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Willis v. Carroll Township

March 5, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Conner


Plaintiff Harold C. Willis ("Willis") brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Presently before the court are: (1) the motion to dismiss (Doc. 7), filed by defendants Carroll Township, Robert F. Faulkner, Robert L. Schopfer, Jeffrey T. Murphy, Calvin E. Hipp, Kevin A. Zinn, Dianne Price, and Mark Hilson, and (2) the motion to dismiss (Doc. 10), filed by defendant Jennifer B. Hipp. For the reasons that follow, the motions to dismiss will be granted in part and denied in part. Willis will be granted leave to file an amended complaint.

I. Statement of Facts*fn1

On May 24, 2004, Willis purchased a forty-eight acre tract of land in Carroll Township (hereinafter "the Township"). The tract is divided by the intersection of Ridge and Chestnut Grove Roads into the following four quadrants: (1) a 17.35 acre northeast quadrant, (2) an 18.31 acre northwest quadrant, (3) a 4.25 acre southwest quadrant, and (4) a 6.91 acre southeast quadrant. (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 3, 11-12.) Township representatives subsequently contacted Willis to inquire about whether he would be willing to sell one of the four quadrants to the Township for recreational use purposes. (Id. ¶ 13; Doc. 28, Ex. K at 2.) He entered into negotiations with defendant Township Manager Dianne Price ("Price"), and ultimately agreed to sell the 17.35 acre northeast quadrant to the Township for $225,000 on August 31, 2004. (Doc. 1 ¶ 14.) Settlement was originally scheduled for December 31, 2004, but the parties extended the settlement date to June 30, 2005. (Doc. 9, Ex. H at 3.)

In November 2004, Willis filed an initial subdivision plan with the Township. The plan proposed subdividing the 18.31 acre northwest quadrant and the 6.91 acre southeast quadrant into building lots. The plan made no similar proposal with respect to the 17.35 acre northeast quadrant that was the subject of the agreement with the Township. (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 16-19; Doc. 9, Ex. H at 3.) Price and defendant Township Engineer Mark Hilson ("Hilson") "demanded" that certain conditions be met before they would recommend approval of Willis's plan to the Township Board of Supervisors.*fn2 These conditions required Willis to: (1) demolish the home and other improvements located on the 17.35 acre northeast quadrant that the Township had agreed to purchase, (2) construct road overlay along the portions of Ridge and Chestnut Grove Roads that bisect his property, (3) relocate all utilities underground, and (4) place street trees along the portions of Ridge and Chestnut Grove Roads that bisect his property. (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 24-25.) Willis alleges that there was no legitimate land development reason for these conditions and that the majority of them were imposed "for the benefit of" the 17.35 acre northeast quadrant that the Township had agreed to purchase. (Id. ¶¶ 26-27.)

On April 14, 2005, the Township Planning Commission voted to recommend approval of Willis's plan to the Board of Supervisors. The Commission's approval was conditioned upon Willis's agreement to plant street trees along Ridge and Chestnut Grove Roads. Willis objected to this requirement, claiming that the Township's subdivision and land development ordinance did not require the planting of street trees along pre-existing roads. Following Willis's objection, the Commission revoked its recommendation of approval of Willis's plan. (Id. ¶¶ 28-30.) On May 6, 2005, Willis withdrew his plan. (Doc. 9, Ex. H at 4.)

On May 19, 2005, Willis's representative advised Price that the Township had breached the terms of the agreement of sale of the 17.35 acre northeast quadrant. (Doc. 1 ¶ 31.) Two weeks prior, Willis had entered into a separate agreement of sale, pursuant to which he had agreed to sell the 17.35 acre northeast quadrant to Kelly G. and Marvin J. Diller ("the Dillers") for $225,000. The Dillers paid Willis a $5,000 deposit. (Id. ¶¶ 32, 36.) Ultimately, Price informed the Dillers that the Township would prevent their purchase of the 17.35 acre northeast quadrant because the parcel had been promised to the Township. The Dillers then expressed an interest in the 18.31 acre northwest quadrant, but Price told them that the Township may also acquire that parcel. (Id. ¶¶ 33-34.) On May 26, 2005, defendant Township Solicitor Jennifer B. Hipp ("Attorney Hipp") sent a letter to Willis and Diller. The letter provides, in pertinent part, as follows:

We write on behalf of Carroll Township . . . . We are disappointed in what has transpired between Harold C. Willis and Carroll Township regarding the sale of [Willis's property], which is located in Carroll Township.

You advised that your client, Harold C. Willis, will not sell a portion of [his property] to Carroll Township and will, instead, sell the entire property to Marvin Diller. You advised that the sale would be complete on or before June 3, 2005.

Please be advised that Carroll Township will exercise its right of eminent domain with respect to [Willis's] property either in whole or in part. Given the speed by which this matter has developed, we feel it is necessary to notify Harold C. Willis of Carroll Township's position and, therefore, are contacting Mr. Willis by a copy of this correspondence. Furthermore, we are notifying Marvin Diller of Carroll Township's position by copy of this correspondence. Carroll Township reserves any and all rights to proceed in an action regarding the Sales Agreement that Carroll Township and Mr. Willis entered into for the sale of a portion of [Willis's property].

(Doc. 1, Ex. A; see also Doc. 1 ¶ 35.) Willis alleges that the Township's communications with the Dillers effectively terminated the Dillers' efforts to acquire any portion of his property and forced him to refund their $5,000 deposit. (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 36-37.)

On July 22, 2005, Willis entered into an agreement of sale, whereby he committed to sell the 6.91 acre southeast quadrant to Wayne Piper ("Piper") for $159,000. Piper paid Willis a $5,000 deposit. (Id. ¶¶ 38, 40.) Willis alleges that Price discouraged Piper from purchasing the parcel by advising him that he would be required to engage in a lengthy re-zoning process before he could utilize it for the purpose he intended. (Id. ¶ 39.) Ultimately, Piper forfeited his deposit. (Id. ¶ 40.) Willis alleges that five other parties have expressed interest in portions of his property. After Willis referred them to the Township, all five of the parties lost interest. (Id. ¶ 41.)

Meanwhile, on June 17, 2005, the Township had erroneously filed a declaration of taking with respect to the 18.31 acre northwest quadrant in the York County Court of Common Pleas. On October 18, 2005, the Township discovered its error and filed a declaration of relinquishment with respect to the 18.31 acre parcel and a new declaration of taking with respect to the 17.35 acre northeast quadrant. (Doc. 9, Ex. A at 1; Ex. B at 2.) On November 4, 2005, Willis filed preliminary objections to this new declaration of taking, claiming that his entire property had previously been taken by the Township via de facto condemnation. (Id., Ex. H at 2.) By opinion and order dated April 23, 2007, the York County Court of Common Pleas determined that Willis had not met his burden to prove that a de facto taking of his entire property had occurred. (Doc. 9, Ex. H at 5, 12.) The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court affirmed this decision on December 10, 2007. (Doc. 28, Ex. K at 16.)

Nonetheless, on October 19, 2006, the York County Court of Common Pleas entered judgment against the Township and in favor of Willis for the estimated amount of $260,000 as payment pro tanto of the amount of just compensation that may be finally determined for the taking of the 17.35 acre northeast quadrant. (Doc. 9, Ex. E); see 26 P.S. § 1-407 (2006) (stating that where a condemnor fails to pay just compensation within sixty days of the filing of a declaration of taking, the court may "enter judgment for the amount of the estimated just compensation"). From the record before this court, it appears that the final amount of just compensation due to Willis has not been determined.

On May 24, 2007, Willis filed the instant action alleging that defendants violated his Fourth, Fifth,*fn3 and Fourteenth Amendment rights. (See Doc. 1.) On July 10, 2007, defendants filed the instant motions to dismiss, alleging that:

(1) Willis had neglected to prove that Attorney Hipp was a state actor for purposes of § 1983, (2) Willis had failed to establish personal involvement on the part of the Supervisor defendants, (3) Willis's equal protection claim was barred by principles of collateral estoppel, and (4) the remainder of Willis's claims failed to state a claim upon relief could be granted. (See Docs. 7, 10.) The motions have been fully briefed and are ripe for disposition.

II. Standard of Review

Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides for the dismissal of complaints that fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6). When ruling on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must "accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Kanter v. Barella, 489 F.3d 170, 177 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 350 (3d Cir. 2005)). Although the court is generally limited in its review to the facts in the complaint, it "may also consider matters of public record, orders, exhibits attached to the complaint and items appearing in the record of the case." Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384 n.2 (3d Cir. 1994); see also In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997).

Federal notice pleading rules require the complaint to "give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Sershen v. Cholish, No. 3:07-CV-1011, 2007 WL 3146357, at *4 (M.D. Pa. Oct. 26, 2007) (quoting Erickson v. Pardus, ___ U.S. ___, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200 (2007)). The plaintiff must present facts that, if true, demonstrate a plausible right to relief. See FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a) (stating that the complaint should include "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief"); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, ___ U.S. ___, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965 (2007) (requiring plaintiffs to allege facts sufficient to "raise a right to relief above the speculative level"); Victaulic Co. v. Tieman, 499 F.3d 227, 234 (3d Cir. 2007). Thus, courts should not dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim if it "contain[s] either direct or inferential allegations respecting all the material elements necessary to sustain recovery under some viable legal theory." Montville Twp. v. Woodmont Builders LLC, No. 05-4888, 2007 WL 2261567, at *2 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly, ___ U.S. at ___, 127 S.Ct. at ...

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