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Leland v. Moran

Citation: 30 ELR 20699
No. No. 99-CV-1449, 100 F. Supp. 2d 140/(N.D.N.Y., 06/22/2000)

The court grants in part and denies in part a New York Municipal village's motion to dismiss property owners' negligence and Fourteenth Amendment due process claims against the village for failure to address an unlicensed solid waste management facility's violations of the municipal zoning code. The court first holds that it is premature to dismiss the owners' Fourteenth Amendment claim. A liberal reading of the owners' complaint reveals that they are not seeking to challenge discretionary actions taken by the village, but rather claiming that the village took no action at all to prevent and abate the pollution occurring at the facility despite a duty, pursuant to the zoning code, to do so. If the owners can demonstrate that the village did not make any efforts to enforce the zoning code over the approximately 13-year span in which the facility allegedly operated, they may be able to state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for due process violations. The court next holds that the owners sufficiently stated a claim against the village for failure to train its employees. A municipality may be held liable for failure to train its employees only where the failure to train amounts to deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of the municipality's citizens. Here, the owners allege that the village failed to properly train employees on the zoning code and their ability to enforce its provisions, thus leading to the incorrect statements to the owners that they could do nothing to remedy the situation at the facility.

The court additionally holds that the individual government officials named in the owners' suit are not entitled to qualified immunity. The zoning code mandated enforcement of the village's zoning laws. In light of this mandate, it was not objectively reasonable for the individual officials to believe that since the state environmental agency was purportedly handling the situation, they were not required to take action on their own. Finally, the court holds that the owners' negligence claim against the village must be dismissed. The owners failed to allege that the village owed them a special duty to enforce the zoning code or that the village assumed such a duty.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Michael H. Sussman
Sussman Law Offices
25 Main St., Goshen NY 10924
(845) 294-3991

Counsel for Defendants
Hon. Eliot Spitzer, Attorney General
Attorney General's Office
State Capitol, Albany NY 12224
(518) 474-7330