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Ghana M. Chinniah A/K/A Gnanachandra M. Chinniah and v. East Pennsboro Township and Jeffrey S. Shultz

June 5, 2012

GHANA M. CHINNIAH A/K/A GNANACHANDRA M. CHINNIAH AND SUGANTHINI CHINNIAH,
PLAINTIFFS
v.
EAST PENNSBORO TOWNSHIP AND JEFFREY S. SHULTZ, DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: ( Chief Judge Kane)

(Magistrate Judge Blewitt)

MEMORANDUM

Currently pending before the Court is a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendants East Pennsboro Township an Jeffrey Shultz. (Doc. No. 104.) On February 29, 2012, Magistrate Judge Thomas Blewitt issued a Report and Recommendation in which he recommended that this Court grant the motion for summary judgment in part and deny the motion in part. (Doc. No. 158.) Defendants have filed objections to those portions of the Report and Recommendation in which Judge Blewitt recommends that the motion for summary judgment be denied. (Doc. Nos. 159, 160.) The motion is now ripe for disposition. For the reasons stated more fully herein, the Court will adopt the Report and Recommendation and will grant summary judgment in part.

I. BACKGROUND*fn1

The background of this matter has been thoroughly set forth in Judge Blewitt's Report and Recommendation. The Court will briefly summarize the factual issues relevant to this matter. To the extent Defendants challenge the Report and Recommendation's recitation of the facts, the Court will address those disputes more fully in the discussion section of this memorandum.

Plaintiffs Ghana and Suganthini Chinniah, who are of Indian decent and who are adherents of Hinduism,*fn2 purchased property in East Pennsboro Township in September 2007. (Doc. No. 106 ¶ 3.) The property was subdivided into three parcels referred to as Units 3A, 3B, and 3C. (Id. ¶ 1.) At the time of purchase, two partially completed townhouses were situated on the property.*fn3 After purchasing the property, Plaintiffs spoke with the township zoning officer, the township solicitor, and Defendant Shultz, the Township Building Code Official, regarding what needed to be done to make the buildings habitable. (Id. ¶ 3.) Plaintiffs were issued construction permits on October 11, 2007.*fn4 (Doc. No. 104-2, Exs. 2, 3.) On November 2, 2007, Defendant Shultz conducted what he called a framing inspection, during which he determined that the insulation and drywall installed by Plaintiffs needed to be removed so that he could conduct the framing inspection. (Doc. No. 104-2, Ex. 4.) Plaintiffs objected to the framing inspection, at least in part, because the framing had been approved before the property had been purchased by Plaintiff. (Doc. No. 104-2, Ex. 7.) Defendant Shultz issued a stop work order pending completion of the framing inspections. (Doc. No. 104-2, Ex. 6, Ex. 8.) However, Plaintiffs successfully challenged the stop work order in the Court of Common Pleas for Cumberland County and the stop work orders were lifted. (Doc. No. 104-2, Ex. 9.) In November 2007 and February 2008, Plaintiffs filed complaints with Defendants regarding violations on a neighboring property. (Doc. No. 104-2, Ex 11, 12.) In April 2008, Plaintiffs reported to police that a "white male" told Plaintiff to "mind his own business and to stop reporting him and his property to the township or [Plaintiff] will get his." (Doc. No. 104-2, Ex. 13.)

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that summary judgment is warranted "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). A factual dispute is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable law, and it is genuine only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis that would allow a reasonable fact finder to return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986). At summary judgment, the inquiry is whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to the jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law. Id. at 251-52. In making this determination, the Court must "consider all evidence in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion." A.W., 486 F.3d at 794.

The moving party has the initial burden of identifying evidence that it believes shows an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Conoshenti v. Pub. Serv. Elec. & Gas Co., 364 F.3d 135, 145-46 (3d Cir. 2004). Once the moving party has shown that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's claims, "the non-moving party must rebut the motion with facts in the record and cannot rest solely on assertions made in the pleadings, legal memoranda, or oral argument." Berckeley Inv. Grp. Ltd. v. Colkitt, 455 F.3d 195, 201 (3d Cir. 2006); accord Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). If the non-moving party "fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden at trial," summary judgment is warranted. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. With respect to the sufficiency of the evidence that the non-moving party must provide, a court should grant summary judgment where the non-movant's evidence is merely colorable, conclusory, or speculative. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50. There must be more than a scintilla of evidence supporting the non-moving party and more than some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. Id. at 252; see also Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Further, a party may not defeat a motion for summary judgment with evidence that would not be admissible at trial. Pamintuan v. Nanticoke Mem'l Hosp., 192 F.3d 378, 387 (3d Cir. 1999).

III. DISCUSSION

Neither party lodged objections against the recommendation that summary judgment be entered as to: (1) any Section 1983 claims for monetary damages raised against Defendant Shultz in his official capacity; (2) any procedural due process claims; and (3) any substantive due process claims. The Court has reviewed these recommendations and concludes that, to the extent the amended complaint can be construed as to raise such claims, summary judgment is warranted as to each claim. Defendants do raise objections to those portions of the Report and Recommendation in which Magistrate Judge Blewitt recommends that this Court deny the motion for summary judgment as to Plaintiffs' equal protection claims against Defendant Shultz in his individual capacity and Defendant East Pennsboro Township. The Court will review these recommendations in turn.

A. Defendant Shultz

In order to succeed on their equal protection claim brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Plaintiffs must prove the existence of purposeful discrimination. Andrews v. Phila., 895 F.2d 1469, 1478 (3d Cir. 1990). That is, they must prove that they were members of a protected class and that they received different treatment than that received by other similarly situated individuals on the basis of their status as a member of that protected class. See Oliveira v. Twp. of Irvington, 41 F. App'x 555, 559 (3d Cir. 2002) (citing Keenan v. City of Phila., 983 F.2d 459, 465 (3d Cir. 1992)). There does not appear to be a dispute regarding whether Plaintiffs were members of a protected class. Rather, the Defendants dispute whether Magistrate Judge Blewitt erred in concluding that there was a dispute of material fact regarding whether Plaintiffs were treated differently than similarly situated individuals on the basis of their status as individuals of Indian descent who are adherents of Hinduism.

Defendants argue that the Report and Recommendation improperly relied on three unsupported factual allegations in concluding that summary judgment was not warranted on Plaintiffs' equal protection claim against Defendant Shultz, namely that: (1) Defendant Shultz approved the framing of the property when it was owned by Timothy Mowery, but required the framing to be inspected again using a more stringent standard after it had been purchased by Plaintiffs; (2) Defendant Shultz had no basis for issuing a stop work order on November 20, 2007; and (3) Defendant Shultz intentionally delayed lifting the stop work order after the Court of Common Pleas for Cumberland County ordered Defendant to lift the order. A review of the Report and Recommendation reveals that while Magistrate Judge Blewitt noted Plaintiffs' argument on the latter two issues raised by Defendants, it does not appear that he actually relied on them in making his recommendation. (Doc. No. 158 at 29-30.) Rather, as their claim relates to Defendant Shultz, it appears that Magistrate Judge Blewitt relied solely on the ...


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