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Mt Holly Citizens In Action, Inc., et al v. Township of Mount Holly

January 3, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hillman, District Judge


This case involves the redevelopment of the Mount Holly Gardens neighborhood (the "Gardens") in Mount Holly, New Jersey. Plaintiffs are low-income, African-American, Hispanic and "white" residents of the Gardens, who object to the plan because they claim they are being forcibly removed from their homes, which are being replaced in large part with new, much higher-priced market rate homes.

Currently before this Court are defendants' motions for summary judgment, which had been converted from motions to dismiss on four of plaintiffs' claims.*fn1 The Court provided the plaintiffs with additional time to respond to the converted motions, and then allowed defendants to file reply briefs. The supplemental briefing is completed, and the remaining claims that are now ready for final resolution are plaintiffs' claims for violations of Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (the Fair Housing Act or FHA), 42 U.S.C. § 3601 et seq. (Count One against all defendants); the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. § 1982 (Count Two against the Township); the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count Three against the Township); and Equal Protection Clause of the New Jersey State Constitution (Count Five against the Township), as well a claim for punitive damages.

As this Court previously expressed on several occasions, we recognize that the Gardens redevelopment has had an effect on low-income families, and, correspondingly, minority families. The Court also recognizes that being forced from one's home is a difficult and emotional issue, compounded by the fear of being unable to afford a comparable place to live. However, as the Court has also expressed previously, plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate that the Township, or the entities assisting the Township in the redevelopment and relocation services, has implemented a plan that has a disparate impact on the Gardens residents as the law defines it. Nor have they shown that the defendants have not been proceeding pursuant to a legitimate governmental interest in the least restrictive way, or have otherwise acted with discriminatory intent. Consequently, as explained more fully below, defendants' motions will be granted, and the case will be closed.


A. Standard for Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate where the Court is satisfied that "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330 (1986); Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c).

An issue is "genuine" if it is supported by evidence such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in the nonmoving party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is "material" if, under the governing substantive law, a dispute about the fact might affect the outcome of the suit. Id. In considering a motion for summary judgment, a district court may not make credibility determinations or engage in any weighing of the evidence; instead, the non-moving party's evidence "is to be believed and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Marino v. Industrial Crating Co., 358 F.3d 241, 247 (3d Cir. 2004)(quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255).

Initially, the moving party has the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the moving party has met this burden, the nonmoving party must identify, by affidavits or otherwise, specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. Thus, to withstand a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must identify specific facts and affirmative evidence that contradict those offered by the moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-57. A party opposing summary judgment must do more than just rest upon mere allegations, general denials, or vague statements. Saldana v. Kmart Corp., 260 F.3d 228, 232 (3d Cir. 2001).

B. Analysis

1. Count One - Fair Housing Act

This Court has already analyzed plaintiffs' Fair Housing Act claim substantively in the context of plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction. That analysis was adopted in the Court's most recent Opinion, which converted defendants' motions to dismiss into ones for summary judgment. That analysis found that plaintiffs had not demonstrated that the redevelopment has had a disparate impact on a protected group, or that defendants did not have a legitimate interest in the redevelopment, or that no alternative course of action would have a lesser impact. Recognizing that plaintiffs' Fair Housing Act claim had only been considered in the context of a preliminary injunction, the Court afforded plaintiffs time to gather specific facts to show a genuine issue for trial on these issues. The Court now affirms its prior decision on plaintiffs' FHA claim because plaintiffs have not provided the requisite proof to take the issues to a jury.

As a preliminary matter, plaintiffs argue that they should be afforded time for discovery, and are prejudiced in their ability to oppose the converted motions because of the lack of discovery. Plaintiffs contend that they require a look into the defendants' state of mind and intentions, as well as documents that are only within the control of defendants and, thus, unavailable to plaintiffs. Without this information, plaintiffs argue that summary judgment is premature, which is further evidenced by the fact that defendants have not even filed their answers to plaintiffs' complaint.

Although the Court recognizes the peculiar procedural history that has led to the resolution of summary judgment motions without the filing of answers or the undertaking of formal discovery, this is not a case where plaintiffs are neophytes filing an initial challenge to the Gardens redevelopment plan. Not only has there been extensive proceedings over two years in this Court, most of these issues have been thoroughly litigated in New Jersey state court over the course of several years preceding this case.*fn3 As pointed out by defendants, plaintiffs have already had the ability to obtain the information they seek through Open Public Records Act requests, as well as through the previous state court litigation. Further, much ...

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