Friday, November 7, 2008

SBT Holdings v. Town of Westminster

Nov 6: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, First Circuit, Case No. 08-1512. Plaintiffs SBT Holdings, LLC, and its owners, Brian, Thomas, and Susan Foley, undertook a condominium real estate development project in the Town of Westminster, Massachusetts. After delays caused by environmental regulation demands by the Town, plaintiffs sued the Town, the Town of Westminster Conservation Commission, and various individuals. Suit was brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that the defendants, in violation of plaintiffs' equal protection rights, intentionally obstructed the development by taking certain actions, actions which a state court had found to be in violation of state law and in bad faith.

The district court dismissed plaintiffs' complaint for failure to state a claim. It held that the complaint failed to specify similarly situated others who were treated differently, a necessary element in an equal protection case. [See: SBT Holdings, LLC v. Town of Westminster, 541 F. Supp. 2d 405, 413 (D. Mass. 2008)]. The Appeals Court reversed the dismissal and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with the opinion.

In its opinion the Appeals Court said, "Defendants' argument overlooks the relevant Massachusetts law. Since at least 1981, Massachusetts courts have recognized that conservation commissions are amenable to suit. See Hamilton, 425 N.E.2d at 366 (noting that local authorities may impose by bylaw or ordinance wetlands protections that are more stringent than state standards under section 40, but that 'where a taking is caused by the accomplishment of that purpose, it is the local authority which would bear the liability'). In addition, there are numerous cases where conservation commissions are parties and Massachusetts state courts dismissed claims for damages against them, but not on grounds they are not amenable to suit. . . Such actions have not been limited to takings claims and have included actions for damages."

Access the complete opinion (
click here).

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