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Kitras v. Temple

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

September 25, 2017

PETER TEMPLE, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiffs Maria A. Kitras and James J. Decoulos, as co-trustees of the Gorda Realty Trust (the "Trust"), allege that the town of Aquinnah (the "Town"), and certain of its boards and officials, prevented them from making improvements on their real estate through improper delay and denial of regulatory approval, which amounted to a temporary taking of their property and a violation of their rights to equal protection. Currently pending before the Court are Defendants' Motion to Dismiss [ECF No. 15], Plaintiffs' Motion for Leave to File Amended Complaint [ECF No. 25], [1]and Plaintiffs' Motion for Hearing on the pending motions [ECF No. 28].[2]

         Plaintiffs' Motion for Hearing is DENIED. For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss without prejudice to whatever right Plaintiffs might have to pursue both counts of the Complaint in state court and DENIES Plaintiffs' Motion for Leave to File Amended Complaint.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In 1998, Plaintiffs began seeking regulatory approval to build a three-bedroom home and related improvements on the Trust's property located in the Town. [ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 1-2, 23] ("Compl."). Since then, Plaintiffs have participated in several administrative and judicial proceedings in pursuit of their proposed construction plan, id ¶25, including with the Town Conservation Commission, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, the Division of Administrative Law Appeals, and the Middlesex Superior Court. Id. ¶¶26-36. Plaintiffs also sought and obtained approval of their proposed septic system from the Town Board of Health and alerter from the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program confirming that their proposal would not unduly harm an endangered or threatened species. Id. ¶¶40-44.

         After this protracted series of proceedings, on July 22, 2011, Plaintiffs applied to the Town Planning Board and its Plan Review Committee for a Special Permit pursuant to the Town bylaws. Id. ¶45. The bylaws required a "Special Permit" from the Plan Review Committee for the siting of a new structure or dwelling on the property, or for making additions to existing structures. Id; [ECF No. 16-1 at 9]. Plaintiffs provided the Plan Review Committee with supporting documents to demonstrate that, among other things, their proposal satisfied the bylaws' requirement of a minimum amount of frontage.[3] Compl. ¶¶ 49-52. At a public hearing on the application, the Plan Review Committee acknowledged that it had previously approved applications proposing equal or less frontage compared to Plaintiffs' application. Id. ¶ 53. Nonetheless, on December 6, 2011, the Plan Review Committee denied the application on several grounds, including that the application lacked the required amount of frontage. Id. ¶ 2; [ECF No. 16-1 at 4]. The Plan Review Committee did not state its reason for treating Plaintiffs' application differently from applications approved with equal or less frontage. Compl. ¶53.

         Plaintiffs filed a complaint in the Massachusetts Land Court seeking review of the denial of their Special Permit application. [ECF No. 16-1 at 3]. As a preliminary matter, the Land Court dismissed certain claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, including Plaintiffs' takings claims and equal protection claims. [ECF No. 16-1 at 3-5]. While review of the validity of the Special Permit denial remained pending in the Land Court, Plaintiffs refiled the dismissed claims in Massachusetts Superior Court, essentially alleging that Defendants' delay or denial of regulatory approvals constituted a taking and that their Special Permit application was treated differently than similarly situated applicants in violation of their rights to equal protection. [ECF No. 24-5 at 32-34]. Defendants then removed the Superior Court case to federal court. Compl. ¶ 5; [ECF No. 24 at 7; ECF No. 24-5 at 2]. Thereafter, on or around August 13, 2013, the parties entered into a "stand still" agreement, pursuant to which the parties voluntarily dismissed the case in federal court without prejudice and agreed that Plaintiffs could refile their claims after a dispositive ruling in the Land Court action became final. Compl. ¶ 5.

         On October 15, 2013, on cross motions for summary judgment, the Land Court ruled that Plaintiffs' application lacked sufficient frontage and failed to satisfy the applicable bylaw. [ECF No. 16-1 at 23]. The Land Court held:

[Plaintiffs' July 22, 2011 application for a Special Permit did not depict adequate frontage under the [Town] Zoning By-Law, and for that reason, the decision of the
[Town] Plan Review Committee dated December 6, 2011 ... is not arbitrary, capricious, or contrary to law, will not be overturned or upset by the court, and will stand as issued.

         [ECF No. 16-2 at 4]. Plaintiffs appealed the decision to the Massachusetts Appeals Court, but ultimately filed a motion to voluntarily dismiss their appeal as moot, because they "ha[d] since obtained approvals from the [Town] for a development plan on a lot owned by the [Trust], with rights of access pursuant to a side agreement with abutters." [ECF No. 16-4 at 5]. The Appeals Court allowed the motion to dismiss the appeal, but declined to vacate the Land Court's judgment. Id. 5-6. Shortly after the Appeals Court entered its decision, Plaintiffs filed the instant case in this Court.


         Defendants now move to dismiss this case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim. "Under a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction based solely on the pleadings, '[i]f the well-pleaded facts, evaluated in [the light most hospitable to the plaintiffs' theory of recovery and drawing all reasonable inferences in the plaintiffs' favor], do not support a finding of federal subject-matter jurisdiction, ' the court must dismiss the action." Adams v. Town of Montague, No. 14-30178, 2015 WL 1292402, at *1 (D. Mass. Mar. 23, 2015) (alterations in original) (quoting Fothergill v. United States, 566 F.3d 248, 251 & n.l (1st Cir. 2009). "Similarly, under a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, if a complaint, based on the well-pleaded factual allegations, fails to allege 'content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable' based a legally viable claim, it is subject to dismissal." Id. (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)).[4]

         III. ...

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