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Reimer v. Shelby County

October 29, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richard Mills, U.S. District Judge


Defendants move for dismissal of Plaintiff's Complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Because the Complaint fails to conform to the pleading standards governing substantive due process challenges to zoning decisions, the motion is granted and the Complaint is dismissed.


The facts, as described in the complaint, are as follows. On June 7, 2005, the Plaintiffs approached Defendant Mac Butler, then zoning administrator for Defendant Shelby County, with a plan to construct storage facilities, houses, and condominiums. Butler considered the proposal and told the Plaintiffs that the land should be zoned residential. Plaintiffs had the zoning changed from agricultural to residential and thereafter obtained a $550,000 loan from Prairie National Bank to fund its development plan. During construction, Defendant Butler, at Plaintiffs' behest, wrote a letter to John Richards, president of Prairie National Bank, assuring him that the zoning was proper.

In 2006, Defendant Charles Stanley replaced Defendant Butler as the zoning administrator for Shelby County. On June 21, 2006, Stanley wrote a letter notifying the Plaintiffs that they were in violation of the Shelby County Zoning Ordinance because the property should have been zoned "general business" rather than "residential." During a meeting with Stanley, Plaintiffs requested a zoning variance or special exception but were told neither would be forthcoming, even if they tried.

Due to the zoning problems, Plaintiffs only built one storage building out of the development project and, according to an August 8, 2006 letter, that building was restricted to Plaintiffs' personal use only. Ultimately, the collapse of the project resulted in Plaintiffs defaulting on their loan and losing their property to Prairie National Bank through foreclosure.


A. Motion to Dismiss Standard

Rule 12(b)(6) allows for the dismissal of a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6); EEOC v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (2007). A complaint states a claim where it contains "a short and plain statement . . . showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Concentra Health, 496 F.3d at 776 (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)). The court must take all well-pleaded factual allegations as true and must draw all possible inferences from those allegations in favor of the complainant. McCready v. eBay, Inc., 453 F.3d 882, 888 (7th Cir. 2006). Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is only appropriate when "there is no possible interpretation of the complaint under which it can state a claim." Treadway v. Gateway Chevrolet Oldsmobile Inc., 362 F.3d 971 (7th Cir. 2004) (citing Flannery v. Recording Indus. Ass'n of Am., 354 F.3d 632, 637 (7th Cir. 2004)).

B. Substantive Due Process Pleading Requirements

While the above rules govern most types of pleading, courts have added additional requirements where a plaintiff asserts a substantive due process challenge to a local zoning decision. In order to bring such claims in the federal courts, a plaintiff bears a "very heavy burden," Polenz v. Parrott, 883 F.2d 551 (7th Cir. 1989), and must make two specific allegations. First, a plaintiff must allege that the zoning decision was "arbitrary and unreasonable bearing no substantial relationship to the public health, safety or welfare." Burrell v. City of Kankakee, 815 F.2d 1127, 1129 (7th Cir. 1987) (citing Village of Belle Terre v. Boraas, 416 U.S. 1, 94 S.Ct. 1536, 39 L.Ed. 2d 797 (1974); Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co., 272 U.S. 365, 47 S.Ct. 114, 71 L.Ed. 303 (1926)).

Even where arbitrary action has been alleged, the courts impose further pleading requirements to prevent the federal forum from becoming a "board[] of zoning appeals. . . ." Doherty v. City of Chicago, 75 F.3d 318, 325 (7th Cir. 1996) (citing River Park, Inc. v. City of Highland Park, 23 F.3d 164,165 (7th Cir. 1994); New Burnham Prairie Homes v. Village of Burnham, 910 F.2d 1474, 1475 (7th Cir. 1990); Estate of Himelstein v. Fort Wayne, 898 F.2d 573, 578 (7th Cir. 1990)) (internal quotes omitted). Specifically, the plaintiff must also allege "'either a separate constitutional violation or the inadequacy of state law remedies.'" Id. (quoting New Burnham, 910 F.2d at 1475; Polenz, 883 F.2d at 558).

1. Arbitrary and Unreasonable Action

Defendants argue that the Complaint fails to allege arbitrary, unreasonable, or irrational actions because both Butler and Stanley acted reasonably. This conclusion of reasonableness, however, is based on Defendants' view of the facts. Factual disputes have no role in a motion to ...

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