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LLC v. Bloomfield Township

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

February 7, 2018




         Plaintiff GMS Development Holding Co. 3, LLC (“GMS”) filed this action alleging that its constitutionally protected property interest and substantive due process rights were arbitrarily and capriciously denied by defendant Bloomfield Township (the “Township”) in violation of the United States Constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The matter is before the court on the parties' cross motions for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, plaintiff's motion for summary judgment is DENIED and defendant's motion for summary judgment is GRANTED.


         The Bloomfield Manor subdivision consists of 34 platted subdivision lots located in Bloomfield Township. Plaintiff owns three of the lots (the “Property”). The Property is zoned R-3 Residential. A single family home is currently located on each of the lots. The average size for each of the lots in the subdivision, as developed, is 1.68 acres, with 73, 407 square feet of land area and 180 feet in lot width. Plaintiff filed a Lot Split Application (“Application”) with the Township requesting permission to further divide the Property into eight lots. The average lot size of the proposed lots would be 0.78 acres, with 34, 274 square feet of land area and 154 feet in lot width. After holding three public hearings, the Township Board unanimously denied plaintiff's proposed lot split.

         Patricia Voelker is the Township's Director of Planning, Building, and Ordinance. Voelker is responsible for reviewing Lot Split Applications submitted to the Township. In preparation for a meeting of the Township's Board of Trustees (“Board”) and a public hearing on the Application to be held on December 12, 2016, Ms. Voelker prepared a memorandum reviewing the Application submitted by plaintiff. Ms. Voelker concluded that the Lot Split Application was complete and satisfied the seven objective criteria in the Bloomfield Township's Lot Split Ordinance, but deferred to the Board to determine whether the proposed division met the subjective “compatibility” factor in the Lot Split Ordinance.

         The Board denied plaintiff's Lot Split Application on the basis that the proposed division would change the character of the neighborhood due to the number of lots, density and lot size. The Board voted 7-0 in favor of denying the Application. This lawsuit followed wherein plaintiff asserts the Board denied plaintiff its right to substantive due process in violation of the Constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff seeks an injunction ordering the Township to approve its Lot Split Application to cure the alleged violation of their substantive due process rights. Plaintiff also seeks a reasonable attorney fee pursuant to 42 USC 1988(b).


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) empowers the court to render summary judgment "forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." See Redding v. St. Eward, 241 F.3d 530, 532 (6th Cir. 2001). The Supreme Court has affirmed the court's use of summary judgment as an integral part of the fair and efficient administration of justice. The procedure is not a disfavored procedural shortcut. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 327 (1986); see also Cox v. Kentucky Dept. of Transp., 53 F.3d 146, 149 (6th Cir. 1995).

         The standard for determining whether summary judgment is appropriate is "'whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.'" Amway Distributors Benefits Ass'n v. Northfield Ins. Co., 323 F.3d 386, 390 (6th Cir. 2003) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986)). The evidence and all reasonable inferences must be construed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Redding, 241 F.3d at 532 (6th Cir. 2001). "[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (emphasis in original); see also National Satellite Sports, Inc. v. Eliadis, Inc., 253 F.3d 900, 907 (6th Cir. 2001).

         If the movant establishes by use of the material specified in Rule 56(c) that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, the opposing party must come forward with "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." First Nat'l Bank v. Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 270 (1968); see also McLean v. 988011 Ontario, Ltd., 224 F.3d 797, 800 (6th Cir. 2000). Mere allegations or denials in the non-movant's pleadings will not meet this burden, nor will a mere scintilla of evidence supporting the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 252. Rather, there must be evidence on which a jury could reasonably find for the non-movant. McLean, 224 F.3d at 800 (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252).


         A substantive due process claim based on a local land-use decision requires the plaintiff to show “that (1) a constitutionally protected property or liberty interest exists, and (2) the constitutionally protected interest has been deprived through arbitrary and capricious action.” EJS Props., LLC v. City of Toledo, 698 F.3d 845, 855 (6th Cir. 2012) (citation omitted). A party cannot possess a property interest in the receipt of a benefit when the state or local body's decision to award or withhold that benefit is “wholly discretionary.” Id. at 856 (citation omitted). On the other hand, where a local body has no discretion to deny the requested land use if the application satisfies certain minimum, mandatory requirements, then the applicant has a “legitimate claim of entitlement” or a “justifiable expectation” in the approval of its plan, which gives rise to a constitutionally protected property interest. Silver v. Franklin Twp. Bd. of Zoning Appeals, 966 F.2d 1031, 1036 (6th Cir. 1992) (citation omitted).

         This case requires interpretation of various sections of the Land Division Act, as well as the Bloomfield Twp. Lot Split Ordinance. The proper construction of a statute is a question of law for the court to decide, with the court's goal being to give effect to the legislature's intent. See Lamie v United States Tr., 540 U.S. 526, 534 (2004). In “cases involving statutory interpretation, we look first to the language of the statute itself.” Hughey v. United States, 495 U.S. 411, 415 (1990) (citation omitted); United States v. Kumar, 750 F.3d 563, 568-69 (6th Cir. 2014). Specific provisions take precedence over more general ones. Id., Green v. Bock Laundry Mach. Co., 490 U.S. 504, 524 (1989). Interpretations which yield internal inconsistencies or render some portion of the text superfluous are to be avoided. See Lake Cumberland Trust, Inc. v. EPA, 954 F.2d 1218, 1222 (6th Cir. 1992). Michigan law on statutory interpretation abides by the same principles. See Calvert Bail Bond Agency, LLC v. St. Clair Co., 314 Mich.App. 548, 550-51 (2016).

         Section 263 of the Land Division Act (“Act”) expressly applies to platted subdivisions and is the appropriate starting point for analysis in this case. MCL 560.263. This section specifically states that a parcel in a platted subdivision shall not be “further partitioned or ...

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