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Brian Skiles v. City of Reading

January 7, 2011

BRIAN SKILES,
PLAINTIFF
v.
CITY OF READING, ET AL DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stengel, J.

MEMORANDUM

Brian Skiles claims the City of Reading and numerous City of Reading officials violated his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights by unfairly enforcing City zoning rules and otherwise targeting the rental properties and restaurant he owns in downtown Reading. Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss Mr. Skiles's amended complaint. For the reasons set forth below, I will grant defendants' motion.

I. BACKGROUND

After the defendants filed a motion to dismiss his original complaint, Mr. Skiles timely filed an amended complaint on August 9, 2010. In it, he sets forth detailed factual allegations concerning his claims against defendants the City of Reading, Mayor of Reading Thomas McMahon, Reading Code Administrator Brad Reinhart, Reading Code Enforcement Officer William Frymoyer, Reading Health Inspector James Sanocki, Reading Plumbing Inspector Fred Yourkavitch, Reading Building Inspector Steve Dunkle, and City of Reading Attorney Michelle Mayfield. Mr. Skiles is the owner of multiple residential properties in Reading, and of the Scarab bar and restaurant, which also operates as Daddy's Night Club, located at 724 Franklin Street in Reading. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 12, 13.

A. Plaintiff's Rental Properties

Mr. Skiles claims that, starting in 2006, Mayor McMahon and other Reading officials implemented a development plan called "Downtown 20/20" with the goal of improving the quality of life in parts of downtown Reading. Id. at ¶ 15. As part of that plan, McMahon directed Mr. Reinhart, the Code Administrator, to implement a policy to reduce the number of rental properties and/or boarding houses in Reading. Id. at ¶ 14. The majority of the units owned by Mr. Skiles were originally zoned as multi-family dwellings, but in June of 2008, City of Reading officials represented to individuals interested in purchasing certain properties from Skiles that his units were zoned as single family dwellings. Id. at ¶¶ 24-26. In February of 2009, the City arbitrarily and without prior notice re-designated certain other properties as single family units. Id. at ¶ 27.*fn1

Mr.Skiles claims his buildings were re-zoned because of their proximity to the proposed location of a SEPTA station in Reading and to an area Mayor McMahon has targeted for redevelopment under the "Downtown 20/20" plan. Id. at ¶ 21. Skiles claims McMahon was informed that Skiles's properties, as well as those of other rental property owners in Reading, were being issued incorrect Housing Rental Permits, and that McMahon failed to correct this error. Id. at ¶¶ 32-33.

B. Plaintiff's Restaurant and Bar

Mr. Skiles also claims the City targeted the restaurant/bar/night club he owns (hereinafter "Daddy's"). Am. Compl., ¶ 13, 35. He asserts the following facts: he has owned the deed to the building housing the restaurant and club since 1982. Id. at ¶ 36. From 2006 to 2008, another individual, Jose Perez, "acquired an option to purchase and was a party to a commercial lease for Daddy's Night Club." Id. at ¶ 38. In March of 2007, Perez applied to have the zoning permit for Daddy's transferred to Pere"s name, but Skiles applied to have it transferred back to his own name on July 15, 2008. Id. at ¶¶ 41, 43. Skiles held the liquor license for Daddy's in his own name at all times, and he maintained the appropriate health permit for Daddy's at all times until 2008. Id. at ¶¶ 40, 44. In 2008, the City of Reading failed to send him an application for a health permit renewal for Daddy's as it had in prior years. Id. at ¶ 46. Skiles attempted to apply for a health permit directly from the City's Code Enforcement Office, but was denied. Id. at ¶¶ 47, 48. On May 14, 2008, the same day he attempted to obtain the updated permit, he discovered that the City had posted a notice that Daddy's would be closed as of that date.

Id. at ¶ 49; Pl.'s Ex. E. No notice of the impending closure, of a health violation, or of any other type of violation or infraction was supplied to Skiles or to Perez prior to May 14, 2008. Am. Compl. ¶ 50, 51. On May 31, 2008, the City provided notice to Skiles that Daddy's had been closed for "failure to obtain a current Health Permit." Id. at ¶ 54; Pl.'s Ex. F.

Skiles did not obtain a zoning permit for Daddy's until July 15, 2008 (the same day he applied to have the zoning permit for Daddy's transferred back from Perez's name to his own). Am. Compl. ¶¶ 43, 59. On July 16, 2008, code inspectors appeared at Daddy's to inspect the property. Id. at ¶¶ 59, 62; Pl.'s Ex. G. They told Skiles that all cited health violations would have to be corrected before the health permit would be issued. Am. Compl. ¶ 66. On August 20, 2008, Skiles received an official eight page notice citing violated portions of the building code. Id. at ¶¶ 64, 65; Pl.'s Ex. H. After receiving the notice, Skiles contacted the Code Enforcement Office and was told that if he wanted to speak with City officials, he would need to wait until a meeting could be scheduled. Am. Compl. ¶ 70. Mr. Skiles requested a meeting, which took place on October 6, 2008. Pl.'s Ex. I. After further communication between Mr. Skiles's attorney and city officials including Ms. Mayfield, a health permit for Daddy's was ultimately issued in December of 2009. Am. Compl. ¶ 73.

Skiles claims the City targeted Daddy's for unfair code enforcement because it caters to homosexuals. Id. at ¶¶ 74-77. He states that "[u]pon information and belief, [defendants Reinhart and Frymoyer] harbor great personal animosity against homosexuals, in general, and Plaintiff, in particular." Id. at ¶ 74. As evidence of a "persuasive astrosphere hostility [sic] against homosexuals" by the City of Reading Code Enforcement Office and Property Maintenance Division, he cites a 2006 comment made by Plumbing Inspector Yourkavitch that Skiles is a "fagot."

C. Complaint

In his amended complaint, Skiles asserts three counts, each against all named defendants. Count I is a cause of action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of the First Amendment right to freedom of association. He claims defendants retaliated against him for exercising this right by attempting to shut down Daddy's and crippling Skiles's economic viability by rendering him unable to own and operate his rental units. Count II of Skiles's complaint asserts a claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1983 based on defendants' alleged violation of his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights. Specifically, he claims he was "treated differently than similarly situated owners of investment real property or businesses in the City of Reading." Am. Compl. at ...


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