United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING ON MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE
JEFFREY ALKER MEYER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
and towns across America routinely bring enforcement actions
against landowners who violate local land-use laws.
That's what happened in this case-plaintiffs built a pond
to use for their farm without first applying for a wetlands
permit from their town, and town officials came down on
plaintiffs with cease-and-desist orders. Plaintiffs
eventually decided to file this federal court lawsuit,
contending that the town has violated their constitutional
right to farm the land.
principal question now before me is whether plaintiffs waited
too long to come to federal court. The statute of limitations
is three years, but plaintiffs waited much longer than that
since they were first subject to the town's enforcement
orders. According to plaintiffs, they could wait as long as
they wanted. They claim that the statute of limitations has
not expired, because they continue to be subject to the
ongoing effects of the town's enforcement orders that
prevent them every day until now from using their farm pond
as they wish. I don't agree. I conclude that plaintiffs
were aware of their injury more than three years before they
filed this lawsuit and that their claims are therefore
time-barred by the statute of limitations. Accordingly, I
will grant the motion to dismiss this case.
own a family farm in Wallingford, Connecticut. They have sued
three defendants: the Town of Wallingford (the
“Town”), the Town's Inland Wetlands and
Watercourses Commission (the “Commission”), and
Erin O'Hare who is the Town's environmental planner.
I assume the following allegations to be true as set forth in
the complaint, and I also take judicial notice of prior state
court judicial proceedings between the parties.
2009 plaintiffs constructed a pond on their farm. Plaintiffs
thought that they were entitled as of right to build this
pond under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 22a-40(a), which allows
the construction of a farm pond as a matter of legal right if
the farm pond is “essential to the farming
operation.” But in August 2009, the Commission issued a
cease-and-desist order, and the Commission required
plaintiffs to submit an application and to seek permission of
the Commission to build a pond. By December 2009 and January
2010, defendants further determined that plaintiffs' farm
was not essential to their farming operation and that
plaintiffs must remediate the pond to restore the land to its
did not do so, and soon enough the Commission issued another
cease-and-desist order in July 2010 directing plaintiffs to
stop using their pond. The Commission thereafter commenced a
state court action in which-according to
plaintiffs-defendants knowingly mischaracterized
plaintiffs' farm operation in order to enforce their
regulatory scheme and to deprive plaintiffs of their
State-created property interest to construct a farm pond.
ultimately prevailed in the state court action, and the state
court entered a permanent injunction in January 2012 to
require plaintiffs to remove the pond and remediate their
land. See Inland Wetlands v. Lynn Cooke Andrews, ,
No. CV-10-5033404-S (Conn. Super. Ct. January 23, 2012). The
trial court's decision was affirmed on appeal in November
2012. See Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Com'n of
Town of Wallingford v. Andrews, 139 Conn.App. 359 (Conn.
App. 2012) (per curiam). The Connecticut Appellate
Court concluded in part that plaintiffs were foreclosed from
challenging the validity of defendants' enforcement
orders because they had failed to lodge a timely appeal from
those orders: “The proper way to vindicate a legal
position is not to disobey the orders, but rather to
challenge them on appeal.” Id. at 364.
than three years went by before plaintiffs filed this federal
court action in July 2016. Plaintiffs allege pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 1983 that “[t]he Defendants'
regulations and their implementation of them through the
above described actions violated the Plaintiffs' clearly
established, statutory, as-of-right use of their land and/or
their Constitutional right to pursue their farming
occupation, rights, entitlements and/or interests of which
any reasonable person should have been aware.” Doc.
#1-2 at 5-6 (¶ 20). They further claim that “[a]s
a result of the Defendants' enforcement of the unlawful
regulation the Plaintiffs have and continue to suffer
irreparable harm, including the loss of the ability to grow
crops, the inability to adequately feed and/or water
livestock, the loss of income, the loss of real property
value, legal expenses, remediation expenses, the costs of
re-implementation, the inability to operate the farm and the
loss of their chosen occupation as farmers.”
Id. at 6 (¶ 21); see also Id. at 7-8
(¶¶ 26-28) (describing nature of constitutional
legal claims in similar manner).
have moved pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c) for judgment on the
pleadings. Among other arguments, defendants contend the
complaint is barred by the statute of limitations.
evaluating a defendant's motion for judgment on the
pleadings pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c), a court must accept
all allegations of the complaint as true and draw all
reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff in light of
what is alleged in the complaint. See, e.g.,
Bank of New York v. First Millennium, Inc., 607 F.3d
905, 922 (2d Cir. 2010). Still, a court may dismiss a
complaint if there are no plausible grounds from the face of
the complaint to conclude that the complaint has been timely
filed. See, e.g., Ellul v. Congregation of
Christian Bros., 774 F.3d 791, 798 n.12 (2d Cir. 2014).
well established that a § 1983 action for a violation of
the Constitution that is filed in a federal court in
Connecticut is subject to a three-year statute of
limitations. See, e.g., Walker v.
Jastremski, 430 F.3d 560, 562 (2d Cir. 2005). Because
plaintiffs filed their lawsuit on July 22, 2016, I must
consider whether plaintiffs' claims accrued more than
three years prior to July 22, 2016-that is, at any time prior
to July 22, 2013.
§ 1983 actions, federal law “establishes as the
time of accrual that point in time when the plaintiff knows
or has reason to know of the injury which is the basis of his
action.” Singleton v. City of New York, 632
F.2d 185, 191 (2d Cir.1980) (citation and internal quotation
marks omitted). Thus, as the Second Circuit has explained,
“[t]he crucial time for accrual purposes is when the