July 23, 2015

In 545 Halsey Lane Properties, LLC v. Town of Southampton, 2015 WL 1565487 (April 8, 2015), the Court found that the individual Defendants were entitled to qualified immunity with regard to the claim that they unlawfully subjected the Plaintiff to site plan review. However, the Court denied the Motion to Dismiss as to the claims challenging the substantive decisions of the Planning Board, finding that those substantive decisions were not entitled to qualified immunity as a matter of law. Plaintiff had challenged two decisions by the Town of Southampton (Suffolk County) Planning Board involving conditional approvals of the Plaintiff’s applications for a building permit for the construction of a barn on its property. Plaintiff named the Planning Board members in their individual capacity and Defendants moved to dismiss in part on grounds of qualified immunity.

After a detailed discussion of the property history, agreement with the Town, Planning Board process and New York State Supreme Court decision, the District Court recited the legal standard for establishing qualified immunity and granted in part and denied in part Defendants’ motions.

Qualified immunity shields government officials from suit and civil liability for “the performance of their discretionary functions only where their conduct ‘did not violate plaintiff’s clearly established rights or if it would have been objectively reasonable for the official[s] to believe that [their] conduct did not violate plaintiff’s rights’”. Qualified immunity only applies where a government official performs a discretionary, as distinct from a ministerial function.

In this case, the Court found that the individual Defendants were entitled to qualified immunity with regard to the claim that they unlawfully subjected the Plaintiff to site plan review. The Court explained that “this is because they cannot be deemed to have violated “clearly established law” under the Town Code.” Further, even if they could be deemed to have violated “clearly established law,” the Court found that their actions were objectively reasonable under the circumstances.

However, Plaintiff also claimed that Supreme Court Justice Martin did not render a decision on the full breadth of the constitutional violations asserted, including related to the substantive decisions of the Defendants, which it asserts violated its substantive due process and equal protection rights.

Defendants apparently did not respond to this argument directly. Nor did Defendants argue that because they had jurisdiction to exercise site plan review over the Plaintiff’s application, the Plaintiff’s constitutional claims arising thereunder were unreviewable by the Court. Rather, Defendants claimed that the Court’s invitation to reconsider its ruling on qualified immunity concerned the issue of the Planning Board’s jurisdiction. That argument did not convince the Court that the individual Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity at that early stage in the litigation with respect to the substantive decisions of the Planning Board.

Therefore, the Court granted the Defendants’ motion to the extent it found that the individual Defendants were entitled to qualified immunity with regard to any claim that the Planning Board unlawfully subjected the Plaintiff to site plan review, and dismissed any such claims against the individual Defendants. However, the Court denied the motion as to the claims challenging the substantive decisions of the Planning Board, finding that those substantive decisions were not entitled to qualified immunity as a matter of law.

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