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Duffner v. City of St. Peters

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

March 28, 2018

CARL AND JANICE DUFFNER, Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF ST. PETERS, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          JOHN A. ROSS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant City of St. Peters' motion for summary judgment. (Doc. No. 12). The matter has been fully briefed and is ready for disposition. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion will be granted as to Counts I and II, and the Court will decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Counts III, IV, and V.

         FACTUAL & PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs Carl and Janice Duffner own and live in a residential property in the City of St. Peters, Missouri (“the City”). (Complaint (“Compl.”), Doc. No. 1, at ¶ 9). On May 14, 2014, the City sent Plaintiffs a letter indicating that their yard was in violation of City Ordinance 405.390 (hereinafter referred to as the “Turf Grass Ordinance”), which requires that “[a] minimum of fifty percent (50%) of all yard areas shall be comprised of turf grass.” (Doc. No. 13-22). Plaintiffs had been keeping a flower garden that covered their entire yard. (Compl. at ¶ 1). Plaintiffs' yard did not contain any turf grass because Janice Duffner is allergic to grass. (Id.). Plaintiffs allege their continued violation of the Turf Grass Ordinance could subject them to a fine of more than $180, 000 and 20 years' imprisonment. (Id. at ¶ 2).

         On May 23, 2014, Plaintiffs applied for a variance, requesting that they not be required to plant any turf grass. (Doc. 1-6). On July 1, 2014, the City of St. Peters Board of Zoning Adjustment (“BOA”) granted a variance, reducing the amount of turf grass required from 50% to 5%. (Doc. No. 1-9). The BOA required the grass area to be placed in the front yard or in the side yard in front of the fence and provided Plaintiffs with a December 1, 2014 compliance deadline. (Id.).

         State Court Action

         Plaintiffs refused to comply with the variance and, on September 25, 2014, they filed a petition in the Circuit Court of St. Charles County (“state trial court”) challenging the Turf Grass Ordinance and asserting the following four counts: (1) violations of Plaintiffs' state and federal substantive due process rights; (2) denial of equal protection of the laws under the state and federal constitutions; (3) violations of state constitutional protections concerning the taking of private property; and (4) the exercise of excessive state statutory zoning power. (Doc. No. 13-2).

         The City filed a motion to dismiss, asserting that the petition failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. (Doc. No. 13-3). On April 22, 2015, the state trial court granted the City's motion to dismiss, holding that the allegations were a collateral attack on the order of the BOA. (Doc. No. 13-4 at 2). As a result, the state trial court held that it did not have subject matter jurisdiction because Plaintiffs failed to exhaust their administrative remedies, and that Plaintiffs' constitutional challengers were waived because they were not raised at the earliest opportunity. (Id. at 3).

         Plaintiffs appealed and, on January 12, 2016, the Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed the state court's dismissal of Counts I and II of the petition and remanded Counts III and IV for further proceedings. (Doc. No. 13-6). Specifically, with regard to Count I, the Court of Appeals held that a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of a substantive due process right was not a collateral attack on the BOA's decision, but rather an attack on the validity of the Turf Grass Ordinance itself. (Id. at 8). Therefore, Plaintiffs were not required to exhaust administrative remedies before pursuing their state action. However, although the state trial court had subject matter jurisdiction to address Count I, the Court of Appeals determined that Count I failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted because Plaintiffs failed to allege the higher standard of truly irrational conduct in their petition. (Id. at 15-16).

         As to Count II, which challenged the terms of the variance, the Court of Appeals held that Plaintiffs were aggrieved by a particular decision of the BOA acting in its administrative capacity. (Id. at 10). This, the Court of Appeals reasoned, was a collateral attack on a decision of the BOA, and Plaintiffs had to first exhaust administrative remedies before bringing suit. (Id. at 11). The Court of Appeals also held that Plaintiffs were not required to administratively exhaust their remedies with regard to Count III, a state constitution takings/inverse condemnation claim, and that Plaintiffs properly pled such a claim. (Id. at 9-10). As to Count IV, the Court of Appeals held that the allegation that the City exceeded its statutory zoning power by enacting the Turf Grass Ordinance was not an attack on the decision of the board, but rather an attack on the validity of the ordinance itself. (Id. at 8). Therefore, the Court concluded that Count IV was sufficient to state a claim. In sum, the Court of Appeals affirmed the state trial court's dismissal of Counts I and II, but reversed the state trial court's dismissal of Counts III and IV.

         Following the decision of the Court of Appeals, Plaintiffs filed a motion to modify the appellate court's decision, requesting that the order instruct the state trial court to address the merits of Plaintiffs claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count I). (Doc. No. 13-7). The Court of Appeals denied the motion.

         On remand, the City filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that Plaintiffs' claim of inverse condemnation (Count III) was barred by the applicable statute of limitations, and Count IV (exceeding statutory zoning power) failed as a matter of law because the Turf Grass Ordinance was authorized under statutory and common law. (Doc. No. 11 at 2). Thereafter, Plaintiffs filed a motion to amend their petition to (1) clarify the basis of its claim as to Count I; (2) challenge the validity of additional City ordinances; and (3) add a count asserting that Plaintiffs' choice to cultivate and maintain flowers rather than turf grass was an expressive act protected by the First Amendment. (Doc. No. 13-12). The state trial court denied the motion on July 27, 2016, concluding that it was untimely and raised no new facts or circumstances that could not have been raised in the original petition. (Doc. No. 13-13). On September 6, 2016, Plaintiffs dismissed their state court action without prejudice. (Doc. No. 13-14).

         Federal Court Action

         On December 19, 2016, Plaintiffs filed this action in federal court. (Doc. No. 13-15). In their complaint, Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief for the following violations: (1) the deprivation of their fundamental rights to use private property in harmless, lawful manners of the owner's choosing and to exclude unwanted persons from private property, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Fourteenth Amendment, and Article 1, Section 10 of the Missouri Constitution; (2) the violation of the prohibition against excessive fines and cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment; (3) the taking of private property for private use and exceeding the proper scope of the police power, in violation of Article 1, Section 28 of the Missouri Constitution; (4) the taking or damaging private property without just compensation, in violation of Article 1, Section 26 of the Missouri Constitution; and (5) exceeding statutory zoning power, in violation of Missouri law.

         Shortly after Plaintiffs filed their federal action, the City sent them a letter on October 18, 2016, stating that they remained in violation of the variance granted to them, and that failure to comply with the variance by December 16, 2016 would result in a court summons. The City filed the instant motion for summary judgment on March 6, 2017. (Doc. No. 12).

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), a court may grant a motion for summary judgment only if all of the information before the court shows “there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The Court must view the evidence and all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Hutson v. McDonnell Douglas Corp., 63 F.3d 771, 775 (8th Cir. 1995).

         The moving party has the initial burden to establish the non-existence of any genuine issue of fact that is material to a judgment in its favor. City of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa v. Associated Elec. Co-op., Inc., 838 F.2d 268, 273 (8th Cir. 1988). Once this burden is discharged, if the record does in fact bear out that no genuine dispute exists, the burden then shifts to the non-moving party, who must set forth affirmative evidence and ...


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