United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
R.I. SEEKONK HOLDINGS, LLC and H. CHARLES TAPALIAN, SR., Plaintiffs,
MICHELLE A. HINES, individually, and in her capacity as a Member of the TOWN OF SEEKONK BOARD OF SELECTMEN, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
J. Casper United States District Judge
R.I. Seekonk Holdings, LLC (“RISH”) and H.
Charles Tapalian, Sr., (“Tapalian”)
(collectively, “Plaintiffs”) have filed this
lawsuit against Defendant Michelle A. Hines
(“Hines”), a member of the Town of Seekonk Board
of Selectman, alleging a violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983,
a violation of Mass. Gen. L. c. 12 § 11H-11I and
defamation. D. 1-3. Hines has moved for judgment on the
pleadings. D. 17. For the reasons stated below, the Court
DENIES the motion.
Standard of Review
12(c) allows a party to move for judgment on the pleadings at
any time “[a]fter the pleadings are closed-but early
enough not to delay trial.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). A
motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P.
12(c) is “ordinarily accorded much the same
treatment” as a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Aponte-Torres
v. Univ. of P.R., 445 F.3d 50, 54 (1st Cir. 2006). To
survive a motion for judgment on the pleadings, therefore, a
plaintiff must plead “enough facts to state a claim to
relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl.
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). Because a
motion for judgment on the pleadings “calls for an
assessment of the merits of the case at an embryonic stage,
” the Court “view[s] the facts contained in the
pleadings in the light most favorable to the nonmovant and
draw[s] all reasonable inferences therefrom” in their
favor. Pérez-Acevedo v. Rivero-Cubano, 520
F.3d 26, 29 (1st Cir. 2008) (citation omitted).
Rule 12(c) motion, unlike a Rule 12(b) motion, the Court
considers the pleadings as a whole, including the answer.
See Aponte-Torres, 445 F.3d at 54-55. Those
assertions in the answer that have not been denied and do not
conflict with the assertions in the complaint are taken as
true. See Santiago v. Bloise, 741 F.Supp.2d 357, 360
(D. Mass. 2010). In addition, “[t]he court may
supplement the facts contained in the pleadings by
considering documents fairly incorporated therein and facts
susceptible to judicial notice.” R.G. Fin. Corp. v.
Vergara-Nuñez, 446 F.3d 178, 182 (1st Cir. 2006).
Still, “[l]ike Rule 12(b)(6), Rule 12(c) does not allow
for any resolution of contested facts; rather, a court may
enter judgment on the pleadings only if the uncontested and
properly considered facts conclusively establish the
movant's entitlement to a favorable judgment.”
Aponte-Torres, 445 F.3d at 54.
otherwise indicated, the following summary is based on the
facts as alleged in the complaint and the exhibits referenced
therein, D. 1-3, and, to the extent they are not disputed,
the facts contained in Hines's answer, D. 5. RISH owns
and operates a development of luxury apartments known as
Greenbrier Village Luxury Apartments (“Greenbrier
Village”) in Seekonk, MA. D. 1-3 ¶¶ 8-11.
Tapalian is a majority member and manager of RISH.
Id. ¶ 2. An approximately twenty-two acre
parcel of land known as the Showcase Property abuts
Greenbrier Village. Id. ¶ 24. The Showcase
Property sits in a split zoning district where a portion of
the property is zoned “Highway Business” and the
remainder of the property is zoned “Rural
Residential.” Id. ¶ 26. In 2017, the Town
of Seekonk-through its Board of Selectmen and Planning
Department-considered rezoning the entire Showcase Property
to “Highway Business.” Id. ¶ 27.
Plaintiffs, through Tapalian, attended various meetings
discussing the proposed rezoning of the Showcase Property.
Id. ¶¶ 28-31. At these meetings,
Plaintiffs expressed significant concerns that the rezoning
would permit the opening of a used car lot or auto auction
which would impact the abutting Greenbrier Village.
Id. ¶ 30. The proposal to change the Showcase
Property's zoning failed to pass during the Town's
2017 Annual Fall Meeting. Id. ¶¶ 32-37. In
January 2018, the Town considered renewing its effort to
rezone the Showcase Property as Highway Business.
Id. ¶¶ 38-43. At one meeting considering
the Showcase Property's rezoning, Hines, one member of
the Seekonk Board of Selectman, expressed concern that
statements made by members of the public about used car lots
were “insulting” and “defamatory.”
Id. ¶ 40.
protect the Showcase Property from being rezoned, Plaintiffs
purchased the Showcase Property and created a plan to develop
the portion abutting Greenbrier Village into additional
residential units. Id. ¶¶ 44-46. Pursuant
to this plan, Plaintiffs submitted to the town a petition
which sought to incorporate the rear portion of the Showcase
Property currently zoned Rural Residential into the adjacent
Multifamily Development Overlay District
(“Plaintiffs' Rezoning Proposal”).
Id. ¶¶ 47-48. On December 27, 2018, the
Seekonk Board of Selectmen met to discuss Plaintiffs'
Rezoning Proposal. Id. ¶ 51.
December 2018 meeting was open to the public and televised
live on local access channels. Id. ¶¶
70-71. RISH's legal representative, Tapalian, town
officials and Seekonk residents attended the meeting.
Id. ¶¶ 52, 70. During this December 2018
meeting, Hines questioned Plaintiffs' counsel about their
proposal. D. 1-3 Exh. 1 at 4:21-26:45. As part of her
questioning, Hines said that Plaintiffs should not have
“maligned used car dealers in town” and expressed
concern that Seekonk lost an auto auction business. D. 1-3
¶¶ 63-64. Hines further expressed concern that
Plaintiffs had not kept up with promises to its purchasers.
Id. ¶ 57. Hines explained that she would oppose
Plaintiffs' effort to rezone in addition to any further
efforts by Plaintiffs to construct condominiums in town.
Id. ¶¶ 66-67. Hines was the only member of
the Seekonk Board of Selectman to vote against establishing
Plaintiffs' proposed zoning change as a warrant article,
scheduling a special town meeting on the petition and
referring it to the Planning Board for consideration and
public hearing. Id. ¶ 68.
instituted this action on January 11, 2019, in Bristol
Superior Court, D. 1-3, and on February 4, 2019, Hines
removed the case to this Court, D. 1. Hines has now moved for
judgment on the pleadings as to all claims. D. 17. The Court
heard the parties on the pending motion and took these
matters under advisement. D. 24.
Count I: 42 U.S.C. ...