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BLAIN v. TOWNSHIP OF RADNOR

May 20, 2004.

DEIRDRE BLAIN
v.
TOWNSHIP OF RADNOR, et al



The opinion of the court was delivered by: BRUCE KAUFFMAN, District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff Deirdre Blain brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged violations of her substantive due process rights by the Township of Radnor, its Board of Commissioners, and Commissioners Clinton A. Stuntebeck, William A. Spingler, James M. Pierce, Lisa Paolino-Adams, Harry G. Mahoney, and Graham D. Andrews in their individual capacities (collectively, "Defendants"). Now before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. For the reasons stated below, the Motion will be granted.*fn1

I. Factual Background

  Plaintiff owned two parcels of land in the Township of Radnor with a combined size of 13.6 acres. Amended Complaint ("Compl.") ¶ 1. She submitted her subdivision plan (the "plan") to the Township for preliminary approval on July 2, 1999. Compl. ¶ 19. The Planning Commission and Plaintiff agreed to extend the statutory period for consideration of her plan through November 9, 1999. Plaintiff's Response to Motion for Summary Judgment ("Resp.") at 3.

  Although the plan complied with the Township's density ordinance, several neighbors spoke at Planning Commission meetings about their concerns regarding the density of the new development. Resp. at 4-6. Relying on the opinion of the Township Engineer, Duncan Hubley, that the plan violated two provisions of the Township's subdivision ordinances, the Planning Commission recommended denial. Id. at 5-6. According to Hubley, Lots 7 and 8 violated Section 255-25A (which prohibited the formation of remnants), and Lot 6 violated Section 255-34E (which required that lots be "conveniently shaped"). Id.

  Hubley made his recommendation despite advice from the Township Solicitor that the lots conformed with the ordinances. After the first Planning Commission meeting, the attorney for Plaintiff, John Snyder, wrote to the Solicitor, Eugene Evans, to ask about the alleged violations. Id. In response, Evans left the following voicemail message for Snyder:
Hey John, this is Gene Evans. I'm getting back to you on that letter of September 27, 1999 with regards to the regular shaped lots. I spoke to Duncan. I told Duncan that you were right. Once you put those new lots together, they are very regular shaped. I told him to leave you alone, okay. Thanks.
Resp. at 5. Evans did not attend any Planning Commission meetings considering the plan because he was suffering from terminal cancer, and Defendants claim that they never had a formal recommendation from him that they approve the plan. Motion Ex. C at 30-31, Ex. F at 13.

  After receiving the Planning Commission's recommendation, the Board of Commissioners (the "Board") considered the plan for the first time on October 18, 1999. Resp. at 7. After an additional meeting on November 8, the Board voted on November 22 to deny the plan on the basis of its failure to comport with Sections 255-25A and 34E. Id. at 9.

  Plaintiff filed a Notice of Land Use Appeal in the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas on December 14, 1999. Resp. Ex. 25. In the meantime, Board members met with neighbors to discuss the possibility of buying development rights from the developer of Plaintiff's property, but this effort was unsuccessful. See Motion Ex. B at 114-120, Resp. Ex. 35.

  On June 8, 2001, after a lengthy analysis of Sections 255-25A and 34E, the Court of Common Pleas concluded that because Plaintiff discussed the remnant issue with the Solicitor and followed the procedures set forth in the Township ordinances, the Township could not disapprove the plan on the grounds that it violated 255-25A. Resp. Ex. 27 at 15-16. The Court also found that the "conveniently shaped" language in 255-34E was too vague to support a denial of the plan, and accordingly, the denial was arbitrary and capricious. Id. at 19-20. The Court further stated that the Board's written denial was insufficient because it "did not specify the defects complained of or describe the requirements which have not been met." Id at 21-22. In addition, because the final denial was made after the November 9 statutory deadline, the plan was deemed approved as of that date. Id. at 23.

  The Court of Common Pleas ordered the Board to approve Plaintiff's subdivision application "forthwith." Id. at i. The Township appealed, but the day before its brief was due in October, 2001, it withdrew the appeal. Resp. at 12. The Resolution authorizing withdrawal stated in part that the appeal had been taken due to "the announced interests of some neighbors in the immediate area to acquire some of the development rights for some or all of the properties in question and because of some interest on the part of Radnor Township in assisting those citizens in maintaining open space." Resp. at Ex. 28. The Resolution further stated that it was "legally and financially impractical to proceed" with the litigation and directed the Solicitor to withdraw the appeal. Id.

  Plaintiff submitted a plan for final approval on December 17, 2001. Resp. at 15. At a Planning Commission meeting on January 8 and a Board meeting on January 22, three proposed changes were discussed. Id. at 15-16. On January 8, there was a discussion about the Township Engineer's request that Plaintiff install a sewer line for houses located off of the subdivision property, a request that apparently was made of all subdivision applicants. Motion at 26; Resp. at 36.*fn2 On January 22, a discussion took place about limiting construction on Saturdays. Resp. Ex. 33 at 13. Both conditions were included in a draft resolution that was faxed to Plaintiff for her approval on February 7. Id. Ex. 41. In a letter of that same date, her attorney requested that the Resolution be revised to eliminate the two conditions, and the next day they were eliminated. Id. Ex. 41, 42. The third proposed condition involved the creation of walking paths across the property.*fn3 At the January 22 Board meeting, Commissioner James Pierce threatened to condemn land for walking paths if Plaintiff refused to grant a right-of-way voluntarily. See Resp. Ex. 33.*fn4 Plaintiffs attorney asserts in his affidavit that Commissioner Pierce's threats about condemning the land "imposed upon [Plaintiff] and her buyer an obligation to disclose this fact to all future home buyers, which would have the effect of lowering the value of the property." Resp. Ex. 1 ¶ 35. The plan received final approval on February 8, 2002, without any of the three proposed conditions. Resp. at 38.

 II. LeRal Standard

  In deciding a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56, the test is "whether there is a genuine issue of material fact and, if not, whether the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Medical Protective Co. v. Watkins, 198 F.3d 100, 103 (3d Cir. 1999) (quoting Armbruster v. Unisys Corp., 32 F.3d 768, 777 (3d Cir. 1994)). "[S]ummary judgment will not lie if the dispute about a material fact is `genuine,' that is, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby. Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The Court must examine the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and resolve all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). However, "there can be `no genuine issue as to ...


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