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Northeast Land Development, LLC v. City of Scranton

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

May 21, 2013

NORTHEAST LAND DEVELOPMENT, LLC, Plaintiff
v.
CITY OF SCRANTON, et al., Defendants

Page 377

For Northeast Land Development, LLC, Plaintiff: John P. Rodgers, LEAD ATTORNEY, Caverly, Shea, Phillips and Rodgers, Wilkes-Barre, PA; Bruce J. Phillips, Wetzel, Caverly, Phillips & Rodgers, Wilkes-Barre, PA.

For City of Scranton, Defendant: Erin Ann Brennan, LEAD ATTORNEY, Oliver, Price & Rhoads, Clarks Summit, PA; Joseph A. O'Brien, LEAD ATTORNEY, Oliver Price & Rhodes, Clarks Summit, PA.

OPINION

Page 378

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Robert D. Mariani, United States District Judge.

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

This matter has its genesis in a land development project in the City of Scranton, and involves a decision by the Scranton City Council to table a resolution authorizing the project after it had been approved by the City Planning Commission and City Engineer. On February 14, 2008, Plaintiff Northeast Land Development, LLC, (" Northeast" ) brought suit against the City of Scranton and the five members of the City Council of the City of Scranton, Judy Gatelli, William Courtright, Janet Evans, Sherry Nealon Fanucci and Robert McTiernan. (Doc. 1.) Count I of the Complaint alleged, inter alia, that Northeast entered into an Agreement of Sale with Lackawanna Energy, Ltd. and Plum Realty, Ltd. for the purchase of a 25 acre parcel of land in the City of Scranton which was designated as a Keystone Opportunity Zone. ( Id. ¶ 12.) The Complaint further alleges that Northeast " submitted to the City of Scranton for approval a Subdivision Plan for the above-referenced real property which was designated as the Village at Tripp Park Phase III." ( Id. ¶ 13.) Northeast further alleged that the " Village at Tripp Park Phase III was located adjacent to the The Village at Tripp Park Phase II which was also developed by Northeast Land Development, LLC and the The Village at Tripp Park Phase I which was developed by CIDC 1, LLC, which was a subsidiary of Community Initiatives Development Corporation." ( Id. ¶ 14.) Northeast's Complaint further alleges that " a resolution was introduced before the City of Scranton Council which would authorize the Mayor and appropriate City Officials to enter into a Developer's Agreement with Plaintiff . . . for approval of The Village at Tripp Park Phase III." ( Id. ¶ 15.) The Complaint further alleges that the resolution to authorize the Mayor and other appropriate City Officials to enter into the Developer's Agreement with Northeast was tabled by the Scranton City Council as a consequence of which Northeast was unable to close on the purchase of the subject property. ( Id. ¶ 19.) Plaintiff then alleged that the City of Scranton and the Defendant City of Scranton Council members acted " in an arbitrary, capricious and irrational manner, in order to coerce the plaintiff, Northeast

Page 379

Land Development, LLC, to perform a punch list of items for The Village at Tripp Park Phase I." ( Id. ¶ 21.) By this and other conduct, Plaintiff alleged that the City of Scranton and the members of the Scranton City Council " acted individually and in concert with each other and in an arbitrary, capricious and irrational manner and precluded the Plaintiff's rightful use of its property in profound violation of Plaintiff's procedural and substantive due process rights pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment and 42 U.S.C. § 1983." ( Id. ¶ 25.)

On November 21, 2008, this Court, by the Hon. James M. Munley, granted in part and denied in part the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 16.) The Defendants' Motion to Dismiss was granted with respect to Defendants Gatelli, Courtright, Evans, Fanucci and McTiernan, the members of the Scranton City Council, and they were dismissed from the case. Further, Judge Munley granted the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's substantive due process claim. As a result, only the Plaintiff's claim for a denial of procedural due process by the City of Scranton remained at issue. In dismissing Plaintiff's claims against the individual City Council Member Defendants, the Court wrote:

the defendants argue that the individual defendants should be dismissed from the case because they are entitled to either legislative or quasi-judicial immunity for their actions. The Supreme Court has found that 'local legislators are . . . absolutely immune from suit under § 1983 for their legislative activities.' Bogan v. Scott-Harris, 523 U.S. 44, 49, 118 S.Ct. 966, 140 L.Ed.2d 79 (1998). This immunity applies 'to all actions taken " in the sphere of legitimate legislative activity.'" Id. at (quoting Tenney v. Brandhove, 341 U.S. 367, 376, 71 S.Ct. 783, 95 L.Ed. 1019 (1951)). " Whether an act is legislative turns on the nature of the act, rather than on the motive or intent of the official performing it." Id. at 54. The Court has found that " acts of voting for an ordinance [are], in form, quintessentially legislative." Id. at 55.
Though Plaintiff complains about the motivation behind the individual defendants' actions - their animosity to certain forms of development - its complaint is grounded in the action that defendants took in tabling the motion to approve the development plan. Since voting on the development plan - or choosing not to vote on that plan - is the sort of act that the Supreme Court has found " in form quintessentially legislative," this Court finds that the individual defendants are absolutely immune from all claims against them in this case. See Baraka v. McGreevey, 481 F.3d 187, 196 (3rd Cir. 2007) (finding that " activities by legislators that directly affect drafting, introducing, debating, passing or rejecting legislation, are 'an integral part of the deliberative and communicative processes,' and are properly characterized as legislative, not political patronage." (quoting United States v. Brewster, 408 U.S. 501, 512, 92 S.Ct. 2531, 33 L.Ed.2d 507 (1972)). The Court will therefore grant the Motion to Dismiss Defendants Gatelli, Courtright, Evans, Fanucci and McTiernan. (Mem. Op. Doc. 16, pgs. 10-11).

Thereafter, Plaintiff and Defendants filed cross motions for summary judgment. (Docs. 35 and 40.) By Memorandum and Order entered July 27, 2010 (Doc. 59), Judge Munley denied the City's Motion for Summary Judgment which asserted that Northeast Land had no property interest which would give ...


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