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David R. Lease v. Ronald Balutis

March 6, 2012


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


This is a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action arising from a number of land use-related disputes between Hamilton Township, the township's Code and Zoning Enforcement Officer, Ronald Balutis, and Plaintiff, David Lease. Plaintiff alleges that defendant violated his First and Fourteenth Amendment Rights by participating in searches of his property and initiating enforcement actions against him. For the reason set forth below, I will grant the defendant's motion for summary judgment.


Plaintiff, David Lease, resides at 160 Gun Club Road, Hamilton Township, Adams County, Pennsylvania and is a resident of Hamilton Township, Adams County, Pennsylvania.*fn2 Statement of Undisputed Facts at ¶ 1 ("Doc. #131-3"). Mr. Lease also owns a number of other properties in Hamilton Township.*fn3 Statement of Disputed Facts at ¶ 2 ("Doc. #145"). Hamilton Township follows the Uniform Construction Code in accordance with the Pennsylvania Construction Code, 35 P.S. §7210.101, et. seq., which is comprised of international standards, including but not limited to dimensions for doorways and hallways and standards for support beams and electricity. Doc. #131-3 at ¶¶ 69-70. Mr. Balutis has served as the Hamilton Township Zoning Officer and Code Official since January of 2006. Doc. #131-3 at ¶ 15. Hamilton Township's alleged desire to retaliate against Mr. Lease stems from a history of disputes between the two that includes a number of lawsuits.*fn4 Statement of Disputed Facts at ¶ 74 ("Doc. #145").

A. Protected Conduct: Alwine Meadows Property

On October 28, 2000, Mr. Lease filed a subdivision plan with Hamilton Township for a proposed subdivision development known as "Alwine Meadows," which was denied by the Hamilton Township Board of Supervisors due to the plan's deficiencies. Doc. #131-3 at ¶¶ 20, 25. Mr. Lease successfully appealed the denial in the Adams County Court of Common Pleas because the letter from the township failed to provide sufficient notice of its reasons for denial.*fn5 Doc. #131-3 at ¶ 27.

Shortly after Mr. Lease's success in the trial court, on July 6, 2004, for the consideration of $20,000, he executed an "Option to Buy Real Property" with Fred Linkous for the Alwine Meadows property for $1.3 million. Doc. #131-3 at ¶¶ 32-33.*fn6

The sale and purchase of the property was contingent upon Mr. Linkous securing municipal approval for at least fifty-eight (58) building lots.*fn7 Doc. #131-3 at ¶¶ 37-38. On April 3, 2006, the township conditionally approved Mr. Linkous' Alwine Meadows subdivision plain and a year later the plan received conditional final plan approval.*fn8 Doc. #131-3 at ¶¶ 42-43. Because Mr. Linkous and Mr. Lease were not able to come to an agreement concerning the financing, they were unable to record the plan, which remains effective.*fn9 Doc. #131-3 at ¶¶ 48-49.

B. Alleged Unlawful Searches: Property at 160 Gun Club Road


On February 8, 2000, Hamilton Township filed a Complaint against Mr. Lease for code violations at his residential property located at 160 Gun Club Road. This dispute was resolved over six (6) years later when the Adams County Court of Common Pleas entered an Order that summarized an agreement between Mr. Lease and the Township.*fn10

Doc. #131-3 at ¶¶ 63-64. The Order, dated March 14, 2006, gave the Township "unlimited access no more than one time per month to the second floor" of the rear building located at 160 Gun Club Road and ordered Mr. Lease to permit the Township to conduct an inspection of the front building within thirty (30) days to determine if there were "any ordinance or code violations."*fn11 Doc. #131-3 at ¶¶ 65-66. The Court also ordered that if the township found any violations, it was directed to "issue citations to Lease." Doc. #131-3 at ¶ 67-68.


On March 31, 2006, Hamilton Township Solicitor requested that defendant, Ronald Balutis, conduct an inspection of 160 Gun Club Road pursuant to a March 14, 2006 Court Order. Doc. #131-3 at ¶ 17. Mr. Lease was present for this inspection and gave Mr. Balutis access to the building as well as some tenant apartments. Doc. #131-3 at ¶¶ 75-76. However, Mr. Lease did not object to Mr. Balutis' physical presence on the property but continually objected to the scope of his inspection. Doc. #131-3 at ¶¶ 79-80. During the inspection, Mr. Balutis measured the dimensions of various areas of the building, such as hallways and rafters, and he inspected the second floor of the rear building. Doc. #131-3 at ¶¶ 77-78. Mr. Lease alleges that these inspections were outside the scope of the Court Order.

A few days after Mr. Balutis' first visit to 160 Gun Club Road, he returned with Timothy Beard, a supervisor in Hamilton Township, to measure the public parking lot adjacent to the building that Mr. Lease's tenants and their guests used to park.*fn12 Doc. #131-3 at ¶¶ 81-83. After the inspections, the township informed Mr. Lease that they required a structural evaluation by a licensed engineer to determine whether the construction complied with the township's building code. Doc. #131-3 at ¶¶ 90, 93. Mr. Lease refused to permit the evaluation, and the township's solicitor filed a Petition for Contempt with the Adams County Court of Common Pleas in September 2006. Doc. #131-3 at ¶ 91-92.

On January 13, 2010, the township issued a violation letter requesting that the Mr. Lease remedy the building code violations within sixty (60) days; the township then sent a follow up letter, but Mr. Lease did not comply. Doc. #131-3 at ΒΆΒΆ 95-97. On December 7, 2010, Balutis submitted a violation notice identifying all of the Code violations found ...

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