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Wojak v. Borough of Glen Ridge

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

February 15, 2018

JOSEPH G. WOJAK, Plaintiff,



         Plaintiffs Joseph G. Wojak, Charles Sanders, Lee Roth, and Joseph Marotta allege that their properties straddle the border that separates the towns of Bloomfield and Glen Ridge, New Jersey. Sanders, Roth, and Marotta have school-aged children who have been assigned to attend the public schools of Bloomfield. They believe they are entitled to send their children to the public schools of Glen Ridge. Plaintiff Joseph G. Wojak does not have school-aged children, but alleges that the school-assignment policy has decreased the value of his property.

         Defendants are the Borough of Glen Ridge, Glen Ridge Board of Education ("Glen Ridge BOE"), Glen Ridge Public Schools, the State of New Jersey, the Township of Bloomfield, and the Bloomfield Board of Education ("Bloomfield BOE"). Plaintiffs allege that defendants' actions constitute a regulatory taking and a denial of due process rights.

         Some preliminary observations:

         First, the complaints allege that entitlement to attend the Glen Ridge schools, rather than the Bloomfield schools, enhances the value of a property. That proposition is far from self-evident. The Rule 12(b)(6) standard requires, however, that I accept the allegations of the complaints as true for purposes of this motion only.

         Second, plaintiffs make no general claim that the inability to attend the school of one's choice in the town of one's choice constitutes a constitutional deprivation. If it did, then all the residents of a town would possess a claim that they were deprived of the opportunity to attend the schools of another town. Nor do plaintiffs claim that the State is not entitled to set up school districts and assign schools based on the place of residence. Nor do I understand the plaintiffs to be saying that the local authorities are not entitled to promulgate a rule for dealing with "border" properties. The particular rule here is tied to the "predominate assessed valuation" of the property, but presumably the State or the towns had wide latitude to select a rule based on square footage, mailing address, or any other relevant factor. Plaintiffs here are making the narrower claim that the existing rule was applied erroneously, or that the manner of its application violated their federal rights.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         A. Allegations of Joseph G. Wojak

         On or about January 1, 1929, the Township of Bloomfield and the Borough of Glen Ridge passed resolutions concerning the assessment of taxes for "border properties" that are not entirely within the boundaries of either town. (Wojak AC ¶ 2; Removal Ex. A). In the spring of 1968, plaintiff Joseph G. Wojak ("Wojak") purchased real property commonly known as 26 Stonehouse Road, Glen Ridge, New Jersey 07003 (the "Wojak Address").[2] (Wojak AC ¶ 1). The property at the Wojak Address is specifically mentioned in the January 1, 1929 resolutions. (Wojak AC ¶ 3).

         On or about February 15, 1968, Wojak received a letter from the then-Superintendent of Glen Ridge Public Schools, James F. Gray. (Wojak AC ¶ 4; Removal Ex. B). This letter reads, "The residence at 26 Stonehouse Road, Bloomfield, meets the residency requirement of being fifty percent or more within the Borough of Glen Ridge and therefore entitles eligible occupants to enroll in the Glen Ridge Public Schools." (Wojak AC ¶ 4; Removal Ex. B). Wojak's two children attended the Glen Ridge schools and graduated from Glen Ridge High School in 1980 and 1984. (Wojak AC ¶ 5).

         In late 1977 or early 1978, the Borough of Glen Ridge adopted a resolution which stated, in part, "(1) Henceforth the tuition policy of this district shall be strictiy enforced as to all non-domiciliary children including those domiciled in residences on die municipal boundary, unless it appears as to a boundary line property that the predominate portion of the assessed valuation is located in tiiis school district." (Wojak AC ¶ 6; Removal Ex. C).

         On or about December 6, 1977, George H. Callahan, then-attorney for the Borough of Glen Ridge, sent a letter to Peter N. Perr[e]tti, Jr., dien-attorney for the Glen Ridge BOE. (Wojak AC ¶ 7; Removal Ex. D). Callahan addressed die 1977 or 1978 resolution. (Wojak AC ¶ 7; Removal Ex. D). He proposed diat notices should be sent to all residents whose children might be excluded from Glen Ridge Schools; he mentioned that all objecting residents could appeal to the county superintendent of education, in accordance with the procedures outlined by the State BOE. (Wojak AC ¶ 8; Removal Ex. D).

         Wojak says he was never notified of any resolution or hearing proposal affecting his property rights. (Wojak AC ¶¶ 9, 12). At the time he filed die original complaint in March 2016, Wojak was planning to sell his home. (Wojak AC ¶ 10; Removal ¶ 2). It was tiien that he learned that die occupants of die Wojak Address no longer had die right to send children living there to Glen Ridge schools; any resident children would be assigned to die Bloomfield schools. (Wojak AC ¶¶ 10-11). Wojak alleges tiiat his property is wortii significantly less as a result of die change in school-district assignment. (Wojak AC ¶ 18).

         This diminution in value, Wojak claims, amounts to an unconstitutional taking and denial of due process. (Wojak AC ¶ 17). He filed a civil action in Essex County Superior Court, Law Division on or about March 1, 2016. (Removal ¶ 2). The Glen Ridge BOE tiien removed this case to die U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey. (Removal).

         Count 1 of Wojak's amended complaint claims a denial of due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. (Wojak AC l/¶¶ 1-10).[3] Count 2 alleges that the change in school district assignment constitutes a regulatory taking under the Fourteenth Amendment. (Wojak AC 2/¶¶ 1-7).

         B. Allegations of Charles Sanders, Lee Roth, and Joseph Marotta

         Wojak's case has been consolidated with a related case brought by plaintiffs Charles Sanders, Lee Roth, and Joseph Marotta. (Consol.). Plaintiff Charles Sanders ("Sanders") owns real property known as 16 Stonehouse Road, Glen Ridge, New Jersey 07028. (SRM Compl. ¶ 1). Plaintiff Lee Roth ("Roth") now owns real property known as 26 Stonehouse Road, Glen Ridge, New Jersey 07028 (i.e., the Wojak Address). (SRM Compl. ¶ 2). Plaintiff Joseph Marotta ("Marotta") owns the real property known as 20 Stonehouse Road, Glen Ridge, New Jersey 07028. (SRM Compl. ¶ 3).

         Sanders, Roth, and Marotta all own border properties and reside in dwelling spaces which they say are primarily situated in the Borough of Glen Ridge. (SRM Compl. ¶ 4). However, they are required to pay taxes to Bloomfield and enroll their children in Bloomfield schools. (SRM Compl. ¶ 4). Sanders, Roth, and Marotta-and the previous owners of the properties-allegedly were not afforded an opportunity to address their "irregular situation" with defendants. (SRM Compl. ¶¶ 6-7).[4] These plaintiffs seek to pay taxes to Glen Ridge and enroll their children in Glen Ridge schools. (SRM Compl. ¶ 8). Count 1 of their complaint alleges a due process violation. (SRM Compl. ¶¶ 12-16). Count 2 alleges a regulatory taking. (SRM Compl. ¶¶ 17-21). These plaintiffs seek damages, a declaration that their property is situated in the Borough of Glen Ridge, and a declaration that the children residing with them are eligible to enroll in Glen Ridge schools. (SRM Compl.).

         Glen Ridge BOE moved to consolidate the Sanders, Lee, Marotta litigation with the Wojak litigation on January 13, 2017. (Consol.). I granted that unopposed motion on March 21, 2017. (ECF No. 26).

         C. Cross Claims and Counterclaim

         On April 5, 2016, Glen Ridge BOE filed cross claims against the other defendants. (ECF No. 4). On May 11, 2016, the Borough of Glen Ridge filed cross claims the other defendants, and also filed a counterclaim against Wojak "for the value of the benefits conferred upon [Wojak] for [Wojak]'s use of the Glen Ridge public schools without payment of taxes or tuition in lieu thereof."[5](ECF No. 9). On March 27, 2017, the Bloomfield BOE filed cross claims against all defendants for contribution and indemnification. (ECF No. 27).


         A. Rule 12(b)(6) Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The defendant, as the moving parry, bears the burden of showing that no claim has been stated. Animal Sci. Prods., Inc. v. China Minmetals Corp., 654 F.3d 462, 469 n.9 (3d Cir. 2011). For the purposes of a motion to dismiss, the facts alleged in the complaint are accepted as true and all reasonable inferences are drawn in favor of the plaintiff. New Jersey Carpenters & the Trs. Thereof v. Tishman Constr. Corp. of New Jersey, 760 F.3d 297, 302 (3d Cir. 2014).

         Federal Rule of Procedure 8(a) does not require that a complaint contain detailed factual allegations. Nevertheless, "a plaintiffs obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Thus, the complaint's factual allegations must be sufficient to raise a plaintiffs right to relief above a speculative level, so that a claim is "plausible on its face." Id. at 570; see also West Run Student Hous. Assocs., LLC v. Huntington Nat'l Bank, 712 F.3d 165, 169 (3d Cir. 2013). That facial-plausibility standard is met "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). While "[t]he plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement'... it asks for more than a sheer possibility." Iqbal, 556 U.S. At 678.

         B. Rule 12(b)(1) Standard

         A motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 12(b)(1) may be raised at any time. Iwanowa v. Ford Motor Co., 67 F.Supp.2d 424, 437-38 (D.N.J. 1999). Rule 12(b)(1) challenges are either facial or factual attacks. See 2 James Wm. Moore, Moore's Federal Practice § 12.30[4] (3d ed. 2007). The defendant may facially challenge subject matter jurisdiction by arguing that the complaint, on its face, does not allege sufficient grounds to establish subject matter jurisdiction. Iwanowa, 67 F.Supp.2d at 438. Under the "facial" 12(b)(1) standard, as under Rule 12(b)(6), the allegations of the complaint are assumed to be true. Id.

         I construe the State of New Jersey's arguments for dismissal based on sovereign immunity as a facial challenge to the amended complaint's jurisdictional basis. Accordingly, for these purposes the Court will take the allegations of the complaint as true. See Gould Elecs., Inc. v. United States, 220 F.3d 169, 178 (3d Cir. 2000).


         Section III.A discusses the regulatory takings claims. Section III.B discusses the due process claims.

         A. Regulatory Takings

         i. Standards

         The Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment provides that private properly shall not "be taken for public use, without just compensation." U.S. Const, amend. V. This Clause is applicable to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment. See Chicago, B. & Q.R. Co. v. Chicago, 166 U.S. 226 (1897); see also Murr v. Wisconsin, 137 S.Ct. 1933, 1942 (2017). Under the Takings Clause, it is clear that the government must provide compensation when the government physically takes or permanently occupies property. See Tahoe-Sierra Pres. Council, Inc. v. Tahoe Reg'l Planning Agency, 535 U.S. 302, 321 (2002); Loretto v. Teleprompter Manhattan CATV Corp., 458 U.S. 419 (1982). The Takings Clause itself "does not address in specific terms the imposition of regulatory burdens on private property." Murr, 137 S.Ct. at 1942.

         Nonetheless, the Supreme Court has held that regulations "can be so burdensome as to become a taking." Id. This area of the law has been characterized by "ad hoc, factual inquiries, designed to allow careful examination and weighing of all the relevant circumstances." Tahoe-Sierra, 535 U.S. at 322 (internal citation and quotation marks omitted). Regulatory takings jurisprudence seeks to balance two competing objectives. One objective is "the individual's right to retain the interests and exercise the freedoms at the core of private property ownership." Murr, 137 S.Ct. at 1943; see Lucas v. S. Carolina Coastal Council, 505 U.S. 1003, 1028 (1992). The other is "the government's well-established power to 'adjus[t] rights for the public good." Murr, 137 S.Ct. at 1943 (citing Andrus v. Allard, 444 U.S. 51, 65 (1979). In general, "while property may be regulated to a certain extent, if the regulation goes too far it will be recognized as a taking." Pa. Coal Co. v. Mahon, 290 U.S. 393, 415 (1922).

         Not every land-use regulation or zoning change that impacts property value is considered a regulatory taking; in fact, most are not. "Land-use regulations are ubiquitous and most of them impact property values in some tangential way-often in completely unanticipated ways. Treating them all as per se takings would transform government regulation into a luxury few governments could afford." Tahoe-Sierra, 535 U.S. at 324. As the Supreme Court explained in Penn Central,

"Government hardly could go on if to some extent values incident to property could not be diminished without paying for every such change in the general law, " Pennsylvania Coal Co. v. Mahon, 260 U.S. [at 413], and this Court has accordingly recognized, in a wide variety of contexts, that government may execute laws or programs that adversely affect recognized economic values.

Penn Cent Transp. Co. v. City of New York, 438 U.S. 104, 124 (1978). For instance, in United States v. Willow River Power Co., the government erected a dam that caused a three-foot increase in a river's water level. 324 U.S. 499, 509-11 (1945). The change in water level decreased the capacity of a power plant. Id. The Supreme Court found that this did not constitute a "taking of private property" under the Takings Clause. Id. Hadacheck v. Sebastian found that a diminution in value from $800, 000 to $60, 000, caused by a prohibition of brickmaking within a designated area, did not constitute a taking. 239 U.S. 394 (1915); see Goldblatt v. Hempstead,369 U.S. 590, 594 (1962). In Tahoe-Sierra, a thirty-two-month moratorium on development in the Lake Tahoe area was ordered by an environmental planning agency to maintain the status quo while studying the impact of any development on the environment. 535 U.S. at 321. This did not constitute a compensable "taking" either. Id. Penn Central held the New York City Landmarks Preservation ...

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