On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (No. 03-cv-3554) District Judge: Hon. Gene E.K. Pratter.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rodriguez, District Judge
Before: ROTH and ALDISERT, Circuit Judges, and RODRIGUEZ,*fn1 District Judge
On its face, this case presents the Court with the issue of whether neighboring property owners who allege that their property values will be diminished and their neighborhood blighted by the construction of a storage facility have standing to sue under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The focus of this case is the propriety of the Darby Township Zoning Hearing Board's ("Board") decision to grant a variance, which permitted the construction of a storage facility in a residential zone, and the attendant State court decisions issued in the course of appeal. With the exception of the claim that Appellants' property values will be damaged by the grant of the variance, we will affirm the district court's dismissal of the Amended Complaint because Appellants have not alleged facts clearly demonstrating that they are proper parties to invoke the exercise of the federal court's remedial powers. Insofar as Appellants Taliaferro and Alexander have alleged injuries to their property values and neighborhood arising from the approval of the variance, however, we will reverse the district court's dismissal.
In 1960, Appellee Delaware County Redevelopment Authority acquired by condemnation a nine-acre tract of land in the Township of Darby ("Darby Township"). In furtherance of a twenty-year Urban Renewal Plan, an Agreement was entered into in 1967 by the Redevelopment Authority and a redeveloper, RUPACA, Inc. The Agreement contained a covenant binding the redeveloper and its successors and assigns until April 8, 1980, to devote the property to, and only to and in accordance with, the uses specified in the Urban Renewal Plan, i.e., for residential purposes. There was also a covenant, unlimited as to duration, for non-discriminatory use of the property. (App., Vol. II, 000218a.)
The Property was sold in 1969 to First Urban Redevelopers. First Urban subsequently sold the property to Charles Rappa, who sold it to Appellee Maureen Healy in 2002. No development had occurred between 1969 and 2002. Although located in a partially commercial area, (App., Vol. II, 000063a), the Property was still zoned R-1 residential, so Healy made a variance request to allow the construction of an 800-unit self-storage facility. That request was supported by expert testimony, which concluded that redevelopment to residential use was not economically feasible. (App., Vol. II, 000050a, 000136a.) At the behest of Appellants Lee Taliaferro and Samuel Alexander, the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas remanded an original grant of the variance for additional testimony and evidence, but after further hearings, the Board granted the final request for a variance on May 8, 2003. Appellants again appealed the decision to the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas, which affirmed the Board. Appellants then appealed to the Commonwealth Court, which affirmed the Court of Common Pleas decision. See Taliaferro v. Darby Twp. Zoning Hearing Bd., 873 A.2d 807 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2005), reh'g denied, (June 1, 2005), and appeal denied, 887 A.2d 1243 (Pa. 2005).
In the meantime, the Complaint in this matter was filed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on June 9, 2003. Plaintiffs Lee Taliaferro and Samuel Alexander are members of the African-American community in Darby Township and neighboring property owners to the land in question. Plaintiffs Beatrice Moore and Bernice Wilson were residents whose land was condemned pursuant to the Urban Renewal Project. Named as Defendants were the Board and its members, Darby Township and the Manager of Darby Township, the Delaware County Redevelopment Authority, and Maureen Healy.*fn2
An Amended Complaint alleged that Appellants brought suit "as citizens and beneficiaries" of the Urban Renewal Plan and subsequent Redevelopment Agreement, because they were promised the benefits of residential redevelopment of the property. Despite the Redevelopment Agreement, however, Appellants alleged that "Darby Township, in order to perpetuate the white majority in the Township, continuously discouraged residential developments by various means, including without limitation, demanding that the developer construct an unnecessary bridge, refusing housing style modifications and informal discouragement." (App., Vol. II, 000147a.) Appellants complained that the Delaware County Redevelopment Authority failed to enforce the terms of the Redevelopment Agreement. They accused the Appellees of conspiring to inhibit and prevent the residential redevelopment of the Property for the purpose of preventing the African-American population in Darby Township from expanding and gaining political control.
Count I of the Amended Complaint sought enforcement of the Redevelopment Agreement, by way of an injunction in order to prevent the use of the property for purposes other than the residential use specified in the Urban Renewal Plan and Redevelopment Agreement.*fn3 Count II alleged a claim under 42 U.S.C. §1983 for violation of Appellants' rights of equal protection, substantive and procedural due process, and protection of property. Count III alleged a claim under 42 U.S.C. §1981 for intentional racial discrimination by Appellees "preventing the growth of the community and introducing improper uses into the community to decrease property values and diminishing or curtailing the voting power of the community," as well as "by denying them contracts which were required to protect and promote the [Appellant]s' community [and] by limiting the [Appellant]s' rights as parties before the Board." (App., Vol. II, 000154a.) Count IV ...