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Race v. Board of County Commissioners of County of Lake

United States District Court, D. Colorado

March 28, 2016

GREG A. RACE, LEIF P. TREINEN, Plaintiffs,
v.
BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF THE COUNTY OF LAKE, COLORADO, BRUCE HIX, in his individual capacity, DOLORES SEMSACK, in her individual capacity, JAMES MOYER, ALL UNKNOWN PERSONS WHO CLAIM ANY INTEREST IN THE SUBJECT PROPERTY, Defendants.

ORDER ON PENDING MOTIONS

William J. Martínez United States District Judge

Plaintiffs Greg A. Race and Leif P. Treinen (“Plaintiffs”) bring this action against the Lake County Board of Commissioners and certain individuals associated with the Board (collectively, “Defendants”), as well as against “all unknown persons who claim any interest” in certain real property in Lake County. (ECF No. 4.) Plaintiffs argue that Defendants have deprived them of property without due process or just compensation by declaring public a certain primitive road that crosses over Plaintiffs’ property. (See generally id.)

Currently before the Court are two motions:

1. Plaintiffs’ Motion to Compel Joinder of Necessary Parties Pursuant to Rule 19, Fed.R.Civ.P. (ECF No. 25); and 2. Defendants’ Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings Regarding Federal Claim and Failure to Join Parties (ECF No. 26).

For the reasons explained below, Plaintiffs’ Motion to Compel Joinder is denied, and Defendants’ Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings is granted in part as to Plaintiffs’ obligation to join certain necessary parties, but otherwise denied.

I. FACTUAL & PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs claim total or partial ownership of twelve mining claims in Lake County, all of which are crossed in various places by several primitive dirt roads. (ECF No. 4 ¶¶ 7, 11.) On November 1, 2013, Defendant Board of Commissioners held a special meeting to discuss at least one of those roads. (Id. ¶ 14.) According to the minutes of that meeting, which Plaintiffs attached to their Complaint, “[t]he purpose of this meeting was to discuss and make a decision regarding [C]ounty Road 6B. * * * The questions asked [were], [I]s there public access? How can it be protected? Where is public access? What is the destination of 6B as there are 4 to 5 spurs?” (ECF No. 4 at 11.)

This meeting was “a follow-up [to] a field visit, ” more specifically, a “tour[]” of County Road 6B attended by the County Commissioners, Plaintiffs, and various others. (Id.) This party specifically “walked to the route thru [sic] [Plaintiffs’] property.” (Id.) At the ensuing Board meeting, after lengthy discussion and public input, the Board voted (2-1) to declare County Road 6B public. (Id. at 13-14.)

Plaintiffs claim that, about a week later, “employees of the [Board] entered upon [Plaintiffs’] Property without permission and removed Plaintiffs’ gates, cables, signs and other improvements installed to obstruct that . . . portion the Road(s) crossing [Plaintiffs’] Property.” (ECF No. 4 ¶ 17.)[1] Plaintiffs soon “replaced and reinstalled those obstructions.” (Id. ¶ 19.) In October 2014, Board employees again tore down Plaintiffs’ obstructions. (Id. ¶ 23.)

Plaintiffs then filed this lawsuit in Lake County District Court, alleging inverse condemnation, violation of their federal constitutional rights (as made actionable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983), violation of the Colorado Open Meetings Law, trespass, and quiet title, along with related injunctive and declaratory relief. (See Id. at 4-7.) Defendants timely removed to this Court based on the federal question jurisdiction created by Plaintiffs’ § 1983 claim. (ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 2-3.)

II. ANALYSIS

A. Ripeness

The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution forbids the federal government from taking private property “without just compensation.” In 1897, the Supreme Court ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause imposes the same restriction on state and local governments. See Chicago, Burlington & Quincy R.R. Co. v. City of Chicago, 166 U.S. 226, 241 (1897). Thus, a taking of property without just compensation by a state or local government is a Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment violation, and therefore actionable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Such a claim, however, “is premature until it is clear that the Government has both taken property and denied just compensation.” Horne v. Dep’t of Agric., 133 S.Ct. 2053, 2062 (2013) (emphasis in original). This is sometimes known as the “Williamson requirement” because it originated with Williamson County Regional Planning Commission v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson City, 473 U.S. 172, 186-87 (1985).

Plaintiffs’ second claim for relief is a § 1983 claim alleging that Defendants’ actions deprived them of real property (the roadway) and personal property (the signs, chains, padlocks, etc., that Plaintiffs used to obstruct the roadway) without due process or just compensation. Given that there has been no hearing on the propriety of the alleged taking, or on just compensation, Defendants contend that the Williamson requirement dictates dismissal of Plaintiffs’ § 1983 claim as unripe. (ECF No. 27 at 8-11.) Furthermore, because the § 1983 claim is the only federal claim in this case, Defendants request that the Court, upon dismissing that claim, also remand this action to state court. (Id. at 13-14; see also ECF No. 26 at 4.)

This is a truly curious claim. Defendants removed this action to this Court. Indeed, Defendants justified removal specifically on the basis of the federal question jurisdiction created by Plaintiffs’ § 1983 claim. (See ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 2-3.) Now Defendants want the Court to shear off that single claim-on procedural rather than substantive grounds-and send everything else back to state court.

Defendants are not the first to try this unusual maneuver, but it has rarely succeeded due to three propositions:

1. the Williamson requirement is grounded in part in the belief that state courts have more facility with “the complex factual, technical, and legal questions related to zoning and land-use regulations, ” San Remo Hotel, L.P. v. City & Cty. of San Francisco, 545 U.S. 323, 347 (2005);
2. nonetheless, Williamson “does not preclude state courts from hearing simultaneously a plaintiff’s request for compensation under state law and the claim that, in the alternative, the denial of compensation would violate the Fifth Amendment of the Federal Constitution, ” id. at 346; and
3. the Williamson requirement is not jurisdictional, see Stop the Beach Renourishment, Inc. v. Fla. Dep’t of Envtl. Prot., 560 U.S. 702, 729 (2010), but is a matter of prudential ripeness only, see Suitum v. Tahoe Reg’l Planning Agency, 520 U.S. 725, 733-34 & n.7 (1997).

Thus, various courts have reasoned that state and local entities waive the Williamson requirement when they remove to federal court based on the federal question jurisdiction created by a § 1983 claim. See, e.g., Sansotta v. Town of Nags Head, 724 F.3d 533, 544-47 (4th Cir. 2013); Athanasiou v. Town of Westhampton, 30 F.Supp. 3d 84, 87-89 (D. Mass. 2014); River N. Props., LLC v. City & Cnty. of Denver, 2014 WL 1247813, at *2-9 (D. Colo. Mar. 26, 2014) (Arguello, J.); Merrill v. Summit Cnty., 2009 WL 530569, at *2-3 (D. Utah Mar. 2, 2009).

The Court generally agrees that waiver is the appropriate outcome, although for somewhat narrower reasons than those expressed in the foregoing decisions. For example, some of these decisions display a worry that any other outcome would endorse what they see as a tactic to “manipulat[e] litigation by removing to federal court claims properly filed in state court . . . and then claiming that the plaintiff cannot proceed on those claims, thereby denying a plaintiff any forum for having his claim heard.” Sansotta, 724 F.3d at 547 (emphasis in original); accord River N. Props., 2014 WL 1247813, at *8. This seems to imply that dismissing the § 1983 claim as unripe would be some sort of adjudication on the merits. Clearly the case is otherwise. See, e.g., Stewart v. Martinez-Villareal, 523 U.S. 637, 644-45 (1998) (distinguishing between dismissal for failure to exhaust state remedies and adjudication on the merits); Rocky Mountain Materials & Asphalt, Inc. v. Bd. of Cnty. Comm’rs of El Paso Cnty., 972 F.2d 309, 311 (10th Cir. 1992) (same). Indeed, the statute of limitations does not begin to run on a ยง 1983 takings claim until state procedures ...


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