United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
GRACE LAND II, LLC, et al.
BRISTOL TOWNSHIP, et al.
R. SÁNCHEZ, C.J.
Grace Land II, LLC (Grace Land) and Daybreak Treatment
Solutions (Daybreak) bring claims against Defendants Bristol
Township (the Township), Bristol Township Zoning Hearing
Board (ZHB), Craig Bowen, William McCauley, and Thomas Scott
(the Individual Defendants), individually and in their
official capacities, for constitutional violations pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and violations of the Americans
with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act.
Plaintiffs’ claims arise from Defendants’ refusal
to issue a permit for operation of a medical office for
outpatient treatment of persons suffering from alcohol and
drug addiction disorders. Defendants move to dismiss
Plaintiffs’ Amended Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons set forth below,
Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss will be granted in part
and denied in part.
Land and Daybreak are associated entities providing
outpatient treatment services for persons suffering from
alcohol and drug addiction disorders. Jonathon Goodman is the
sole owner of Grace Land and the majority owner of Daybreak.
Daybreak is licensed through the Pennsylvania Department of
Drug and Alcohol Programs to operate a medical office located
in Levittown, Pennsylvania. Grace Land and Daybreak want to
offer substance abuse and alcohol rehabilitation services to
more persons in the community than is currently offered at
their location in Levittown.
issue in this dispute is a parcel of land located at 2104
Bath Road, Bristol Township, Pennsylvania (the Property),
which Grace Land purchased from Inspire Federal Credit Union
(the Bank) on December 18, 2017. Daybreak has a leasehold
agreement with Grace Land, as Grace Land’s treatment
branch, to operate a medical clinic at the Property. The
Property comprises approximately 1.7 acres and is improved
with a building containing approximately 9, 758 square feet
(the Building) and parking fields with spaces for
approximately 59 vehicles. At the time of the purchase, the
Property was zoned for commercial use, which permitted the
Property to be used as a medical office providing outpatient
to Grace Land’s purchase of the Property, however, the
Property was zoned for residential use. In November 2015, the
Bank approached the Township to change the Property’s
zoning to commercial. While the Bank’s zoning
application was pending, Defendant Township Council President
Craig Bowen told the Bank’s president and CEO, James
Merrill, the Township did not have a problem with rezoning
the Property as long as the Bank did not intend to sell the
Property to a drug and alcohol treatment provider.
See Am. Compl. ¶ 29. On July 26, 2016, the
Township rezoned the Property to commercial.
September 8, 2017, the Bank and Grace Land entered into an
agreement of sale for the Property. Grace Land subsequently
submitted an application to the Township, requesting a use
and occupancy permit to operate an inpatient detoxification
facility at the Property (the Detox Application). Within days
after the Detox Application was submitted, Defendant Township
Manager William McCauley, telephoned Marc Kaplin, Esquire,
the attorney representing Grace Land and told Kaplin the
Township did not want a drug treatment facility operating on
the Property. See Am. Compl. ¶ 34. At a meeting
on or about September 18, 2017, Township Council President
Bowen, told Grace Land’s real estate broker Jack
Kitchen, “the Township had plans to build a water park
next to the Property and the Township did not want any drug
treatment facility at the Property.” Id.
¶ 35. Township Council President Bowen was concerned
addicts would try to use the water park to take showers.
Council President Bowen suggested to Kitchen that Grace Land
should purchase vacant school properties the School
District was offering for sale in the Township.
After this suggestion, an affiliate of Grace Land,
Progressive Living Unites & Systems of Pennsylvania
(PLUS) submitted a good faith offer to the School District to
purchase four of the five elementary schools located in the
Township for $1.75 million. This offer was higher than the
other offers the School District receive by nearly $800, 000.
The Township later countered with its own offer for the
schools, matching the offer price, but seeking to acquire
five schools rather than four. Plaintiffs allege the Township
never intended to “make good” on its offer to buy
the schools, but rather they were just “scheming to
delay Grace Land from being able to use the Property as a
drug and alcohol treatment facility.” Id.
October 11, 2018, the Township denied the Detox Application.
Grace Land learned of the denial on October 18, 2018. The
following day, Kitchen arranged for Township Council
President Bowen to meet with Goodman. At the meeting,
Township Council President Bowen told Goodman and Kitchen the
Township faulted the Bank for agreeing to sell the Property
to Grace Land, when the Bank knew the Township did not want a
drug and alcohol treatment facility at the Property under any
circumstances. See Id . ¶ 38. Township Council
President Bowen also stated the Township would not have
approved the change to commercial zoning had it known a drug
and alcohol treatment provider would buy the Property.
See Id . Plaintiffs agreed to hold their challenge
to the denial of the Detox Application in abeyance while they
submitted a second application.
December 6, 2017, Grace Land submitted a second application
to the Township for a permit to operate a medical office at
the Property (the Medical Office Application). The medical
office would provide rehabilitation outpatient treatment
services to persons suffering from alcohol and/or drug
addictions. Defendant Township Zoning Officer Thomas Scott,
sent a letter stating he could not process the Medical Office
Application without first having (a) “information on
the certification of the outpatient treatment methods by a
board or agency authorized by statute to issue such
certification”; (b) the proposed hours of operation;
and (c) the plan for off-street parking. Id. Ex. C,
letter to Zoning Officer Scott, Grace Land explained Daybreak
is precluded from obtaining a state license to operate a
treatment center at the Property until the Township issues
the permit allowing for that use. Grace Land further
explained the medical office would be located in 4, 407
square feet of the Building, the same area which the Bank
operated its retail branch and stated it would comply with
the Township’s parking requirements under §
205-120(7) of the Zoning Ordinance because only a total of 37
parking spaces would be needed. See Id . Ex. D.
Officer Scott sent a second letter, requesting more
information, including (1) a copy of the medical
director’s license, and (2) Grace Land’s plans
for using the remaining vacant portions of the Building.
See Id . Ex. F, at 1. Grace Land complied by
providing a copy of the medical director’s license and
confirmed Grace Land had no current plans to utilize the rest
of the Building. Grace Land stated it would apply to the
Township for a permit when it decided on a plan for using the
rest of the Building. See Id . Ex. G, at 1-2.
April 10, 2018, the Township denied the Medical Office
Application and claimed it did not approve a split or
separate use of a portion of the Building and “assumed
for purposes of this determination that the entire building
is proposed to be utilized for medical offices.”
Id. Ex. H, at 1. Based on this allegedly false
premise, the Township denied the Medical Office Application
for not meeting the Township’s parking requirement.
Id. at 1-2. The Township’s requirement for
Grace Land to reserve additional parking was contradicted by
its allowance for the Bank to use the entire Building without
additional parking although financial establishments are
subject to the same parking requirements as the medical
offices Grace Land proposed. See Id . ¶ 55.
March 16, 2018, Grace Land appealed the Township’s
denial of the Medical Office Application to the Defendant
ZHB. At the May 14, 2018, ZHB hearing, Stacy Hill, an
executive officer of Grace Land and Daybreak, testified to
Grace Land’s intent to operate the medical office
solely in the 4, 407 square foot portion of the Building and
Grace Land would apply for a permit to use the remainder of
the Building once it had a plan for that space. The Township
did not offer any evidence to contradict Hill’s sworn
testimony. Hill further explained Daybreak utilizes its own
vans to transport patients to and from treatment and
therefore the patients will not be operating vehicles to and
from the Property.
ZHB hearing, Township officials and residents opposed the
proposed treatment center. At one point, the ZHB’s
Solicitor Ken Federman, voiced his skepticism over the
Township’s claim against Grace Land using only part of
the Building. Specifically, he stated, “it’s not
really about the parking, because theoretically the board can
do what the board wants to do, right?” Id.
hearing the Township and residents’ opposition, the ZHB
members unanimously, and without deliberation, voted to
reject Grace Land’s appeal. In its written June 28,
2018, decision, the ZHB acknowledged the Property is zoned
C-Commercial and “such zoning designation does allow[ ]
for an outpatient medical office use pursuant to Section
205-36 and 205-16C(2) of the Zoning Ordinance.”
Id. Ex. I, at 4. Nonetheless, the ZHB denied Grace
Land’s permit, stating (1) the request for a permit
constituted land development; (2) Grace Land could not
satisfy the Township’s parking requirements based upon
the “assumption” that Grace Land would be using
the entire Building; and (3) Grace Land was not entitled to
occupy only a portion of the Building. See Id . at
4-5. Plaintiffs allege these reasons were merely pretext.
address the Township’s pretextual concern with parking,
on April 6, 2018, Grace Land applied for a building permit to
add parking spaces within the Property’s existing
impervious surface area (the Building Permit). The Township
denied the Building Permit, stating the proposed work
constituted land development. See Id . Ex. J, at 2.
On May 31, 2018, Grace Land appealed the Township’s
denial to the ZHB. At the July 9, 2018, ZHB hearing, the
Township and the residents again opposed Grace Land’s
Building Permit. At the conclusion of the residents’
comments, without deliberation, the ZHB unanimously voted to
reject Grace ...