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Rockledge Development Co. v. Wright Township

January 13, 2010

ROCKLEDGE DEVELOPMENT CO., PLAINTIFF,
v.
WRIGHT TOWNSHIP, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: (judge Caputo)

MEMORANDUM

Now before the Court is the Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. (Doc. 12.) For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant this motion in part and deny it in part. Additionally, some portions of the Plaintiff's Complaint (Doc. 1) will be dismissed for the reasons discussed below. The Court has jurisdiction in this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 ("federal question") and 1367 ("supplemental").

BACKGROUND

I. Factual Background

The facts alleged in Plaintiff's Complaint are as follows: Plaintiff Rockledge Development Co. ("Rockledge") is a Pennsylvania corporation who develops real estate. (Compl. ¶¶ 5, 9.) Defendants are: Wright Township, a duly existing unit under the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, along with township supervisors Daniel Frascella, Louis Welebob, Jr., Donald P. Zampetti, Jerome Uram,*fn1 Joseph J. Good, and Matthew Houton. (Compl. ¶ 6.)

Rockledge was the owner and developer of the Phase III, Section 4B, portion of the Deerfield Acres Subdivision ("Deerfield Acres") located in Wright Township, Pennsylvania. (Compl. ¶ 9.) On July 15, 1997, Rockledge received Final Plan Approval from Wright Township for the development. (Compl. ¶ 9.) In the Final Plan approval, Wright Township accepted the proposed roads in Deerfield Acres, including the storm water drainage structures associated with those roads. (Compl. ¶ 16.) Wright Township has and enforces a policy*fn2 not to accept dedication of roads, not to issue zoning or building permits, not to issue occupancy certificates, and to withhold any other necessary permits or approvals when Wright Township determines, in its sole discretion, that additional improvements are needed in any subdivision which has received final plan approval. (Compl. ¶ 17.) This policy is applied regardless of how long ago final approval was given, or whether the developer continues to own any real estate in the development. (Compl. ¶ 17.) "There is no procedure providing notice and opportunity for a hearing under Pennsylvania law or the Wright Township ordinance where a post-Final Plan Approval . . . violation . . . has occurred." (Compl. ¶ 37.)

Lot 89 was the last lot in Deerfield Acres owned by Rockledge. (Compl. ¶ 10.) A deed of easement by Rockledge was recorded on February 20, 2003, allowing a fifteen (15) foot-wide drainage easement in the setback area of Lot 89. (Compl. ¶ 18.) On September 8, 2003, another deed of easement was recorded allowing a swale to be located in a twenty (20) foot-wide drainage easement in the setback area of Lot 89. (Compl. ¶ 18.) These easements were granted in response to a demand from Wright Township for such easements and the threat by Wright Township that a maintenance bond posted by Rockledge with Wright Township would not be released. (Compl. ¶ 19.)

The purchasers of Lot 89, the Buckeys, gave Rockledge a first lien mortgage from the as part of the compensation for the sale of the property closing on March 23, 2005. (Compl. ¶¶ 8, 11.) Mr. Buckey applied for and received a driveway permit from Wright Township on May 5, 2005. (Compl. ¶ 22.) After a complaint to the township by a neighbor of Lot 89, the Buckeys were instructed "not to touch anything until the complaint was resolved." (Compl. ¶ 23.) On June 20, 2005, the Buckeys received a letter stating "no zoning or building permits have been issued for any construction on Lot 89, Deer Run Drive, Deerfield Acres and no permits will be issued until any and all violations of other agencies including the Luzerne County Conservation District and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources have been complied with." (Compl. ¶ 25.) Wright Township believed that a drainage problem on Lot 89 made the lot un-buildable and had to be rectified by building a swale across the front of Lot 89 to connect with a swale on Lot 90 before any building permits could be issued. (Compl. ¶ 28.)

II. Procedural Background

On November 17, 2005, the Buckeys filed a complaint in the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas against Rockledge alleging that Rockledge failed to disclose a drainage or flooding problem on Lot 89. (Compl. ¶ 11.) On March 3, 2006, Rockledge filed a complaint against the Buckeys for default on their promissory note and mortgage. (Compl. ¶ 21.)

On November 13, 2008, Rockledge filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania against the Defendants. (Doc. 1.) On November 5, 2009, Defendants filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. (Doc. 12.) Both parties have fully briefed this motion, and it is now ripe for disposition.

LEGAL STANDARD

Under Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, after the pleadings are closed, any party may move for judgment on the pleadings. A Rule 12(c) motion is designed to provide a means for disposing of cases when the material facts are not in dispute and a judgment on the merits can be achieved by focusing on the content of the pleadings and any facts of which the court will take judicial notice. See CHARLES ALAN WRIGHT AND ARTHUR R. MILLER, FEDERALPRACTICE AND PROCEDURE § 1367. A court should only grant a motion for judgment on the pleadings if it is clear that the merits of the controversy can be fully and fairly decided in this summary manner. See id. at § 1369.

In deciding a motion for judgment on the pleadings, a court must consider the facts alleged in the pleadings and the inferences drawn from these facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Oxford Assocs. v. Waste Sys. Auth. of E. Montgomery County, 271 F.3d 140, 144-45 (3d Cir. 2001); McCoy v. Southeastern Pa. Transp. Auth., No. 01-5881, 2002 WL 376913 at *1 (E.D. Pa. 2002). The motion may only be granted if there are no factual allegations in the pleadings which, if proven, would allow the nonmoving party to recover. See Oxford Assocs., 271 F.3d at 144-45; McCoy, 2002 WL 376913 at *1.

DISCUSSION

Plaintiff's complaint contains three counts. At Count I, Rockledge alleges that the Defendants' have violated its substantive due process rights. At Count II, Rockledge alleges that the Defendants' have violated its procedural due process rights. And at Count III, Rockledge alleges that a ...


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