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Lampkins Crossing, LLC v. Williamson County

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

November 15, 2017

LAMPKINS CROSSING, LLC Plaintiff,
v.
WILLIAMSON COUNTY, TENNESSEE Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          ALETA A. TRAUGER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending before the court is a Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 9), filed by the defendant, Williamson County, Tennessee, to which the plaintiff, Lampkins Crossing, LLC (“Lampkins”) has filed a response (Doc. No. 15), and Williamson County has filed a Reply (Doc. No. 19). For the reasons discussed herein, the motion will be granted with regard to Lampkins' substantive due process and equal protection claims, which will be dismissed. The court orders Lampkins to show cause as to why its procedural due process claim related to notice of Resolution 6-16-32 should not be dismissed. Lampkins' other procedural due process claims will be dismissed.

         FACTS & PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Lampkins is an LLC consisting of a sole member, Tom Moon, and incorporated for the purpose of developing a residential subdivision in Williamson County, Tennessee. (Doc. No. 9-7.) Williamson County is a political subdivision of the State of Tennessee. (Doc. No. 1.) Williamson County created the Williamson County Regional Planning Commission (the “Commission”) and delegated to it the land use, planning, and development functions of Williamson County pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 13-3-401. (Id.) In 2015, Lampkins acquired an option to buy 147 acres of Williamson County land on which it planned to develop Lampkins Crossing, a 133-unit subdivision. (Id.) The maximum number of allowable units for the 147-acre parcel in question under then-existing Williamson County land use laws and regulations was 133. (Id.) Upon acquiring the option, Lampkins began the process of obtaining the necessary Williamson County planning approvals for Lampkins Crossing. (Id.)

         On June 9, 2016, Lampkins submitted to the Commission the concept plan for Lampkins Crossing. (Id.) Pursuant to Section 19.05 of the Williamson County Zoning Ordinance, the Commission ordered a traffic study from an outside engineer to evaluate the traffic impact of the development. (Doc. No. 16-1.) Based on the traffic study, the Commission conditionally approved Lampkins' proposal. (Id.) However, the Commission mandated compliance with criteria drawn from the traffic study, which relied on a policy promulgated by an independent entity, the American Association of State Highway and Traffic Officials (“AASHTO”). (Id.) Notably, the Commission required that a 50-foot right-of-way be secured along a road bordering the development site to allow for necessary expansion and improvements. (Id.)

         On June 13, 2016, the County passed Resolution 6-16-32, altering the traffic shed requirements for the site of the proposed Lampkins development. (Id.) On July 14, the Commission approved the minutes of the June 9 meeting, formalizing its conditional approval. Lampkins submitted a preliminary plat on August 17. (Doc. No. 9-1.) On November 18, attorneys for Lampkins sent the Commission a letter requesting a reconsideration of the concept plan, based upon an alleged mutual mistake between the parties as to whether a right-of-way could be secured. (Id.) Lampkins did not send a formal follow-up request or submit the request for reconsideration to be set on the Commission's agenda. (Id.) At a November 28 meeting, Lampkins informed the Commission that it had attempted and failed to obtain the necessary approvals from neighboring property owners to establish the right-of-way. (Doc. No. 16-1.) The Commission declined Lampkins' request that it exercise its power of eminent domain to secure the right-of-way. (Id.) The parties discussed potential alternatives regarding other requirements set forth in the Commission's conditional approval of the concept plan, and the parties discussed potential plan revisions over the following months. (Doc. No. 9-1.)

         On January 31, 2017, the parties met for the last time. (Id.) They discussed various options for proceeding, including a plan with lesser density that would require a new traffic count, a relocation of the road improvements so as to decrease the number of third-party approvals required for the right-of-way, and a resubmission of the concept plan with the burden on Lampkins to prove that the road improvements, and thus the right-of-way, were not needed. (Id.) There was no further contact between the parties. On June 2, 2017, Lampkins filed its Complaint in this case. (Doc. No. 1.)

         LEGAL STANDARD

         The Constitution confers upon federal courts jurisdiction limited to “cases” or “controversies.” U.S. Const. art. III, § 2. Federal courts thus cannot hear disputes that have not yet ripened into “cases” or “controversies.” “The ripeness doctrine is one of several justiciability doctrines ‘drawn both from Article III limitations on judicial power and from prudential reasons for refusing to exercise jurisdiction.'” Kiser v. Reitz, 765 F.3d 601, 606 (6th Cir. 2014) (quoting Reno v. Catholic Soc. Servs., Inc., 509 U.S. 43, 57 n.18 (1993)). The ripeness requirement exists, in part, in order to “prevent the courts, through avoidance of premature adjudication, from entangling themselves in abstract disagreements.” Abbott Labs. v. Gardner, 387 U.S. 136, 148 (1967).

         Challenges to local land use decisions are not ripe if the government entity being challenged has not issued a “final decision.” See Williamson County Regional Planning Comm'n v. Hamilton Bank, 473 U.S. 172, 186 (1985). With regard to land use disputes, the Sixth Circuit has defined the “final decision” requirement as “an insistence that the relevant administrative agency resolve the appropriate application of the zoning ordinance to the property in dispute.” Miles Christi Religious Order v. Twp. of Northville, 629 F.3d 533, 537 (6th Cir. 2010). Resolution entails a “final, definitive position regarding how it will apply the regulations at issue to the particular land in question.” Williamson, 473 U.S. at 191.

         Although Williamson County addressed only regulatory takings and substantive due process claims, the Sixth Circuit has held that the finality requirement extends to other constitutional claims, including equal protection claims. See Insomnia Inc. v. City of Memphis, Tennessee, 278 F. App'x 609, 614 (6th Cir. 2008) (“While we have not addressed the ripeness issue in the context of a First Amendment challenge to land use, we have done so in cases raising other challenges to land use, including procedural due process claims, takings claims, substantive due process claims, and equal protection claims. In fact, the only type of case in which we have not imposed the finality requirement on constitutional claims arising out of land use disputes is that which presents a purported violation of procedural due process.”); see also Miles Christi Religious Order, 629 F.3d at 537 (“In addition to takings claims, we have applied the finality requirement to other constitutional and statutory challenges to local land use requirements.”); Grace Community Church v. Lenox Twp., 544 F.3d 609, 617 (6th Cir. 2008) (applying the finality requirement to an equal protection claim and finding it unripe).

         As noted by the court in Insomnia, an exception exists for a certain class of procedural due process claims. See Nasierowski Bros. Inv. Co. v. City of Sterling Heights, 949 F.2d 890, 894 (6th Cir. 1991). If “the allegedly infirm process is an injury in itself, ” a procedural due process claim is “instantly cognizable in federal court.” Id; see also Bigelow v. Michigan Dep't of Nat. Res., 970 F.2d 154, 160 (6th Cir. 1992) (“Nasierowski appears to stand merely for the sensible proposition that while different circumstances may produce different results, the final decision rule does not apply when the denial of procedural due process itself creates an injury.”). The Sixth Circuit has carefully limited this exception only to cases where a procedural injury, separate from the alleged constitutional injury, occurs. See J-II Enter., LLC v. Bd. of Comm'rs of Warren Cty., Ohio, 135 F. App'x 804, 807 (6th Cir. 2005) (quoting Nasierowski Bros. Inv. Co., 949 F.2d at 899) (Martin J., concurring) (“[W]e retain the finality requirements for procedural due process claims where we cannot find a single, concrete separate injury or where the procedural due process claim is in reality an adjunct to a taking or other constitutional claim.”); see also Warren v. City of Athens, Ohio, 411 F.3d 697, 708 (6th Cir. 2005) (noting that a procedural due process claim is not ancillary if it “addresses a separate injury.”).

         ANALYSIS

         I. Substantive Due Process and Equal Protection Lampkins' substantive due process and equal protection claims are not ripe because the Commission did not reach a final decision. It is clear from the record that Williamson County did not take a final, definitive position regarding how the Lampkins parcel could be developed. Williamson County informed Lampkins that its preliminary plat would not be considered during the August 2016 agenda cycle due to non-conformity with conditions such as the 50-foot right-of-way. However, this decision was not treated by the parties as final. Williamson County thereafter participated in numerous discussions with Lampkins for a span of approximately five months regarding potential compromises to allow some development on the parcel. Williamson County encouraged Lampkins to submit a revised plan or to seek reconsideration of the decision to condition approval of the preliminary plat on traffic conditions, such as the 50-foot right-of- way. Lampkins intimated that it would pursue one of these alternatives. Instead, Lampkins ceased contact with Williamson ...


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