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Rockledge Development Co v. Wright Township

February 10, 2011


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


Presently before the Court is the defendants' motion for summary judgment on the plaintiff's remaining procedural due process claim. (Doc. 22.) Because the defendants did not deprive the plaintiff of its property interest, due process is unnecessary, and the due process claim fails. Therefore, the motion will be granted and judgment entered in the defendants' favor.

I. Background

Rockledge Development Corporation owned a portion of a subdivision located in Wright Township which included Lot 89. This lot was purchased, and the owners gave Rockledge a mortgage as part of the consideration for the property's purchase.

The owner applied for, and received, a driveway permit from Wright Township on May 5, 2005. A neighbor complained to the township, which instructed the owners "not to touch anything until the complaint [i]s resolved." About a month later, the owners received a letter stating that "no zoning or building permits have been issued for any construction on Lot 89 and no permits will be issued until any and all violations of other agencies . . . have been complied with."

On November 17, 2005, the owners filed a complaint against Rockledge in state court for fraudulent misrepresentation. On November 13, 2008, Rockledge filed a complaint in federal court against the township and its supervisors. Various claims have been dismissed. The only remaining claim is a Fourteenth Amendment violation of procedural due process pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The nub of Rockledge's complaint is that the township's failure to apprise it-as mortgagee-of the township's decision not to issue building or zoning permits to the owners,deprived Rockledge of its property interest in the mortgaged property without due process of law.

The defendants move for summary judgment on two grounds. (Doc. 22.) First, the they argue that Rockledge's claim is time-barred. Second, they argue that Rockledge had adequate recourse under existing procedural protections. Rockledge opposes the motion. Both sides have submitted extensive evidence and briefing. Because Rockledge cannot show that it was deprived of a property interest, the Court will not reach the defendants' arguments, and the motion will be granted.

II. Discussion

A. Legal Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(2). A fact is material if proof of its existence or nonexistence might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

Where there is no material fact in dispute, the moving party need only establish that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(2). Where, however, there is a disputed issue of material fact, summary judgment is appropriate only if the factual dispute is not a genuine one. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. An issue of material fact is genuine if "a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. Where there is a material fact in dispute, the moving party has the initial burden of proving that: (1) there is no genuine issue of material fact; and (2) the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See 2D Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2727 (2d ed. 1983). The moving party may present its own evidence or, where the nonmoving party has the burden of proof, simply point out to the court that "the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of her case." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

All doubts as to the existence of a genuine issue of material fact must be resolved against the moving party, and the entire record must be examined in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. White v. Westinghouse Elec. Co., 862 F.2d 56, 59 (3d Cir. 1988). Once the moving party has satisfied its initial burden, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to either present affirmative evidence supporting its version of the material facts or to refute the moving party's contention that the facts entitle it to judgment as a matter of law. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256--57. The Court need not accept mere conclusory allegations, whether they are made in the complaint or a sworn statement. Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888 (1990). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, "the judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.

B. Rockledge is Not Entitled to Due Process

The Fourteenth Amendment provides that no state shall "deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." To prevail on a procedural due process claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must show (1) that he possessed a life, liberty, or property interest within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment, and (2) that he did not have procedures available to him that would provide him with "due process of law." Robb v. City of Philadelphia, 733 F.2d 286, 292 (3d ...

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