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Simons v. Town of Sherman

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

March 16, 2017

SAM J. SIMONS, ET. AL. Plaintiffs,
v.
TOWN OF SHERMAN, ET. AL. Defendants.

          RULING ON MOTIONS TO DISMISS

          Michael P. Shea, U.S.D.J.

         I. Introduction

         This action is the latest chapter in a property dispute between Plaintiffs Sam and Angela Simons and Defendants Town of Sherman and its First Selectman, Planning and Zoning Commission, Board of Selectmen, Inland and Watercourses Commission, Building Inspector, Zoning Enforcement Officer (collectively, the “Municipal Defendants”) and the Simons' neighbor, Defendant Connie Wilson. The dispute centers on a long driveway serving land owned by the Simons but crossing land owned by Wilson and the Town. To resolve the dispute (and a pending lawsuit against Wilson and the Town of Sherman), the Simons, the Town, and Wilson entered into a settlement agreement concerning the Simons' rights to the property. After executing the settlement agreement, the Simons made inquiries to the Municipal Defendants about whether their rights under the settlement agreement were coextensive with previously issued permits they held. The Municipal Defendants referred the Simons to the settlement agreement but made no further response. The amended complaint alleges that Defendants' failure to confirm the relationship between the Simons' rights under the settlement agreement and the earlier permits violates the federal and state constitutions and various common law precepts, and that the Town and Wilson engaged in malicious prosecution by not taking steps to terminate a criminal trespass prosecution against Sam Simons.

         The Municipal Defendants and Wilson have filed motions to dismiss the Simons' amended complaint under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. As more fully explained below, I dismiss the action because (i) the Simons' federal claims - violation of the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses (Counts Seven, Eight, and Nine) and violation of the Fifth Amendment's Takings Clause (Count Ten) - are unripe, and (ii) in the absence of federal claims over which the Court has jurisdiction, I decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the Simons' remaining state law claims - declaratory relief (Counts One, Two, Three, and Five), malicious prosecution (Count Four), fraud (Count Six), and alleged violations of state constitutional provisions (Counts Eleven through Thirteen).

         II. The Amended Complaint

         A. Factual Allegations

         The amended complaint alleges the following facts.

         The Simons own and reside on a lot in the Glen View Subdivision in the Town of Sherman, Connecticut. (ECF No. 47 at ¶¶ 2, 15.) The Simons' lot is bordered by a property - known as the “Reserve Lot” - owned by their neighbor, Wilson. (Id. at ¶ 17.) The driveway serving the Simons' lot crosses the Reserve Lot and Glen View Drive Road, which is owned by the Town of Sherman. (Id. at ¶¶ 21-27.) The driveway was built pursuant to permits issued in the 1970s by the Defendant Building Inspector and Defendant Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission.[1] After Wilson became the owner of the Reserve Lot, Defendants took the “position that [the Simons] had no rights whatsoever in the Reserve Lot, ” including use of the portion of the driveway located on the Reserve Lot. (Id. at ¶ 35.) The Defendants' position led to a series of disputes concerning the rights to and use of the Reserve Lot, ranging from criminal prosecutions to a civil action. (Id. at ¶¶ 35-46.) In 2012, Sam Simons was “arrested and charged with criminal trespass for trimming grass on [a] portion of the Driveway located on the Reserve Lot.” (Id. at ¶ 35.) On May 22, 2012, the Simons sued the Town of Sherman and Wilson in state court, alleging that the tax sale in which Wilson purchased the Reserve Lot was improper. (Id. at ¶ 36.)

         On February 27, 2014, the Simons, Wilson, and the Town of Sherman entered into a “Stipulation and Settlement Agreement” (the “Settlement Agreement”) to resolve the Simons' state court action, and the state court adopted the Settlement Agreement as a final judgment.[2]The Settlement Agreement governed the Simons' access to and use of the Reserve Property, including the driveway, and included a provision stating that “[t]he driveway constructed by or for the owner(s) of [the Simons' property] in connection with building permit #1262 was pursuant to a properly issued driveway permit.” (ECF No. 47-1 at 6.) The Settlement Agreement also included a release by the Simons of all claims against Wilson and the Town, and a release by Wilson of all claims against the Simons. (Id. at 7-8.) The Settlement Agreement also contained an easement agreement between the Simons and Wilson further defining the Simons' rights to the Reserve Lot. (Id. at 4, 31-37.)

         On March 26, 2014, “[the Simons] were stunned to learn that defendant Wilson was unwilling to drop criminal trespass charges against plaintiff Sam Simons for trimming grass on the [d]riveway” despite entering into the Settlement Agreement a month earlier. (ECF No. 47 at ¶ 50.) On May 19, 2014, Sam Simons was tried on the 2012 criminal trespass charge in Connecticut state court. (Id. at ¶ 54.) He was found not guilty. (Id.) The Simons contend that Sam Simons' prosecution was based on a map - known as “Map #2010” - which “is currently in use by Defendant Town of Sherman Zoning Enforcement Officer and Town of Sherman Resident State Trooper, ” who “both report to and are supervised by defendant Town of Sherman First Selectman.” (Id. at ¶ 58.) The Simons claim “Map #2010 conflicts with and is contrary to the map attached to the [S]ettlment [A]greement” setting forth the Simons' rights to the Reserve Lot. (Id. at ¶ 57.) The Simons claim that “[d]ue to the close coordination and alliance with the owner of the Reserve lot parcel of land (i.e., defendant Wilson)” with Municipal Defendants, the Simons “believe that Map #2010 could nefariously be used in the future to enforce land use activities authorized by the...[S]ettlement [A]greement and the [U]nderlying [L]and [U]se [A]pprovals.”[3] (Id. at ¶ 58.)

         In light of the “prosecution for criminal trespass for trimming grass on the [d]riveway” and prospect of future “nefarious[]” activity by Defendants concerning the Simons' rights to the Reserve Lot, the Simons sent letters to the Municipal Defendants between May 4, 2015, and May 7, 2015. (Id. at ¶¶ 60, 61, 63, 65.) In their letters, the Simons asked the Municipal Defendants to “either (a) acknowledge the scope of permits set forth in Section III.C. of the [S]ettlement [A]greement and underlying land use approvals; or (b) provide citation to the ordinance supporting Town's representations that the [Simons'] activities are unlawful.” (Id. at ¶ 60.) Specifically, the Simons requested “confirm[ation] that the Easement Agreement” in the Settlement Agreement was consistent with the the Underlying Land Use Approvals. (Id. at ¶ 65) The Simons sought the confirmation on the grounds that “there is nothing in the [S]ettlement [A]greement that sets forth the areas and boundaries established by the Municipal Defendants at the time said defendants issued said permits and approvals.” (Id.) Therefore, according to the Simons, “there is nothing available from [the] Municipal Defendants that could be used by an arresting officer of the Connecticut State Police, or a Judge in court proceedings, or anyone else that shows the boundaries associated with said permits and approvals.” (Id.)

         On May 28, 2015, “the Sherman Town Attorney replied and simply referred [the] Simons to the [S]ettlement [A]greement.” (Id.) According to the Simons, Municipal Defendants “insist that [they] must file an application in lieu of recognizing areas of land covered by the permits set forth in Section III.C. of the [S]ettlment Agreement and the underlying land use approvals.” (Id. at ¶ 67.) Furthermore, the Simons assert “[a]s a result of the affirmative actions, inactions, omissions and active silence of defendants since February 27, 2014, [they] have and continue to suffer damages.” (Id. at ¶ 116.) For example, the Simons claim “deprivation of (a) [their] constitutional rights to travel to and from their home without fear of arrest, other enforcement action or other restrictions; and (b) [their] constitutional rights of liberty to enjoy lawful activities authorized by the permits set forth in Section III.C. of the [S]ettlement [A]greement and underlying land use approvals without fear, intimidation or threat of arrest and imprisonment.” (Id.)

         B. Legal Claims and Prayers for Relief

         The Simons' legal claims arise from the alleged “affirmative actions, inactions, omissions and active silence by Municipal Defendants and Defendant Wilson with respect to [their rights under] the [S]ettlement [A]greement.” (ECF No. 47 at ¶ 79.) They contend that such actions “violate the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment and 42 U.S.C. § 1983.” (Id.) They “also allege that such actions…violate [the Simons'] rights under [the] Connecticut Constitution, statutes, and regulations, and Town of Sherman ordinances.” (Id.)

         The amended complaint contains thirteen counts:

Count One - a declaratory judgment “setting forth a boundary on the lands” that are the subject of the Underlying Land ...

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