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South Commons Condominium Ass'n v. Charlie Arment Trucking, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

December 23, 2014

SOUTH COMMONS CONDOMINIUM ASSOCIATION; DONALD E. HOUGHTON; JUDITH A. HOUGHTON; PETER A. ZORZI; SOUTH MAIN REALTY, LLC; SH REALTY, LLC; JOSEPH M. LAVINSKI; JUDITH D. LAVINSKI; DALE ELLIOT BASS; LUCY M. PETERSON; MICHELLE J. KACZENSKI; STUDIO ONE, INC.; BALBONI ASSOCIATES, INC.; MBL HOUSING AND DEVELOPMENT, INC.; GREGORY P. ZORZI; EDWARD A. PESSOLANO; JAVIER MULERO, d/b/a Divalicious Salon; THOMAS M. BOVENZI, Trustee of Main-Hubbard Realty; MADELINE R. ZORZI, Plaintiffs, Appellants/Cross-Appellees,
v.
CHARLIE ARMENT TRUCKING, INC., Defendant, Appellee/Cross-Appellant, CITY OF SPRINGFIELD, MA; DOMENIC J. SARNO, JR., Mayor of Springfield; STEVEN DESILETS, Springfield Building Commissioner; DAVID COTTER, Deputy Director of Code Enforcement, Springfield Housing Division, Defendants, Appellees

APPEALS FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS. Hon. Michael A. Ponsor, U.S. District Judge.

John J. McCarthy, with whom Jesse W. Belcher-Timme and Doherty, Wallace, Pillsbury and Murphy P.C. were on brief, for appellants/cross-appellees.

Kara Thorvaldsen, with whom George C. Rockas and Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman and Dicker LLP were on brief, for appellee/cross-appellant.

Edward Pikula, with whom Lisa DeSousa, Anthony Wilson, and the City of Springfield Law Department were on brief, for appellees.

Before Lynch, Chief Judge, Stahl and Barron, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 83

BARRON, Circuit Judge.

On June 1, 2011, a devastating tornado struck the City of Springfield, Massachusetts. The twister ripped through the downtown area and caused a great deal of damage. Among the buildings affected were the South Commons Condominiums. This appeal concerns the lawsuit the owners of those buildings brought against the City, its officials, and one of its contractors.[1]

The owners chose to name those defendants because the destruction of the buildings did not result -- at least not directly -- from the unprecedentedly high winds that stunned the City that day. The destruction instead resulted from the demolition the City ordered -- and the contractor carried out -- just one day after the tornado hit.

In seeking damages for the loss, the owners say the tornado did not cause enough harm to their buildings to justify the City's drastic response. And the owners further say the City acted precipitously -- and, ultimately unconstitutionally -- in razing the buildings without letting them show how the buildings could have been saved. The City defends the demolition as a proper response to an unprecedented natural disaster. But the City also argues the process it used to make that emergency

Page 84

judgment followed Massachusetts law and satisfied the demands of the federal Constitution -- at least given the allowance the City says the federal Constitution makes for swift (and thus sometimes mistaken) governmental efforts to deal with the immediate dangers damaged properties sometimes pose.

In deciding this appeal, we, like the District Court, consider only the federal constitutional due process issues. We leave the owners' various state law claims to the more appropriate forum: the state courts. And in resolving the federal constitutional issues, we, like the District Court, do not decide whether the City's decision to demolish the buildings was the right one to make. We decide only that, on the record before us, the District Court correctly concluded the demolition did not deprive the owners of their property in violation of the federal Constitution's guarantee of due process of law. Critical to that judgment, moreover, is our conclusion that Massachusetts offers an adequate remedy for whatever wrongful loss the owners may have suffered in consequence of the City's actions. For these reasons, we affirm the District Court's judgment dismissing the owners' federal suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 with prejudice and their pendent state law claims without prejudice.

I.

The tornado cut through the center of the City and caused significant damage throughout the downtown. Both the Massachusetts governor and the Springfield mayor declared a state of emergency. City officials quickly determined the South Commons Condominiums -- a complex consisting of buildings located at 959-991 Main Street, 14 Hubbard Avenue, and 133 Union Street -- were among the properties that suffered significant damage. Charlie Arment Trucking, Inc., a private company hired by the City, demolished most of those buildings the next evening, June 2, 2011. Only one of the condominium units, Unit 10, was left standing.

Those basic facts are not in dispute. We recite the rest as the plaintiffs describe them in their complaint, as we do when we review a district court's decision to grant a motion to dismiss. See SEC v. Tambone, 597 F.3d 436, 438 (1st Cir. 2010) (en banc).

The National Guard and the state police restricted access to parts of the City. They evacuated the residents of the South Commons Condominiums. The City ordered residents to leave the buildings. The residents were not allowed to return to the buildings even though they could have been made safe enough to allow for retrieval of their contents. The City provided no notice to the residents of the South Commons Condominiums that the City believed the buildings presented an immediate danger to public safety that would require their demolition. Thus, the residents were given no opportunity to attempt to stop the demolition. Nor were engineering studies or analyses undertaken to confirm the need to address the danger the buildings posed or to assess whether the buildings might be spared.

Nevertheless, Charlie Arment Trucking, Inc., the private demolition company hired by and acting at the direction of the City, took down the South Commons Condominiums in a matter of hours.[2] Only days later did City officials ...


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