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Miller v. Town of Wenham

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

August 10, 2016

LAWRENCE MILLER, Plaintiff, Appellant,
v.
TOWN OF WENHAM, Commonwealth of Massachusetts; JEREMY COFFEY, Member of the Zoning Board of Appeals - Town of Wenham; ANTHONY M. FEEHERRY, Member of the Zoning Board of Appeals - Town of Wenham; SHAUN HUTCHINSON, Member of the Zoning Board of Appeals - Town of Wenham; 110, INC., Defendants, Appellees.

         APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS Hon. William G. Young, U.S. District Judge

          Benjamin B. Tymann, with whom Tymann LLC - Law & Compliance was on brief, for appellant.

          Joseph A. Padolsky, with whom Douglas I. Louison and Louison, Costello, Condon & Pfaff, LLP were on brief, for appellees Town of Wenham, Jeremy Coffey, Anthony M. Feeherry, and Shaun Hutchinson.

          Before Thompson, Selya, and Kayatta, Circuit Judges.

          KAYATTA, Circuit Judge.

         Plaintiff Lawrence Miller challenges under both state and federal law the manner in which the Town of Wenham, Massachusetts (the "Town") has chosen not to prohibit a company named 110, Inc. from operating a substance abuse treatment facility on land that abuts Miller's residence. After Miller filed this lawsuit in Massachusetts Superior Court, the defendants removed it to federal court, and then moved to dismiss Miller's complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The district court determined that the complaint failed to state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for the deprivation of property without due process. The court also dismissed one state law claim as moot, and remanded a remaining state law claim to state court. For the following reasons, we affirm the dismissal of the federal claim, vacate the determination that one state law claim is moot, and otherwise affirm the remand of the remaining state law claim to state court.

         I. Background

         Because this appeal is from a decision granting a motion to dismiss, we take as true the well-pleaded allegations as they appear in the complaint. Guerra-Delgado v. Popular, Inc., 774 F.3d 776, 780 (1st Cir. 2014).

         Miller resides at 66 Topsfield Road in the Town of Wenham. His property abuts property used by 110, Inc. On that abutting property sits a single-family home with a carriage house. Both properties are located within the Town's Residential District. According to Miller, under the Town's zoning by-laws, commercial facilities, multi-family housing, and lodging houses are not allowed, either by right or special permit, in the Residential District.

         In the fall of 2013, 110, Inc. approached the Town Administrator and the Town Planner about opening a substance abuse treatment facility on the abutting property. 110, Inc. argued that it did not need to secure a special permit, variance, or any other discretionary approval from the Town to operate such a facility on the abutting property. Rather, it contended that its proposed use of the abutting property would be by right under the so-called Dover Amendment, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 40A, § 3, ¶ 2, which provides preferential zoning treatment to religious and educational uses of land. 110, Inc. claimed that its proposed land use fell under the educational category and that it was, therefore, exempt from any Town board permitting process.

         On November 17, 2013, the Town's lawyer informed the Town Administrator that he had accepted 110, Inc.'s assertion that the Dover Amendment applied to 110, Inc.'s proposed land use. Soon thereafter, a Town official informed 110, Inc. that it could open for business. The Town officials reached this decision without holding a public hearing and without informing Miller or any other Town resident.

         At the end of April 2014, Miller observed that 110, Inc. was operating a substance abuse treatment facility named Cross Keys Retreat next door to his residence. Miller promptly filed with the Town's Building Inspector (who was also the Town's Zoning Enforcement Officer) a Request for Zoning Enforcement pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws. ch. 40A, § 7, ¶ 1. Miller's request stated that the treatment facility was operating as a commercial operation that housed up to fourteen people at a time, and was therefore not compliant with the Town's zoning by-laws that restricted such land use in the Residential District. Miller supported his request with legal memoranda and other documentation arguing that the facility was not covered under the Dover Amendment and, even if it were, that it was still subject to reasonable restrictions that could be imposed by the Town after a public hearing. At bottom, Miller argued that the Town's unilateral, non-public approval of 110, Inc.'s use was unlawful.

         On June 5, 2014, the Building Inspector held a public meeting to give interested parties an opportunity to be heard on the question of whether 110, Inc.'s operation was protected under the Dover Amendment. On July 2, 2014, after considering the oral statements and written submissions made by counsel for 110, Inc., Miller, and members of the public, the Building Inspector granted Miller's request to enforce the zoning ordinance against 110, Inc., finding that the facility was not an "educational use" under the Dover Amendment or otherwise permitted by that statute or the Town's zoning by-laws. The Building Inspector therefore ordered the facility to cease operations, but stayed the order to allow 110, Inc. to appeal the decision to the Town's Zoning Board of Appeals ("ZBA").

         110, Inc. responded by first filing a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts. In its complaint, 110, Inc. alleged that the Town, in addition to violating the Dover Amendment, had illegally discriminated against the facility's residents under the Federal Fair Housing Act ("FHA"), 42 U.S.C. § 3601 et seq.; the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), id. § 12101 et seq.; and Chapter 40A, section 3, of the Massachusetts General Laws. Compl. at 6-8, 110, Inc. v. Town of Wenham, No. 14-cv-13013 (D. Mass. July 16, 2014), ECF No. 1. In addition to seeking compensatory, declaratory, and punitive damages and relief, 110, Inc. also filed an "emergency motion" seeking an injunction barring the Town from interfering with 110, Inc.'s operation of the facility and enjoining the Town from requiring it to appeal the Building Inspector's decision to the ZBA. Motion for Emergency Injunctive Relief at 2, 110, Inc. v. Town of Wenham, No. 14-cv-13013 (D. Mass. July 16, 2014), ECF No. 3.

         On July 29, 2014, the district court held a hearing in 110, Inc.'s case against the Town on the emergency motion and decided to hold an expedited trial on the merits of 110, Inc.'s claims, which it set for September 3, 2014. A few days later, on August 1, 2014, 110, Inc. appealed the Building Inspector's decision to the ZBA. After holding a public hearing and considering numerous written submissions, the ZBA denied 110, Inc.'s appeal on September 3, 2014, agreeing with the Building Inspector that 110, Inc.'s use of the facility did not qualify as an "educational use" under the Dover Amendment.

         At the request of the parties in 110, Inc.'s case against the Town, the court continued the September 3 trial date to the end of September. During this time, the Town and 110, Inc. entered into settlement discussions. On September 5, 110, Inc.'s counsel submitted a written request to both the Town Administrator and Building Inspector requesting a "reasonable accommodation" under the ADA and FHA. This request set no limitations on 110, Inc.'s proposed use of the property as a substance abuse treatment facility, except that it capped at fourteen the number of clients for whom 110, Inc. could provide services at any one time.

         A few days later, on September 9, counsel for an investor in 110, Inc., who held title to the parcel on which the company operated, sent a demand letter to the Town Administrator, Town Counsel, and Special Town Counsel, claiming that the decisions by the Building Inspector and the ZBA had caused him financial loss and threatening to bring a separate lawsuit against the Town if it did not allow the facility to continue its operations. On September 11, the Town relented, and the Building Inspector signed 110, Inc.'s "reasonable accommodation" request. This act, Miller alleges, was done on the advice of the Town's lawyers for the purpose of resolving the ongoing federal litigation brought by 110, Inc. and to avoid the further litigation that had been threatened by the owner of the abutting property. ...


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