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County Concrete Corporation v. Township of Roxbury

442 F.3d 159 (2006)

ZONING; EQUAL PROTECTION—To succeed in an equal protection claim, an owner must show that a municipality’s ordinance that re-zoned its property did not re-zone other proximate or similarly situated properties, and that the ordinance was irrational and arbitrary.

A company engaged in a sand and gravel removal business. It and the municipality were involved in a long running dispute over the company’s application for site plan and subdivision approval to merge two lots and extend its business operation. The company and municipality had entered into a 1993 agreement with respect to the operation of the company’s business. Later, when the company applied for site plan and subdivision approval, it claimed that the municipal planning board attempted to impose unreasonable restrictions in violation of the terms of their prior agreement, attributed environmental contamination from other sources to their operations, and made false accusations about the company’s business during the application process. Some years later, the municipality adopted a zoning ordinance that changed the company’s property designation from industrial use to residential use and open spaces. The new zoning ordinance effectively barred the company’s proposed expansion of its sand and gravel business.

The company filed a complaint against the municipality, claiming that the municipality’s actions violated its substantive due process rights, violated its equal protection rights, and constituted a “taking” without just compensation. The lower court dismissed the company’s complaint, and the company appealed. The Court of Appeals reversed in part, first addressing whether or not the company’s claims were “ripe.” Regarding the company’s condemnation claim, the Court held that the company’s claim was not “ripe” until: (1) the planning board reached a final decision regarding the application of the regulations to the company’s property; and (2) the company exhausted the state’s procedures for seeking “just compensation.” The company argued that the finality requirement only applied to “as-applied” taking claims where a property owner challenges the application of a municipal ordinance to its property. Here, the company was claiming that the ordinance, on its face, denied it all economically viable use of its property and therefore there was no requirement that it apply for a variance and await a final decision before challenging the ordinance.

The Court agreed that the finality requirement was not necessary, but noted that the company failed to exhaust all state procedures as required under the second prong of the ripeness test. Nonetheless, the Court found that while the case was pending, the state had rejected the company’s appeal, which satisfied the exhaustion of remedies requirement. The Court also found that the company’s equal protection and substantive due process claims were ripe. It noted that, with respect to a substantive due process claim, finality was not required if the complainant could establish that the municipality deliberately and improperly interfered with the application process in order to delay or block the application, and for reasons unrelated to the merits of the application. In this case, the Court found that the company’s allegations that the municipal planning board attempted to impose unreasonable restrictions in violation of the terms of their prior agreement, attributed environmental contamination from other sources to their operations, and made false accusations about the company’s business during the application process met the ripeness test. With respect to the company’s equal protection claims, the Court affirmed the dismissal of the company’s claims. It noted that the company had to show that the ordinance that re-zoned its property did not re-zone other “proximate or similarly situated” properties, and that the municipal ordinance was irrational and arbitrary. Since the company failed to demonstrate that discrimination in re-zoning affected its property, but not other similarly situated properties, its claim was properly dismissed.


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