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RUIZ v. NEW GARDEN TOWNSHIP

November 7, 2002

GUILERMINA RUIZ, RODOLFO VILLAGOMEZ, ANTONIO LOPEZ, ANGELICA ORTIZ, RAFAEL LUNA, ANGELICA SANCHEZ, JOSE JUAN PADRON & J. GUADALUPE LOPEZ PLAINTIFFS
V.
NEW GARDEN TOWNSHIP, ROBERT N. TRAYLOR, WILLARD H. SMEDLEY, PATRICK J. KEENEY, NORMAN S. NUNN, FRANK J. ZAGORSKIE, THE ZONING HEARING BOARD OF NEW GARDEN TOWNSHIP, DAVID CARLIN, ANGELO ZUNINO & JAMES DILUZIO DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Anita B. Brody, Judge

    MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

A. The Facts

The plaintiffs, who are all Mexican immigrants working in the local mushroom industry, are residents of mobile homes on 18 acres of land ("the property") in New Garden Township, Pennsylvania ("the Township"). The property is owned by Dante and Lucy DiUbaldo ("DiUbaldo"), and is located in the C-1-2 Zoning District of the Township. The property has been classified as C-1-2 since April 1989. In 1991, one of the existing mobile homes was placed on the property, and no other permit was applied for until DiUbaldo submitted a land development plan in June 2000. Although the property had never been zoned for use as a mobile home park, over a period of years, DiUbaldo installed twelve mobile homes on the property. The plaintiffs have oral month to month leases with DiUbaldo to pay rent for occupancy of the mobile homes in amounts ranging from $500-600. DiUbaldo and the plaintiffs also have an oral agreement that no tenant shall be evicted from a mobile home without cause, so long as he remains a tenant in good standing.

On June 22, 2000, the Township issued an enforcement notice against DiUbaldo as the owner of record of the property, informing him that the placement of eleven of the twelve mobile homes on the property violated the Township's zoning ordinance.*fn1 The enforcement notice was served solely upon DiUbaldo and not upon the mobile home tenants. DiUbaldo filed an appeal of the enforcement notice with the Zoning Hearing Board ("the Board"). On October 3, 2000 Notice of the Hearing of DiUbaldo's appeal was publicly advertised in the newspaper. DiUbaldo appealed the enforcement notice in hearings before the Board on November 15 and December 13, 2000. The plaintiffs did not appear or participate in these proceedings.

On January 23, 2001, the Board issued a decision holding that under the zoning ordinance the mobile homes were not permitted on the property located in a C-1-2 zoning district and directed that DiUbaldo serve Notices to Quit on the tenants of the mobile homes to vacate the premises by July 1, 2001. On March 1, 2001, DiUbaldo complied with the Board's Order by serving the plaintiffs with Notices to Quit.*fn2 The plaintiffs allege that this was the first time that DiUbaldo informed them of the Township's enforcement action and Order to DiUbaldo that he serve Notices to Quit on the plaintiffs. DiUbaldo testified that he told the plaintiffs of the Zoning Board's enforcement action and Order when he received the enforcement notice in writing. Tr. at 47, 63. The testimony of plaintiff Antonio Lopez, however, contradicts DiUbaldo's testimony. Lopez testified that he first heard of the zoning enforcement action from DiUbaldo via letter in March of 2001. Id. at 89, 91. Likewise, plaintiff Rafael Luna testified that he became aware of the zoning enforcement hearing for the first time at some point in 2001. The enforcement notice was issued to DiUbaldo on June 22, 2000. Id. at 103. I find that the plaintiffs did not receive actual notice.

Because the plaintiffs did not leave the property by July 2, 2001, DiUbaldo filed eviction actions against the tenants before the local district justice. On August 22, 2001, the local justice entered judgment for possession in favor of DiUbaldo against the plaintiffs. DiUbaldo obtained judgments of possession against Guilerima Ruiz, Antonio Lopez, Antonio Ortiz, Rafael Luna, and J. Guadalupe Lopez, but did not obtain judgments against Rodolfo Villagomez, Angelica Sanchez, and Jose Juan Padron. The five plaintiffs against whom DiUbaldo obtained judgments of possession appealed to the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County. By agreement with DiUbaldo these actions have been stayed, and therefore plaintiffs remain in possession of the property and the Township has not fined DiUbaldo.

On October 9, 2001, the plaintiffs filed a motion for a temporary restraining order/preliminary injunction to enjoin the January 23, 2001 Order of the Board that required DiUbaldo to serve Notices to Quit upon the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs also requested an award of damages, if necessary, compensating them for the loss of their homes, moving expenses, the mental and emotional distress accompanying the events, attorney's fees, and any other appropriate relief. The Township moved to dismiss the case on two grounds: (1) failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6); and (2) failure to join DiUbaldo as an indispensable party pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(7) and 19. On December 11, 2001 a hearing was held on the preliminary injunction. On May 31, 2002, the parties agreed to convert the preliminary injunction motion into one for a permanent injunction under Fed R.Civ.P. 65(b). The Township was entitled to begin collecting fines on July 2, 2001 against DiUbaldo, and, in turn, DiUbaldo could have raised the plaintiffs rent, but by agreement of the parties they have refrained from doing so.*fn3

B. Jurisdiction

This is a federal civil rights proceeding arising under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Subject matter jurisdiction is proper, therefore, under 28 U.S.C. § 1343 and 1331. Supplemental jurisdiction is proper over the plaintiffs' state law claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

C. Standard for a Permanent Injunction

In deciding whether a permanent injunction should issue, a court must consider whether: (1) the movant has shown actual success on the merits; (2) the movant will be irreparably injured by the denial of injunctive relief; (3) the granting of the permanent injunction will result in even greater harm to the non-moving party; and (4) the injunction would be in the public interest. See Shields v. Zuccarini, 254 F.3d 476, 481 (3d Cir. 2001).

1. Actual Success on the Merits

The plaintiffs must prove actual success on the merits. The plaintiffs claim that the defendants deprived them of their rights to procedural due process by failing to provide them with actual notice of the enforcement action and an opportunity to be heard before the Board.*fn4

To establish a claim for a violation of procedural due process, the plaintiffs must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that: (1) they have a protected property interest in their leases, (2) of which they were deprived without due process, (3) by persons acting under color of state law. Mullane v. Central Hanover Bank & Trust Co., 339 U.S. 306, 70 S.Ct. 652 (1950); Mennonite Bd. of Missions v. Adams, 462 U.S. 791, 103 S.Ct. 2706 (1983); DeBlasio v. Zoning Bd. of Adjustment for the Township of West ...


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