Court Dismisses Takings and Due Process Claims Based On Town Rescinding Negative Declaration

Today's case discusses both land use and due proess claims under §1983. Plaintiffs applied to have their property in the Town of Union Vale designated an open development area, allowing the property to be subdivided into private lots with private roads. The first section of the project was approved in 1987, and the Board determined under SEQRA that the Project would result in no significant adverse impacts on the environment (“Negative Declaration”). Plaintiffs then applied for the next section of the Project, which the Board rejected, and Plaintiffs sued the Board in the Supreme Court, Dutchess County challenging the decision and raising a due process claim under §1983. The court denied Defendants’ motion to dismiss, found the Board's 2012 resolution rescinding the Negative Declaration invalid, and determined the rejection of Plaintiffs’ application for preliminary plan approval was arbitrary and capricious. The Board appealed and moved to reargue its motion for dismissal of Plaintiffs’ due process claims, with both motions eventually being granted.

The Board then called a public hearing and again rescinded the Negative Declaration, leading Plaintiff to file a second action in August 2013. Defendants removed to federal court, which declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiffs’ Article 78 and state law claims and remanded those claims to state court. Defendants moved to dismiss the remaining claims.

The court first found that a negative declaration constituted a “final decision,” and that Defendant’s removal to federal court satisfied the requirement that Plaintiffs exhaust their state court remedies. Since the claim was ripe, the court next examined if Plaintiffs asserted a viable due process claims.

A constitutionally protected property interest in land use regulation requires an entitlement to the relief sought by the owner. Here, the Court found the Board's authority to rescind the Negative Declaration was not “narrowly circumscribed” and afforded the Board discretion to review “new information” and “changes in circumstances related to the project that were not previously considered” which may have a “significant adverse environmental impact.”  As such, the court found that Plaintiffs did not have a cognizable property interest in the Negative Declaration and Plaintiffs’ due process claim failed. The Court then granted the motion to dismiss.  

The case is Leonard v Planning Board of Union Vale, 2016 WL 67791 (SDNY 1/4/2016).

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