Teed v. Hilltown Township
2004 WL 1149486 (E.D.Pa.)
A landowner brought suit in the Federal District Court after the township denied his application for a permit and Commonwealth Court affirmed that decision. The Federal District Court dismissed two of the three claims the landowner asserted.
The landowner ran a nursery and landscaping business on his property. The township informed him that he was in violation of the zoning ordinance and sought an enforcement action against him. The landowner filed an application for a permit to operate the nursery and the landscaping business incidental to the nursery. The township denied the application. The landowner appealed the to the ZHB who permitted the nursery but prohibited the landscaping business because it held that the use was not incidental to the nursery when it accounted for 85% of the business. The landowner appealed up to the Commonwealth Court, which affirmed the ZHB’s decision.
The landowner filed a suit in the Federal Court alleging three counts pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The first claim was that the township deprived the landowner of due process rights because it improperly interpreted the zoning ordinance and conspired to deprive him of the rightful use of his property. The second claim was that the township violated the landowner’s right to equal protection because it discriminated against him when it denied his permit. The final claim asserted an inverse condemnation of the landowner’s property without just compensation.
The Federal District Court dismissed the due process claim because of the Rooker-Feldman docrine. The Court stated that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine forbids all federal courts but the US Supreme Court from voiding a decision by a state court. The Court held that where the Court of Common Pleas and Commonwealth Court held that the landowner had failed to meet his burden to show that he was entitled to a permit, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine prohibited the Federal Court from rendering a decision on the due process claim because it would have the effect of voiding the state courts’ decisions.
The Federal District Court also dismissed the landowner’s claim for inverse condemnation. The Court held that when the landowner had not followed the state procedure for receiving just compensation from a claim of condemnation, a Federal Court could not decide on the claim because it was not ripe.
The Court did not dismiss the landowner’s claim of a violation of equal protection because the landowner satisfied the minimum requirements for the claim. The landowner only needed to allege that the township intentionally discriminated against him.
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