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Gage v. Township of Warren

June 10, 2009

THOMAS I. GAGE PRO SE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
TOWNSHIP OF WARREN, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wolfson, United States District Judge

OPINION

Presently before the Court is a Motions pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) brought by Defendants Township of Warren, Carolann Garafola, Victor Sordillo, Gary DiNardo, Joao Ferreira, Olga Ferreira, Shyam Baweja, Neelam Baweja, Ahmet Ulaj, Astrit Ulaj, and Kevin Page (collectively "Defendants")*fn1 to dismiss pro se Plaintiff Thomas I. Gage's ("Gage") Complaint. Gage alleges, inter alia, that he has been the "victim of property discrimination," arising from his ill-fated attempts to subdivide his residential property in an effort to make the property more marketable. The Court has reviewed the parties' submissions, and for the reasons stated below, Defendants' Motions to Dismiss are granted.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Because Defendants move for dismissal pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), the Court will assume the facts as alleged in Gage's Complaint are true.*fn2

Although it is difficult to discern from Gage's "Brief Description of Cause," Gage is currently a property owner in Warren Township, who has, albeit unsuccessfully, attempted to sell the property. Over twelve years ago, Gage and his family purchased the four and a half acre parcel of land with the intent to subdivide and build additional houses on the property. Gage alleges, however, that he has been denied approval for that subdivision while his neighbors, including the Ulajs, Ferreiras, and the Bawejas, have been permitted to build houses along Giddes Lane, a stub road, adjacent to Gage's property. Another development, Sleepy Hollow, Gage alleges, interferes with his property. Gage further alleges that Sordillo, DiNardo, and Garafola, public officials in the Township of Warren, "have voluntarily abused their power of the Township Committee to favor Sleepy Hollow development, by lying and supporting Mr. Page's plan to disregard the preliminary amended and final approvals of Giddes Lane, because it would have a negative impact on Sleepy Hollow development." Plaintiff's Complaint.*fn3 All the while, Gage alleges, he has been either denied approval for his subdivision or has had his subdivision application "lost," which Gage intimates was done intentionally so as to protect the interests of various Defendants. As a result, Gage has been unable to sell his home, even though he has had five interested buyers in the property. Township Defendants proffer that they are no stranger to Gage's litigious ways, having been required to respond to a Prerogative Writ Complaint in New Jersey Superior Court, challenging the approval of the Sleepy Hollow development.*fn4

Plaintiff initiated this cause of action in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey on February 5, 2009. On February 26, 2009, Page filed a separate Answer to Gage's Complaint. On March 13, 2009, Defendants Township of Warren, Garafola, Sordillo, and DiNardo filed the present Motion to Dismiss Gage Complaint. The other Defendants, in separate letters to this Court, joined in with the Township Defendants, filing separate motions but joining in with the Township Defendants' brief. For the reasons stated below, Defendants' Motions to Dismiss are granted.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review for Motion to Dismiss

When reviewing a motion to dismiss on the pleadings, courts "accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir.2008) (citation and quotations omitted). In Bell Atlantic Corporation v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007), the Supreme Court clarified the 12(b)(6) standard. Specifically, the Court "retired" the language contained in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957), that "a complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Id. at 1968 (quoting Conley, 355 U.S. at 45-46). Instead, the factual allegations set forth in a complaint "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. at 1965. As the Third Circuit has stated, "[t]he Supreme Court's Twombly formulation of the pleading standard can be summed up thus: 'stating... a claim requires a complaint with enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest' the required element. This 'does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage,' but instead 'simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of' the necessary element." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 234 (quoting Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1965).

Here, Plaintiff provides a voluminous record of emails and letter correspondences with various Defendants, none of which will be considered in the determination of the present motion.

The inquiry before the Court on a Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) is whether Gage's Complaint, taken as true, states a cognizable cause of action. While the emails and letters may prove probative if Gage's Complaint survives the present motion, it is inappropriate for the Court to weigh any evidence at this stage.

B. Gage's Complaint Against the Bawejas, Ulajs, Ferreiras, and Page

At the threshold, the Court must determine what Gage's Complaint actually alleges. While the Complaint is entirely too vague to even satisfy the generous pleading standards set forth in Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 8(a), Gage's Brief in Opposition to the present motion clarifies for the Court that his allegations arise from "property discrimination" and the Township of Warren's failure to protect him due to his status as a United States armed forces veteran. Thus, the Court must presume that Gage is attempting to allege constitutional violations under the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause. Indeed, in his Opposition, Plaintiff cites the Fourteenth Amendment as the basis for this Court's jurisdiction over his claims. See Plaintiff's Br. Pg. 11.

In the present case, the Court will assume that Gage wishes to pursue a cause of action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983, ...


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