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DeBlasio v. Zoning Bd. of Adjustment

Citation: 25 ELR 21227
No. No. 93-5301, 53 F.3d 592/(3d Cir., 05/01/1995)

The court holds that a New Jersey landowner adequately stated a substantive due process claim under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution when he alleged that a local zoning board arbitrarily or irrationally decided that the operation of a battery distribution business on his property violated local zoning restrictions and refused to grant him a variance. The landowner alleged that the board, in addition to violating his substantive due process rights, had violated his Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process rights, his Fifth Amendment right not to have his property taken without just compensation, the federal civil rights conspiracy provision at 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3), and the U.S. Constitution's Commerce Clause. He further alleged that the board's decisions constituted a tortious interference with contractual relations and prospective economic advantage under New Jersey common law. The court first holds, without further discussion, that the issues the landowner raised in connection with the district court's dismissal of his takings, § 1985(3), and Commerce Clause claims lack merit. His claims that the district court erred in affirming a magistrate judge's discovery order and in denying his motion for leave to file an amended complaint also lack merit. The court affirms the district court's dismissal of the landowner's procedural due process claim, because New Jersey provides a full judicial process for challenging adverse zoning decisions. But, the court reverses the district court's summary judgment against the landowner on his substantive due process and state-law tort claims. The court holds that when a landowner alleges that a governmental decision limiting the landowner's intended land use was arbitrarily or irrationally reached, the landowner has established possession of a property interest worthy of substantive due process protection. On the sufficiency of the landowner's evidence that the board acted with an improper motive, the court holds that a genuine issue of material fact exists whether one board member, for personal reasons, improperly interfered with the process by which the board reached its zoning decisions. When the board found that the operation of the battery distribution business on the landowner's property violated local zoning restrictions, one of the board member's sons owned property the board member had allegedly suggested as an alternate site for that business and the board member held a mortgage on that property.

A dissenting judge would hold that the landowner failed to demonstrate that he has a property interest cognizable under the Fourteenth Amendment. Also, even if he had such an interest, he failed to present evidence that would permit a reasonable jury to find that the board's decisions were based on personal bias, improper motive, or some other unlawful criteria.

Counsel for Appellant
Nicholas R. Perrella
Smith & Laquercia
28 W. State St., Ste. 1414, Trenton NJ 08608
(609) 396-9595

Counsel for Appellees
Mark L. First
Fox, Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel
Princeton Pike Corporate Ctr.
997 Lenox Dr., Bldg. 3, Lawrenceville NJ 08648
(609) 896-3600

Before Mansmann, Lewis and McKelvie,* JJ.