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Sandone v. Park

A-6346-07T1 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2010) (Unpublished)

REDEVELOPMENT — Because a challenge to a redevelopment plan goes to the heart of the right of a municipal authority to execute economic development plans for its community, and because New Jersey law provides an adequate remedy to correct an arbitrary act by a government agency, the complaining party has no remedy under federal law to set aside a validly adopted redevelopment plan.

A municipality declared certain property to be in need of redevelopment. Some of the owners within the redevelopment area sued the mayor and the municipality in an attempt to challenge the project. They alleged the decision to adopt and implement the plan was arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable, and contrary to law. They also asserted federal civil rights and constitutional claims.

The parties agreed to settle the matter. The owners conveyed title to their properties to the municipality and, in return, received a sum that substantially exceeded the price they had paid for those sites. The owners were also paid other sums to vacate and relocate and received valuable options relating to the project, including the right to acquire commercial space in the redevelopment area at a discounted price. While the action was proceeding, the owners filed another action which essentially restated the civil rights and constitutional claims and asserted that the mayor and others conspired to interfere, and had interfered, with the owners’ prospective economic advantage in retribution for past slights.

The lower court dismissed the owners’ claims. First, it recognized that the owners had never established any irregularity in the adoption and implementation of the redevelopment plan. Thus, it stated that the lower court was required to evaluate the various claims in the context of a properly adopted redevelopment plan. In doing so, the lower court found no direct evidence that the municipality had a specific purpose to interrupt and frustrate the owners’ business ambitions and noted the substantial return the owners realized on their properties, as reflected in the settlement agreement. Second, addressing the procedural due process argument, the lower court noted that the owners had an adequate remedy through state law and procedures to redress any deficiencies in the redevelopment process generally and as applied to them, including any claims of low valuations. Third, addressing the substantive due process claim, it declared that the owners were required to establish that any action by the municipality must be so outrageous as to “shock the conscience.” The lower court held there was no evidence of any such governmental action. It also held that the mayor and other municipal officials were immune from suit since there was no proof given that they were acting outside of their respective executive and legislative capacities.

The Appellate Division affirmed for substantially the same reasons. It declared that the claims presented by the owners were rooted in the exercise of municipal authority to execute economic development plans for the community. It noted the New Jersey Supreme Court had sharply limited the ability of disapproving citizens to redress their grievances through other than existing remedies. Here, the Court held the owners had adequate state remedies at law and had availed themselves of those remedies. They also had the ability to contest the value of their property in the context of a condemnation proceeding, but did not do so. Further, they never established that the municipality’s actions to adopt a redevelopment plan were legally defective. Finally, it ruled that when a party has an adequate remedy at law to correct an arbitrary act by a governmental agency, that party has no remedy under federal law.

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