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Martone Place, LLC v. City of Springfield

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

November 29, 2017

MARTONE PLACE, LLC, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF SPRINGFIELD, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER RE: REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION WITH REGARD TO DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS (DKT. NOS. 10 & 31)

          MICHAEL A. PONSOR U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Martone Place, LLC ("Martone") and HDC Four, LLC ("HDC") ("Plaintiffs") have filed this lawsuit against the City of Springfield; Department of Public Works ("DPW") director Christopher Cignoli; Office of Planning and Economic Development ("OPED") director Philip Dromey; Building Commissioner Steve Desilets; and former DPW director Allan R. Chwalek ("Defendants") individually and in their official capacities. Plaintiffs contend that Defendants deliberately and improperly interfered with Plaintiffs' effort to obtain a building permit and thereby caused the loss of a profitable contract with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation ("MassDOT"). The complaint contains counts asserting violations of Plaintiffs' federal due process and equal protection rights (Counts I and II) as well as violations of Massachusetts state law (Counts III, IV, V, and VI). In response, Defendants have moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. (Dkt. No. 10.)

         The motion was referred to Magistrate Judge Katherine A. Robertson for Report and Recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 72. On August 22, 2017, Judge Robertson issued her recommendation, meticulously laying out the alleged facts, summarizing the applicable law, and analyzing the merits of each of the counts of the complaint. (Dkt. No. 31.) She recommended that Defendants' motion to dismiss be allowed as to both federal counts and as to all state counts except Count IV, which asserts a claim for tortious interference with contractual relations. She noted, however, that the dismissal of the federal claims gave this court discretion to dismiss the state law claims without prejudice to their re-filing in state court.

         Plaintiffs filed a timely objection solely as to the federal counts. (Dkt. No. 35.) Defendants filed no objection to the recommendation regarding Count IV. Upon de novo review, the court will adopt Judge Robertson's recommendation, allow the motion to dismiss as to Plaintiffs' federal claims with prejudice, allow the motion to dismiss with prejudice as to all but one of the state claims based on the absence of any objection to the Recommendation, and allow the motion to dismiss Count IV, but without prejudice to its re-filing in state court.

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         A comprehensive recitation of the facts is unnecessary. Judge Robertson's thorough fifty-two-page Report and Recommendation summarizes the somewhat labyrinthine course of the parties' interactions in detail; it is attached and should be viewed as adopted in this memorandum. See Exhibit A. Plaintiffs' objections, in any event, do not assert any explicit misstatement of facts by Judge Robertson in her Report and Recommendation, though they do express disagreement with the Report's use of the term "condition" in a portion of its discussion.

         The salient facts, stringently compressed for purposes of this memorandum but fully available in the Report and Recommendation, are as follows.

         In 2013, the Massachusetts Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance ("DCAMM") awarded Plaintiffs a contract to construct a new Registry of Motor Vehicles ("RMV") building on property they owned at 36 Martone Place in Springfield. The existing RMV facility was grossly outdated so the schedule for construction of the new building was tight; the contract required substantial completion of the project within seven months. Based on the award of this contract, Plaintiffs entered into a ten-year lease with MassDOT.

         Plaintiffs submitted an application for administrative site plan review to OPED on May 6, 2014. On May 7, 2014, OPED informed Plaintiffs that their application was incomplete. Sometime thereafter, Plaintiffs filed an amended application, and on June 12, 2014, OPED confirmed that it was complete, meaning the review of the application could begin. On July 1, 2014, OPED issued a Conditional Approval; in the weeks that followed, Plaintiffs engaged in numerous communications with Defendants, written and oral, in an effort to get final approval of their project.

         Plaintiffs allege that they met with deliberate, improper resistance from Defendants during the review and permitting process. In particular, they contend that by requiring a review of their application by DPW, OPED effectively inserted a separate and improper DPW mechanism into the approval process, which Plaintiffs were unable to challenge by invoking the available state legal remedies. According to Plaintiffs, Defendants used this concocted, and unreviewable, DPW approval tool to draw out the overall approval process, with the result that Plaintiffs were unable to complete the project within the required time frame. Approximately eight months after the date for substantial completion, MassDOT terminated its lease with Plaintiffs.

         III. DISCUSSION

         Well-established authority makes clear that supplemental state law claims may, and usually should, be dismissed when all underlying federal claims are dismissed at the outset of a case. 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c) (3); see also United States ex. rel. Kelly v. Novartis Pharm. Corp., 827 F.3d 5, 15 (1st Cir. 2016) (citing Rodriguez v. Doral Mortg. Corp., 57 F.3d 1168, 1177 (1st Cir. 1995)). Although the federal court has discretion in the matter, "the balance of factors to be considered under the pendent jurisdiction doctrine - judicial economy, convenience, fairness, and comity - will point toward declining to exercise jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims." Doral Mortg. Corp., 57 F.3d at 1177 (citation omitted). "[I]f these [factors] are not present a federal court should hesitate to exercise jurisdiction over state claims, even though bound to apply state law to them." United Mine Workers of Am. v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 726 (1966) (citation omitted).

         The First Circuit has noted that "the balance of competing factors ordinarily will weigh strongly in favor of declining jurisdiction over state law claims where the foundational federal claims have been dismissed at an early stage in the litigation." Camelio v. Am. Fed'n, 137 F.3d 666, 672 (1st Cir. 1998); Doral Mortg. Corp., 57 F.3d at 1177; Brouah v. United Steelworkers of ...


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