S.D.N.Y. Holds Concrete Recycler’s Suit Barred on Res Judicata Grounds

In 2008, Plaintiff James Meaney (“Meaney”), principal of co-plaintiff Green Materials of Westchester (“Green Materials””), leased property in the Town of Cortlandt (“Town”) from co-plaintiff George Liaskos (“Liaskos”) to as a “Specialty Trade Contractor,” a permitted use under the Town's zoning ordinance. Meaney received ZBA approval, and then applied for site plan approval. The Planning Board held a public hearing on plaintiffs' site plan application to recycle concrete, and adjourned consideration of the application. One week later, the Town Board enacted a one-year moratorium on processing applications for site plan approvals for certain uses, including specialty contractor yards. In March 2011, the Planning Board denied Plaintiffs’ site plan application. Plaintiffs submitted a new site plan, but this was denied by the ZBA, which stated that Plaintiffs “cannot apply to the planning Board for a Special Permit for a Specialty Trade Contractor where the applicant's activities require the processing of raw materials.” Plaintiffs deny that their proposed activities require processing raw materials.

Green Materials and Meaney then commenced a combined Article 78/declaratory judgment action in Supreme Court, Westchester County, against the Town, the ZBA and Planning Board members, and the Town's building officials, seeking a reversal of the ZBA's determination, and declaratory relief. The court granted the petition and nullified the ZBA's determination, and severed the claim for declaratory relief. Green Materials and Meaney sought leave to amend their complaint to add causes of action alleging violations of their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and association, and Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process and equal protection. Both leaves were denied, and Plaintiffs commenced this action in federal court.

Defendants moved to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1), pursuant to the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, which “directs federal courts to abstain from considering claims when four requirements are met: the plaintiff lost in state court, the plaintiff complains of injuries caused by the state court judgment, the plaintiff invites district court review of that judgment, and the state court judgment was entered before the plaintiff's federal suit commenced.” The Court held that this doctrine was inapplicable because the Town and Town officials allegedly violated plaintiffs' constitutional rights; thus, the plaintiffs' injuries were not caused by the state court judgment. As to res judicata, the Court first held that the decisions denying Plaintiffs' motions to amend their complaint were adjudications on the merits with preclusive effect. Next, the Court found Green Materials and Meaney, as lessees of Liaskos's property, were in privity with Liaskos. Finally, Plaintiffs could not avoid res judicata merely by suing the same officials again in their individual capacities. As all of these claims were brought in state court, all of the elements of res judicata had been met.  As such, the Court dismissed Plaintiff’s claims.

The case was Green Materials of Westchester v. Town of Cortlandt, 2015 WL 9302838 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 21, 2015)

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