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Jannuzzi v. Borough of Edwardsville

November 13, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo


Presently before this Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint (Doc. 6) for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6). Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 12(b)(6). Defendants' motion will be granted in part and denied in part due to municipal immunity, the statute of limitations, and failure to state a claim. This Court has jurisdiction over the federal causes of action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (federal question), and has jurisdiction over the remaining state causes of action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367 (supplemental).


The facts alleged in Plaintiffs' Complaint are as follows: The Plaintiffs Michael A. Jannuzzi ("Januzzi") and his wife Debra Jannuzzi are residents of Edwardsville, Pennsylvania. (Compl. ¶ 6, Doc. 1.) The Plaintiffs bring this action against three municipal defendants, the Borough of Edwardsville, the Council of the Borough of Edwardsville, and the Edwardsville Zoning Hearing Board. (Id. ¶¶ 7-9.) The Plaintiffs also bring this action against Ray King ("King"), James Hanky ("Hanky"), Roland Roberts ("Roberts"), John Sedeski ("Sedeski"), Leo Martin ("Martin"), and Carol Brawley ("Brawley"). (Id. ¶¶ 10-15.) At all relevant times Brawley served as the tax collector for Edwardsville. (Id. ¶ 15.) Sedeski served as a city councilman. (Id. ¶ 27.) Martin was a member of the city council. (Id. ¶ 40.)

In approximately 1983, the Plaintiffs opened a Personal Care Facility in Edwardsville. (Compl. ¶ 18.) The Plaintiffs obtained permits from Edwardsville to use the facility as a "Boarding House," and were advised that they needed to have an inspection from the Pennsylvania Department of Aging before opening the facility. (Id. ¶¶ 18-19.) Edwardsville's inspector, Hugh Jones ("Jones"), inspected the facility and advised the Plaintiffs that everything passed the inspection. (Id. ¶ 20.) Before leaving the facility, Jones asked the Plaintiffs if they or the residents were registered to vote. (Id. ¶ 20.) After the Plaintiffs stated they were not interested in political matters, Jones failed to send the Inspection Report to the Department of Aging. (Id. ¶¶ 20-21.) Only after registering to vote did Jones submit the Inspection Report required to open the facility. (Id. ¶ 21.) "The Defendants individually and collectively conspired to intimidate the Plaintiffs' tenants in regard to how they voted." (Id. ¶ 22.) "On one occasion, two or more of the Defendants or their agents threatened and/or photographed the Plaintiffs' tenants when they attempted to vote." (Id. ¶ 23.) "On another occasion" an individual, known as "Ed the Barber," tried to coerce Januzzi to get the residents to vote for him. (Id. ¶ 24.) Because Jannuzzi refused to help, "Ed the Barber" stated that if elected he would make it difficult for Jannuzzi to run his facility. (Id. ¶ 24.) After being elected to the Council of Edwardsville, "Ed the Barber" made a motion to have all fire, police, and ambulance service terminated to the Plaintiffs' facility. (Id. ¶ 25.)

Representatives of Edwardsville also said that the Plaintiffs' residents could not vote because they were "mental" and "retarded." (Id. ¶ 26.)

In October 2005, Plaintiffs attempted to sell approximately five (5) acres of land in Edwardsville. (Compl. ¶ 27.) Jannuzzi was contacted by Dr. Anthony Giardano about purchasing the property. (Id. ¶ 27.) Councilman Sedeski told Dr. Giardano that he would be required to pave and put curbing on a portion of the unimproved section of Main Street near the property. (Id. ¶ 27.) Sedeski also mistakenly commented to Jannuzzi, thinking he was Dr. Giardano, that the property should not be purchased because there were all kinds of environmental violations on the land. (Id. ¶ 28.) Sedeski also stated that a holding pond would be required for a sub-division planned by Jannuzzi, and that the pond would burst and flood the five acres. (Id. ¶¶ 28-29.) Sedeski went on to state that "there is no way that he was going to issue a permit to build a house on the five acres." (Id. ¶ 30.) "Sedeski also falsely stated that he would not approve anyone to come in to test the soil in order to install a septic system, so that the home could be constructed, because septic systems weren't allowed in Edwardsville Borough." (Id. ¶ 30.) As a result of these comments, Dr. Giardano refused to purchase the property. (Id. ¶ 30.)

In January or February 2006, the Plaintiffs also attempted to sell other properties, "including both apartments, and approximately twenty-seven (27) acres of land to one Tim McDaniel." (Compl. ¶ 31.) Mr. McDaniel was advised by representatives of Edwardsville that he would not be allowed to build more apartments or develop the twenty-seven (27) acres. (Id. ¶ 31.) In approximately February 2006, an interested purchaser contacted the Plaintiffs' real estate agent and stated that the purchaser was interested in buying the apartment buildings for $1.3 million. (Id. ¶ 33.) When that purchaser's bank sent an appraiser to the property, Defendant King told the appraiser that the apartments were being operated as an illegal business, and that Jannuzzi got the occupancy permits under false pretenses. (Id. ¶ 33.) On or about October 2006, the Plaintiffs' realtor was contacted by other potential buyers to purchase some of his properties. (Id. ¶ 34.) Defendant Roberts told those buyers that the land was solid rock, that they would be unable to tap into the sewer line as it was full, that septic systems are not allowed in Edwardsville, that Jannuzzi "will swindle you by not giving you an easement,"and that Jannuzzi was a crook. (Id. ¶ 34.) All of the statements made by Roberts were false. (Id. ¶ 34.) As a result of the Defendants actions, the Plaintiffs suffered a loss of at least $1.6 million. (Id. ¶ 31.) In 2008 and 2009 the Plaintiffs unnamed representative was told by King, Hanky, and Roberts that if they sold any properties they would all be closed down. (Id. ¶ 35.)

A policeman from Edwardsville stopped a tenant of the Plaintiffs' apartment complex and advised him he should move out. (Compl. ¶ 32.) The policeman also advised that the tenant should tell others to do the same, because the Edwardsville Police were going to come down and arrest all the tenants and close the property down. (Id.) Brawley falsely told Plaintiffs' real estate agent that Jannuzzi is a "crook, the state should shut him down; he stole all of the money form the residents of his personal care home." (Id. ¶ 39.) Councilman Martin told prospective purchasers that "we will never approve anything for Mike Jannuzzi." (Id. ¶ 40.)

In July 2008, Roberts falsely told "the Plaintiffs' representatives" that Jannuzzi did not obtain proper permits to build a home on his property. (Compl. ¶ 36.) From January to March, and again in May 2008, Roberts stated that he would never approve any development of real estate for Jannuzzi. (Id. ¶ 37.) Also in May 2008, Roberts stated that Jannuzi was no good, that he was a crook, that the council members did not like him, and that the council would not approve any project in which Jannuzzi was involved. (Id. ¶ 38.) Roberts also stated that Jannuzzi put a bad taste in many of the borough officials' mouths, and that Roberts called Jannuzzi a "guinea bastard." (Id. ¶ 38.)

On or about May 19, 2008, Jannuzzi was notified that he was violating "the Zoning Ordinance of Edwardsville Borough" by operating a rooming house within the R-3 District of Edwardsville. (Compl. ¶ 41-42.) "Subsequently, the Plaintiff[s] appealed the issuance of the letter from Edwardsville Borough dated May 19, 2008 which directed the Plaintiffs from terminating [sic] the alleged violation of the Edwardsville Borough Zoning Ordinance." (Id. ¶ 42.) R-3 Districts in Edwardsville permit multi-family dwellings including garden apartments and other similar uses. (Id.) The municipal representatives took the position that the zoning ordinance did not allow rooming houses in any District of Edwardsville. (Id.) Plaintiffs requested a special exception so that they would be allowed to continue to operate their business. (Id. ¶ 43.) The Plaintiffs' request was turned down. (Id.) "All of the Defendants have attempted to prevent the Plaintiffs from utilizing their property in Edwardsville Borough for any multi-family type use." (Id. ¶ 44.)

On May 21, 2009, Plaintiffs filed this action in the District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. (Doc. 1.) Defendants filed a motion to dismiss on August 26, 2009. (Doc. 6.) Both parties have submitted briefs, and the motion is now ripe for disposition.


Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. FED. R. CIV. PRO. 12(b)(6). Dismissal is appropriate only if, accepting as true all the facts alleged in the complaint, a plaintiff has not pleaded "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face," Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007), meaning enough factual allegations "'to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of'" each necessary element, Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556); see also Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993) (requiring a complaint to set forth information from which each element of a claim may be inferred). In light of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), the statement need only "'give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). "[T]he factual detail in a complaint [must not be] so undeveloped that it does not provide a defendant [with] the type of notice of claim which is contemplated by Rule 8." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 232; see also Airborne Beepers & Video, Inc. v. AT&T Mobility LLC, 499 F.3d 663, 667 (7th Cir. 2007).

In deciding a motion to dismiss, the Court should consider the allegations in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, and matters of public record. See Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). The Court may also consider "undisputedly authentic" documents when the plaintiff's claims are based on the documents and the defendant has attached copies of the documents to the motion to dismiss. Id. The Court need not assume the plaintiff can prove facts that were not alleged in the complaint, see City of Pittsburgh v. W. Penn Power Co., 147 F.3d 256, 263 & n.13 (3d Cir. 1998), or credit a complaint's "'bald assertions'" or "'legal conclusions,'" Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997) (quoting In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1429-30 (3d Cir. 1997)). "While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009).

When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court's role is limited to determining whether a plaintiff is entitled to offer evidence in support of her claims. See Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974). The Court does not consider whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail. See id. A defendant bears the burden of establishing that a plaintiff's complaint fails to state a claim. See Gould Elecs. v. United States, 220 F.3d 169, 178 (3d Cir. 2000).


Plaintiffs bring eight (8) causes of action against all Defendants: Count I - violations of the Equal Protection Clause; Count II - violations of the Fifth Amendment's Taking Clause; Count III - violations of the Due Process Clause; Count VI - violations of the right to vote; Count V - defamation; Count VI - interference with contractual relationships; Count VII -conspiracy under § 1985 to violate constitutional rights; Count VIII - failure to prevent constitutional harms under § 1986. Defendants argue that many of the claims should be dismissed as ...

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