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Cornerstone Residence, Inc. v. City of Clairton

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

January 5, 2018



          Nora Barry Fischer U.S. District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Cornerstone Residence, Inc.'s (“Cornerstone”) Motion for Reconsideration, its Brief in Support, Defendants the City of Clairton and George Glagola's (“Defendants”) opposition thereto, and Cornerstone's Reply. (See Docket Nos. 44, 45, 47, 50). Cornerstone urges the Court to reconsider its November 8, 2017 Memorandum Opinion which granted the Defendants' motion and dismissed Cornerstone's Amended Complaint alleging violations of the Fair Housing Amendments Act. (Docket Nos. 44, 45, 50). Specifically, Cornerstone contends that the Court should grant it leave to amend its claim for disparate treatment to allege that it would be futile to pursue an appeal to the Zoning Hearing Board and that the Court should reconsider its dismissal of the facial challenge to Clairton's Zoning Ordinance and its interpretation of the Treatment Center “use” set forth therein. (Id.). Defendants oppose the request for reconsideration and advocate that the Court's decision should stand. (Docket No. 47). After careful consideration of the parties' arguments and for the following reasons, Cornerstone's Motion [44] is DENIED.

         As the parties are familiar with the facts of this matter, which are fully detailed in the Court's Memorandum Opinion, (Docket No. 42), the Court initially turns to the governing legal standards. To this end, motions for reconsideration[1] “are granted sparingly ‘[b]ecause federal courts have a strong interest in finality of judgments.'” Jacobs v. Bayha, 2011 WL 1044638, at *2 (W.D. Pa. Mar. 18, 2011) (quoting Continental Cas. Co. v. Diversified Indus., Inc., 884 F.Supp. 938, 943 (E.D. Pa. 1995)) (emphasis added). “Because of the interest in finality, at least at the district court level ... the parties are not free to relitigate issues the court has already decided, ” Williams v. City of Pittsburgh, 32 F.Supp.2d 236, 238 (W.D. Pa. 1998) (citing Rottmund v. Continental Assurance Co., 813 F.Supp. 1104, 1107 (E.D. Pa. 1992)), to express disagreement with the Court's rulings, see El v. City of Pittsburgh, Civ. A. No. 15-834, 2017 WL 4310233, at *2 (W.D. Pa. Sept. 28, 2017) (citations omitted), or to raise arguments that a party had the opportunity to present before the Court's decision, see United States v. Dupree, 617 F.3d 724, 732-33 (3d Cir. 2010) (quotations omitted). Rather, the purpose of a motion for reconsideration “is to correct manifest errors of law or fact or to present newly discovered evidence.” Max's Seafood Café v. Quinteros, 176 F.3d 669, 677 (3d Cir. 1999) (quoting Harsco Corp. v. Zlotnicki, 779 F.2d 906, 909 (3d Cir. 1985)). The moving party bears a heavy burden to demonstrate that an order should be reconsidered and the Court will only grant such a motion if the moving party shows: (1) an intervening change in the controlling law; (2) the availability of new evidence which was not available when the court issued its order; or (3) the need to correct a clear error of law or fact or to prevent a manifest injustice. Max's Seafood Café, 176 F.3d at 677 (citing North River Ins. Co. v. Cigna Reinsurance Co., 52 F.3d 1194, 1218 (3d Cir. 1995)).

         In this Court's estimation, Cornerstone has failed to meet its heavy burden to demonstrate that the Court should reconsider its Memorandum Opinion and Order as it has not pointed to any intervening changes in the controlling law; new evidence which was not available at the time of the decision; or clear errors of fact or law creating a manifest injustice. See Id. Instead, Cornerstone merely expresses its disagreement with the Court's decision, and makes a series of arguments that could have been raised prior to the Court disposing of the matter; none of which support reconsideration. See Haynos v. Siemens Water Techs. Corp., Civ. A. No. 12-173, 2012 WL 6018819, at *1 (W.D. Pa. Dec. 3, 2012) (citing E.E.O.C. v. U.S. Steel Corp., Civ. A. No. 10- 1284, 2012 WL 1150799, at *6-7 (W.D. Pa. Apr. 5, 2012)) (“motions for reconsideration should not be used by parties as an attempt to reargue or re-litigate old matters or to express disagreement with a Court's ruling.”). Cornerstone lodges distinct challenges to the Court's dismissal of its claims on ripeness grounds under Rule 12(b)(1) and for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6), and the Court now briefly explains why reconsideration is denied as to each claim, in turn.

         On the ripeness issue, the Court held that Cornerstone's disparate treatment claim seeking injunctive relief in the form of a Court order directing Clairton to issue Cornerstone an occupancy permit was premature and not ripe for judicial review because it failed to appeal the denial of its April 20, 2017 application to the Zoning Hearing Board. (Docket No. 42 at 17-20). As the Court pointed out, the Zoning Officer, Glagola, lacked the authority to issue a final decision on the application and such authority was expressly reserved for the Zoning Hearing Board under the Zoning Ordinance. (Id. at 20). The Court further noted that Cornerstone failed to demonstrate that its claim was ripe for review or that it would be futile to pursue the appeal to the Zoning Hearing Board because it simply filed this lawsuit rather than the required appeal. (Id.). The Court thus dismissed this claim, without prejudice, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), as any challenge to the denial of the April 20, 2017 application was not ripe for adjudication.[2]

         In its Motion for Reconsideration, Cornerstone seeks leave to file a Second Amended Complaint based, in part, on a series of events which occurred subsequent to the Court's issuance of its decision on November 8, 2017. (Docket Nos. 44, 45, 50). To this end, Cornerstone submitted a new zoning application dated November 9, 2017, to which Glagola responded via a letter dated December 6, 2017 denying such application “due to insufficient information.” (See Docket No. 47 at Exs. 1, 2). Cornerstone recites the background of its prior application and dealings with Clairton and continues that those facts, coupled with the denial of the new application, constitute a “pattern of obstruction” on behalf of Clairton to prevent it from obtaining zoning approval. (Docket Nos. 44, 45, 50). With that said, Cornerstone adds in reply that it “would presently file an appeal to the Zoning Hearing Board if there was a decision to be appealed that may result in zoning approval” but that it would ostensibly prefer to pursue its facial challenge to the ordinance in this Court. (Docket No. 50 at 4). Defendants oppose any further amendment of the complaint because the matter has been appropriately dismissed and leave to amend would be futile. (Docket No. 47). The Court concurs with Defendants' assessment of this Motion.

         Initially, Cornerstone's motion seeking leave to amend its complaint for a second time is both untimely and unsupported. Such request is untimely because Cornerstone did not request leave to file a Second Amended Complaint prior to the Court's dismissal, despite numerous opportunities to do so over the more than three months when the motion to dismiss was pending, (i.e., between July 27, 2017 and November 8, 2017), including in any of the four legal briefs which it filed during that timeframe, (see Docket Nos. 24; 30; 32; 38). See Dupree, 617 F.3d at 732 (reconsideration is improper when a party should have raised an argument earlier). More importantly, however, is that Cornerstone has not supported its present request to amend with a proposed Second Amended Complaint, by attaching one to its filings or otherwise, a deficiency which the Court of Appeals has held is enough to defeat a motion seeking leave to amend. See, e.g., U.S. ex rel. Zizic v. Q2Administrators, LLC, 728 F.3d 228, 243 (3d Cir. 2013) (“[A] ‘bare request in an opposition to a motion to dismiss-without any indication of the particular grounds on which amendment is sought ...-does not constitute a motion within the contemplation of Rule 15(a).'”) ((quoting Kowal v. MCI Commc'ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1280 (D.C. Cir. 1994)); McWreath v. Range Res.-Appalachia, LLC, 645 F. App'x. 190, 196 (3d Cir. 2016) (“[T]he failure to submit a draft amended complaint ‘is fatal to a request for leave to amend.'”) (quoting Zizic, 728 F.3d at 243). Beyond these procedural defects, the facts proffered by Cornerstone in its Motion, Brief and Reply, as well as Joyce Douglass' declaration, purport to set forth an entirely new claim arising from the denial of the November 9, 2017 application. (See Docket Nos. 44, 45, 50). But, this claim suffers from the same defects as the earlier one because Cornerstone has not appealed the denial of its new application to the Zoning Hearing Board in order to obtain a final decision on the zoning of the property, such that it is also not ripe for adjudication.[3] (See Docket No. 42 at 17-20).

         Finally, the proffered facts simply do not support a claim that Defendants have engaged in any behavior which has obstructed or precluded Cornerstone from pursuing an appeal to the Zoning Hearing Board. (See Docket Nos. 44, 45, 50). To the contrary, Defendants brought this obvious defect to Cornerstone's attention in their first motion to dismiss filed on June 23, 2017, (Docket No. 13), the Court agreed with this position in an Order entered on that date, (Docket No. 19), and Defendants have consistently maintained this position throughout this litigation, (see e.g., Docket Nos. 22, 23, 27, 35). Despite being on notice of the problem, Cornerstone has admittedly declined to file an appeal, based on the advice of counsel, for reasons that are largely unstated and from which the Court can only infer is a belief that federal litigation would proceed more quickly than the zoning appeal. (See Docket No. 50 at 4). While Cornerstone attempted to plead around the problem by asserting the facial challenge to the Zoning Ordinance, a claim which the Court found was ripe but dismissed for failure to state a claim, it has not stated a plausible claim that Defendants obstructed it from appealing the denials of either application to the Zoning Hearing Board. (See Docket Nos. 44, 45, 50). In this Court's estimation, Cornerstone cannot now complain that it is futile to file an appeal which has always been available to it but was (and continues to be) deliberately avoided. It also cannot seek reconsideration by citing legal authorities, from the Third Circuit or otherwise, which were issued several years before the Court's decision as the same does not constitute a change in the law justifying reconsideration. See Max's Seafood Café, 176 F.3d at 677.Accordingly, the Court denies Cornerstone's motion for reconsideration of the dismissal of its claim under Rule 12(b)(1) along with its corresponding request to amend.

         Moving on to Cornerstone's facial challenge to the Treatment Center “use, ” the Court dismissed the claim on three alternative bases. In this regard, the Court held that the definition of the Treatment Center “use”:

(1) is unambiguous and legislates the housing of individuals with a “current addiction” to controlled substances who are not covered by the FHAA and were not among the prospective residents of Cornerstone;
(2) is unambiguous and legislates a potential impairment of current drug addiction or alcoholism but not the housing of handicapped (or disabled) individuals under the FHAA who also must demonstrate that such impairment “substantially limits one or more of such person's major life activities”; and,
(3) is ambiguous but, when construed consistently with the remainder of the ordinance under applicable legal principles of Pennsylvania law, must be read to preclude a facial challenge given several express statements of Clairton's intent to comply with the FHAA, which the Court cited in its decision.

         (See Docket No. 42 at 19-28). Given these rationales, the Court dismissed the facial challenge, with prejudice, under Rule 12(b)(6).

         Cornerstone asserts that it is entitled to reconsideration because the Court allegedly made its rulings “outside the adversary process” relying on a point made by Defendants only in a footnote to their Reply Brief; reargues the merits of the Court's decision and interpretation of the ordinance; and, to its Reply Brief, attaches declarations of Tim Grealish and Joyce Douglass, in further support of its interpretation of the ordinance. (Docket Nos. 44, 45, 50). Defendants contest these ...

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