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Pascucci v. Town of Lynnfield

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

September 13, 2018

Michael Pascucci and Susan Pascucci; Plaintiffs,
v.
Town of Lynnfield and the Board Selectmen in their official capacity; Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          NATHANIEL M. GORTON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This case arises from a property dispute between Michael and Susan Pascucci (“plaintiffs” or “the Pascuccis”) and the Town of Lynnfield, Massachusetts and its Board of Selectmen in their official capacities (collectively “the defendants”). The Pascuccis allege that the Town of Lynnfield made an unlawful taking of their property without just compensation. They seek a judgment enforcing their right of ownership of the subject property or, alternatively, entitling them to just compensation.

         I. Background

         The Pascuccis have owned a condominium in the Partridge Island development complex (“the Pascucci unit”) since 1995. The Partridge Island Complex was built as part of the Local Initiative Program (“LIP”) pursuant to M.G.L. c. 40B. LIP is a state-run initiative that encourages the creation of affordable and low income housing. It is administered and regulated by the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (“DHCD”).

         As a requirement of LIP, a specific number of units in the Partridge Island complex were designated as “affordable” and sold at roughly 50% of their fair market value. The Pascucci unit was purchased at such a discounted rate. In turn, the DHCD promulgated regulations at 760 C.M.R. 45.00 requiring unitowners to abide by certain restrictions. LIP required that applicable restrictions be endorsed on the deed rider. One of the constraints so posted was a prohibition on renting affordable units. The plaintiffs allege that LIP has been repealed and that Section 45.00 is no longer in effect but the defendants rejoin that the former regulation has simply been superseded by 760 C.M.R. 56.00.

         After owning the condominium for many years, the Pascuccis bought a residence on Kenniston Road in Lynnfield. Mr. Pascucci asserts that in 2012 or 2013 he requested in writing of DHCD and the Town of Lynnfield that he be granted permission to rent and eventually to sell his unit. Plaintiffs claim that neither DHCD nor the town acted on his letter. Eventually, the Pascuccis chose to rent the unit for a “minimal amount of money” sufficient only to cover the mortgage and utility payments.

         In 2014 or 2015, Mr. Pascucci wrote another letter to the Town and to DHCD seeking permission to sell the unit. After receipt of that letter, the Town discovered the property had been previously rented. In April, 2014, Lynnfield filed suit against the Pascuccis in the Massachusetts Superior Court for Essex County seeking 1) to enforce the deed rider, 2) collect profits from the rent and 3) to declare its rights. See Town of Lynnfield v. Michael Pascucci et al., Civil Action No. 2014-0612.

         That Court ordered the Pascuccis to produce certain documents but they failed to do so. The Town then moved for default judgment under the Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure and that motion was allowed. In August, 2016, the Superior Court denied the Pascucci's motion to vacate or clarify the default judgment and in July, 2017, the Massachusetts Appeals Court dismissed their appeal for want of prosecution. The Pascuccis retained new counsel who moved to reinstate the appeal but that motion was denied.

         Plaintiffs' complaint asserts that Lynnfield unconstitutionally appropriated the Pascucci unit and that they are entitled either to a declaratory judgment that they are the rightful owners of the property or entitled to just compensation. Plaintiffs also seek immediate and interim equitable relief to prevent unrecoverable and irreparable damage to the property. The four-count complaint specifically alleges 1) unlawful governmental taking in violation of the Fifth Amendment, 2) unlawful regulatory taking, 3) failure to provide a valuation of the property and 4) violation of procedural due process.

         Pending before the Court are cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings.

         II. Analysis

         Article III of the United States Constitution confines the judicial power of federal courts to actual “cases” or “controversies”. Valley Forge Christian Coll. v. Americans United for Separation of Church & State, Inc., 454 U.S. 464, 471 (1982). The justiciability doctrine of ripeness grows out of “Article III limitations on judicial power and [] prudential reasons for refusing to exercise jurisdiction, ” Reno v. Catholic Social Services, Inc., 509 U.S. 43, 57, n. 18 (1993) (citations omitted). It ensures that the “harm asserted has matured sufficiently to warrant judicial intervention.” Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 499 n. 10 (1975).

         To demonstrate that a claim is ripe for litigation, a plaintiff must show 1) “the fitness of the issues for judicial decision” and 2) “the hardship to the parties of withholding court consideration.” Roman Catholic Bishop of Springfield v. City of Springfield, 724 F.3d 78, 89 (1st Cir. 2013) (citation omitted).

         “[T]he question of ripeness may be considered on a court's own motion.” Nat''1Park Hosp. Ass'n v. Dep't of Interior, 538 ...


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