United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
Leon Niemoczynski, Jr. and Nalina Niemoczynski filed numerous
federal and state law claims against Upper Mount Bethel
Township of Pennsylvania, the Upper Mount Bethel Township
Zoning Board, and Township employees Robert Cartwright,
Maureen Sterner, Robert Collura, Jeffrey Manzi, and Ronald
Angle, as well as their neighbors Robert and Fran Aponick, in
relation to a property owned by the plaintiffs. The Aponicks
and the Township Defendants filed separate motions to dismiss
the respective claims against them for failure to state a
claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).
For the following reasons, the motions to dismiss are
plaintiffs were the successful bidders at an auction for a
foreclosed property located at 439 Slateford Road in Mount
Bethel, Pennsylvania. (Compl. ¶¶ 1, 15.) The
plaintiffs' intention was to purchase the 439 property,
demolish the existing structure, and build a family home on
the property. (Id. ¶ 12.)
in March 2013, the plaintiffs experienced difficulties with
their neighbors, Robert and Fran Aponick, because the
Aponicks made claims to a strip of land on the 439 property
that they wished to use to transport and store their boat and
because the Aponicks repeatedly let their dogs loose on the
439 property. (Id. ¶¶ 17, 25, 45.) In June
2013, Robert Aponick trespassed on the 439 property and
destroyed a newly constructed fence, and also cut down tree
limbs past the property line. (Id. ¶¶
35-36.) Robert Aponick trespassed and vandalized the 439
property on various dates between December 2013 and July
2014, including by depositing large railroad stones onto the
property, pulling up survey stakes, and intimidating workers
on the property who had been hired by the plaintiffs.
(Id. ¶¶ 49, 50, 51, 62.) In December 2014,
Robert Aponick approached Mr. Niemoczynski and pointed what
appeared to be a weapon at him while screaming expletives.
(Id. ¶ 56.)
plaintiffs also experienced difficulties with the Township
after purchasing the 439 property. Apparently under the
direction of Township employees, a drain on the
plaintiffs' property was cut and a speed limit sign on
the corner of the plaintiffs' property was removed in
order to allow the Aponicks to move their boat across the
strip of land. (Id. ¶ 28.) Another Township
employee contacted the plaintiffs to demand that they grant
an easement so that the Aponicks could have access to a road
and storage for their boat, and threatened to have the land
declared as unbuildable or to take it through eminent domain.
(Id. ¶¶ 39, 41.) Still another Township
employee told the plaintiffs that the Township would squash
them like a bug if they did not grant the easement.
(Id. ¶ 43.)
plaintiffs also faced obstacles when trying to obtain various
approvals and permits for the work they wanted to do on the
439 property. The plaintiffs believe this was due to the
issues with the Aponicks, as well as the Township's
inaccurate claims that the property required a FEMA permit
and flood elevation certificate and that the plaintiffs'
applications required an engineer's signature.
(Id. ¶¶ 30, 32.) After the plaintiffs
hired an attorney to assist them in dealing with the
Township, they learned that the Township required a variance
to build on the property because it was now considered to be
in a floodplain. (Id. ¶ 37.) Following zoning
hearings, the plaintiffs' variance request was denied
because of concerns about the Aponicks and other nearby
residents. (Id. ¶ 55.) On the Township's
advice, the plaintiffs submitted a stipulation package in
connection with the requested variance, but were later told
that they actually needed a special exception and would
therefore have to submit new permits, surveys, and documents.
(Id. ¶¶ 59-60.) The plaintiffs hired an
engineer, after being ordered to do so by the Township, who
told them that they never needed a variance because they did
not reside in a floodway, the proposed home was smaller than
the original home, and the Township's assertion regarding
the required grading was incorrect. (Id.
a planning commission meeting on October 21, 2015, the
Township's solicitor admitted that the zoning board's
denial of the plaintiffs' build permit was for personal
reasons, the variance was not needed, and Township employees
had used the wrong ordinance. (Id. ¶ 63.) The
solicitor also admitted that the Township's concerns that
the proposed home would not conform with homes in the
surrounding area were misplaced because the proposed home did
not need to be elevated. (Id.) Later that month the
plaintiffs attended another zoning board meeting to apply for
the special exception, during which Township employees Manzi
and Angle continued to propose easements and land sales to
benefit the Aponicks and another set of neighbors.
(Id. ¶ 64.) Manzi and Angle, as well as another
board member, raised opposition to the plaintiffs being
allowed to rent any home built on the property. (Id.
¶ 65.) During the meeting the plaintiffs'
representative alleged a conflict of interest because Manzi
runs a rental property three houses away from the 439
property. (Id. ¶ 66.) Also during the meeting,
Angle suggested a conditional acceptance of the build request
conditioned on a review of the septic system, based on false
testimony from Robert Aponick that the home had been sold
because of septic failure, rather than because of
foreclosure. (Id. ¶ 67.) The 439 property
passed a septic inspection at the end of October 2015, but
the Township did not issue any permits or written decisions
allowing the plaintiffs to build in November or the
“early part of December 2015.”(Id.
¶ 68.) The plaintiffs were told that documents related
to the building permits, which had been submitted and
accepted in December 2014, were “missing.”
(Id. ¶ 69.)
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Rule 12(b)(6), a defendant bears the burden of demonstrating
that the plaintiff has not stated a claim upon which relief
can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6); see also Hedges v.
United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005). In
Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007),
the United States Supreme Court recognized that “a
plaintiff's obligation to provide the ‘grounds'
of his ‘entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than
labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the
elements of a cause of action will not do.”
Id. at 555. Subsequently, in Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), the Supreme Court defined a
two-pronged approach to a court's review of a motion to
dismiss. “First, the tenet that a court must accept as
true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is
inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the
elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory
statements, do not suffice.” Id. at 678. Thus,
while “Rule 8 marks a notable and generous departure
from the hyper-technical, code-pleading regime of a prior era
. . . it does not unlock the doors of discovery for a
plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions.”
Id. at 678-79.
the Supreme Court emphasized that “only a complaint
that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to
dismiss.” Id. at 679. “Determining
whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will,
as the Court of Appeals observed, be a context-specific task
that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial
experience and common sense.” Id. A complaint
does not show an entitlement to relief when the well-pleaded
facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere
possibility of misconduct. Id.; see also
Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 232-34 (3d
Cir. 2008) (holding that: (1) factual allegations of
complaint must provide notice to defendant; (2) complaint
must allege facts suggestive of the proscribed conduct; and
(3) the complaint's “‘factual allegations
must be enough to raise a right to relief above the
speculative level.'” (quoting Twombly, 550
U.S. at 555)).
basic tenets of the Rule 12(b)(6) standard of review have
remained static. Spence v. Brownsville Area Sch.
Dist., No. Civ.A.08-626, 2008 WL 2779079, at *2 (W.D.
Pa. July 15, 2008). The general rules of pleading still
require only a short and plain statement of the claim showing
that the pleader is entitled to relief and need not contain
detailed factual allegations. Phillips, 515 F.3d at
233. Further, the court must “accept all factual
allegations in the complaint as true and view them in the
light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Buck v.
Hampton Twp. Sch. Dist., 452 F.3d 256, 260 (3d Cir.
2006). Finally, the court must “determine whether,
under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff
may be entitled to relief.” Pinkerton v. Roche
Holdings Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 374 n.7 (3d Cir. 2002).
Township Defendants and the Aponicks move to dismiss all of
the plaintiffs' claims against them for failure to state
a claim under Rule 12(b)(6). Having considered the complaint
and the parties' briefs, I find that the plaintiffs'
federal law claims-the § 1983 due process claims, FHA
claim, and § 1983 conspiracy claim-fail as a matter of
law for the reasons discussed below, and therefore must be
dismissed. As the federal claims are dismissed, I decline to
exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the plaintiffs'
state law claims, which are therefore also subject to