Justia Zoning, Planning & Land Use Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals
Northridge Church v. Charter Twp. of Plymouth
In 1994 the township denied a special permit for construction of a church and related structures, consisting of 220,000 square feet of building area, more than 1,350 parking spaces, and a seating capacity of 4,000 people in the main auditorium/worship center on a 55.8-acre plot zoned for agricultural use. The parties later entered a consent judgment, permitting the church with a number of limitations. Because of growth and a desire to add services, the church moved to reopen the case in 2008 to set aside the consent judgment. The trial court denied the motion. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. After rejecting an argument that the judgment was void under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000cc, the court noted that the changed circumstances on which the church based its Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b)(5) argument were voluntary and within the church's control. The fact that case law has clarified the law under RLUIPA does not justify reopening the case.
Rondigo, L.L.C.v. Township of Richmond
After receiving assurance that her 72-acre farm operation complied with Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program cropping system requirements and with cost-effective pollution prevention practices and environmental regulations, which provides protection against nuisance suits, plaintiff planned a composting operation. State litigation concerning the plan was pending and a stop-work order was in place when neighbors started to complain about odors. After various inspections and orders, the owner received notice that the MAEAP certification was being withdrawn and filed claims against the township, its supervisor, state officials, and citizens. The district court dismissed claims against state officials, except an equal protection claim. The Sixth Circuit reversed, holding that the officials were shielded by qualified immunity. An allegation that the plaintiff is a woman and that a man was treated more favorably was insufficient to state an equal protection claim; there was a basis for each of the state's actions with respect to the plaintiff's operation and no evidence that the same facts applied to the man's operation. Nothing suggested that the defendantsâ actions were not taken in good faith and pursuant to applicable statutes.
Holt-Orsted v. City of Dickson
African-Americans residing near a contaminated landfill claim that municipalities knew that well water was contaminated, warned Caucasian families and provided alternate sources of water, but did not warn African-Americans. In their suit under the Equal Protection Clause, 42 U.S.C. 1983, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000d, and state laws, a magistrate compelled testimony by plaintiffs' former counsel; the city asserted that, if plaintiffs consulted the attorney in 2000, the action is barred by the one-year statute of limitations. During a deposition, the attorney refused to answer some questions. The court granted a motion to compel. The Sixth Circuit dismissed an appeal for lack of jurisdiction. Plaintiffs were not appealing a final judgment and did not qualify for interlocutory review under the Perlman exception or the collateral order doctrine. Immediate review is appropriate if an order conclusively determines a disputed issue separate from the merits that is too important to be denied review and will be effectively unreviewable on appeal from a final judgment. Privilege is important and the attorney is a disinterested non-party, so the contempt-citation avenue of review is practically foreclosed, but plaintiffs, asserting the privilege, ultimately can avail themselves of a post-judgment appeal that suffices to protect the rights of the litigants and preserve the vitality of attorney-client privilege.
Pluck v. BP Oil Pipeline Co.
An underground pipeline leaked gasoline five times between 1948 and 1962. After tests revealed benzene in wells, not including the plaintiffs' well, the company conducted remediation and monitoring and purchased the property now owned by the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs bought the property and a low level of benzene was detected in the well in 1996. The company installed a new well, which tested free of benzene 22 times between 1997 and 2002. Benzene was detected at a very low level in 2003 and the plaintiffs moved in 2005. In 2002 one of the plaintiffs was diagnosed, at age 48, with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. The district court entered summary judgment for the company. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The district court acted within its discretion in excluding, as unreliable under the Daubert standard, an expert's specific-causation opinion. The expert did not ascertain the level of plaintiff's exposure and the level of benzene in the well never exceeded the EPA's standard; the expert did not rule out other possible causes, such as the plaintiff's smoking.
Big Dipper Entm’t L.L.C. v. City of Warren
The city amended its code to prohibit sexually-oriented businesses in downtown and planned development districts and later published notice of intent to prohibit such uses in a development authority district and imposed a temporary ban on issuance of new licenses. While the ban was in place, the owner sought permission to operate a topless bar in the area. The ordinance requires the clerk to act within 20 days; the clerk rejected the application after 24 days. The amendment prohibiting the use was enacted about two weeks later. The district court rejected the owner's civil rights claims (42 U.S.C. 1983) on summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The city's evidence showed that the ordinance was narrowly tailored to deal with secondary effects, blight and deterioration of property values, and leaves open reasonable opportunity to operate an adult business. Even if only 27 sites are available, rather than 39 as the district court concluded, the number is adequate in a city that had only two applications in five years. The 24-day decision period did not amount to an unconstitutional prior restraint; prompt judicial review was available.