See id. The court declined to examine Counts I and VIII-XIV, the plaintiffs' state law claims, because the survival of the plaintiffs' federal causes of action was uncertain. See id. at *2.

Count III is a § 1983 claim based on a violation of the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment because the demolition permit was procured and the home was demolished without adequate notice and opportunity to be heard; Count IV is a § 1983 claim based on a violation of the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment because of the loss of their personal property, the loss of their well, and the loss of their wheat; and Count V.B is a § 1985(3) conspiracy claim based on violations of the Fifth Amendment due process clause because of the taking of their electricity and the enforcing of the demolition order. See Order of June 18, 1999 (Doc. No. 55).

On April 4, 2000, the plaintiffs filed a second amended complaint amending Counts III, IV, and V.B. See Second Am. Compl. (Doc. No. 70).*fn2 On April 28, 2000, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss the plaintiffs' second amended complaint on the sole ground that the defendants were not state actors. See Mot. to Dismiss Second Am. Compl. (Doc. No. 71). As the court noted after considering the defendants' motion, the defendants failed to raise several other potential deficiencies in the plaintiffs' three remaining federal claims. See Order of July 13, 2000 (Doc. No. 73). As a result, after the court concluded that the plaintiffs' allegations, if proved, were sufficient to establish that the defendants were state actors, the court refused the defendants' motion to dismiss the second amended complaint. See id.

Currently pending before the court is the defendants' motion for summary judgment. The defendants argue that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the plaintiffs' § 1983 and § 1985(3) claims. After setting forth the standard of review, I will evaluate the defendants' motion.

STANDARD OF REVIEW Either party to a lawsuit may file a motion for summary judgment, and it will be granted "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The moving party bears the initial burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Where the movant bears the burden of persuasion at trial, the movant satisfies this initial burden by "identifying [the evidence] which it believes demonstrate[s] the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Id. at 323. Where the nonmovant bears the burden of persuasion at trial, the moving party may meet its initial burden and shift the burden of production to the nonmoving party "by `showing' — that is, pointing out to the district court — that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving ...


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