Justia U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Zoning, Planning & Land Use
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The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of the Town of Pembroke, New Hampshire and dismissing the complaint filed by Signs for Jesus and Hillside Baptist Church (collectively, the Church) challenging the Town's denial of the Church's application for a permit to install an electronic sign on its property, holding that the Town met its summary judgment burden on all counts.Hillside Baptist Church applied for a permit to install an electronic sign on its property to transmit messages provided by the nonprofit corporation Signs for Jesus. The Pembroke Zoning Board of Adjustment denied the permit, citing a provision in the Pembroke Sign Ordinance that bans the use of electronic signs in the zoning district where the Church was located. The Church later brought this complaint, alleging violations of the state and federal Constitutions, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, and certain New Hampshire zoning laws. The district court granted summary judgment for the Town and declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the Church's state statutory claims. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court did not err. View "Signs for Jesus v. Pembroke, New Hampshire" on Justia Law

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In this case involving a dispute between Portland Pipe Line Corporation (PPLC) and the City of South Portland (the City) the First Circuit certified three questions to the Maine Law Court because this clash raised important questions of state law preemption doctrine and statutory interpretation that are unresolved and may prove dispositive.The parties to this dispute were PPLC, a Maine corporation engaged in the international transportation of oil, and the City, which enacted a municipal zoning ordinance prohibiting the bulk loading of crude oil onto vessels in the City's harbor. The ordinance prevented PPLC from using its infrastructure to transport oil from Montreal to South Portland via underground pipelines. PPLC appealed the district court's dismissal of its claims, arguing that the ordinance was preempted by Maine's Coastal Conveyance Act and was in conflict with federal constitutional law. The First Circuit declined to address the federal questions, concluding that the case lacked controlling precedent and presented difficult legal issues that warranted certification to the Law Court. View "Portland Pipe Line Corp. v. City of South Portland" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for Defendant's and dismissing Plaintiffs' claim that the City of Fitchburg's refusal to exempt four sober houses Plaintiffs operated for recovering addicts from a legal requirement to install sprinklers in the sober houses violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Fair Housing Act, holding that the district court did not err in concluding that the requested accommodation was not reasonable.Plaintiffs brought this suit under the ADA, 42 U.S.C. 12101-12213, and the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. 3601-3631, as amended by the Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA). The district court dismissed the suit on summary judgment, concluding that Plaintiffs failed to show that an exemption from the sprinkler requirement was either reasonable or necessary to allow recovering addicts to live in and benefit from the sober houses. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in entering summary judgment on Plaintiffs' ADA and FHAA reasonable accommodation claims. View "Summers v. City of Fitchburg" on Justia Law

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Municipal ordinances banning coal combustion residuals from landfills were preempted by Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board’s approval of the disposal.AES Puerto Rico, a coal-fired power plant owner, claimed that two municipal (Humacao and Peñuelas) ordinances banning the approved handling of "coal combustion residuals" (CCRs) were preempted by federal and Commonwealth law and violated various provisions of the federal and Puerto Rico constitutions. The Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board (EQB) had authorized disposal of coal ash at the El Coquí and Peñuelas Valley landfills within those municipalities. The district court granted summary judgment for the municipalities on AES's federal claims and declined to exercise jurisdiction over the Commonwealth claims. The First Circuit reversed, holding that the local ordinances may not be enforced to the extent they directly conflict with Commonwealth law as promulgated by the EQB. View "AES Puerto Rico, L.P. v. Trujillo-Panisse" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs were property owners who privately leased units in Worcester, Massachusetts to students from the College of the Holy Cross. Plaintiffs brought suit alleging that the City of Worcester engaged in a scheme, through its zoning and code enforcement officials and entities, to selectively enforce the Worcester Zoning Ordinance and state Lodging House Act in order to pressure Holy Cross to make voluntary payments in lieu of property taxes to Worcester. The district court granted the City’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court properly dismissed Plaintiffs’ claims for the reasons stated in the district court’s opinion. View "College Hill Props., LLC v. City of Worcester" on Justia Law

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Appellants sought permission from the Town of Rome Planning Board to build a wireless communications tower. The Planning Board voted to deny Appellants’ application. Appellants subsequently filed suit alleging various claims under the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (TCA), the Due Process Clause, and Maine law. The TCA provides relief to those who are denied permission to build telecommunications facilities at the state or local level through “final action.” The district court dismissed the majority of the TCA claims without prejudice because Appellants had not appealed to the Board of Appeals at the time they filed their TCA claims and also dismissed Appellants’ due process challenges. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) the district court correctly dismissed Appellants’ TCA claims, as the Planning Board’s decision did not mark the end of the administrative process and thus was not a “final action” for TCA purposes; and (2) Appellants’ federal constitutional due process claims were without merit. View "Global Tower Assets LLC v. Town of Rome" on Justia Law

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In Puerto Rico, the Controlled Access Law (CAL) allows private citizens to protect themselves against violent crimes by maintaining gated residential communities that incorporate public streets. In 2004, two corporations operated by the governing body of the Jehovah’s Witnesses brought suit against municipal defendants alleging that the CAL unconstitutionally infringed on the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ right to engage in door-to-door ministry. The district court established a remedial scheme that attempted to balance the competing interests of the parties. Both the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the municipalities appealed. The First Circuit upheld the district court’s solution but modified it in some aspects, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in crafting the remedy at issue. View "Watchtower Bible & Tract Soc’y of N.Y., Inc. v. Colombani" on Justia Law

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The City of Quincy passed an ordinance demanding that bidders on municipal public works projects engage in a specific type of apprentice training program. Plaintiffs, a trade association of construction companies and two of its members, sued the City in federal district court asserting that the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) preempted the ordinance’s apprentice training requirement. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Plaintiffs and granted Plaintiffs’ motion for attorney fees under ERISA’s fee-shifting provision. The First Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment but reversed the fee award, holding (1) the reach of ERISA’s preemption provision extends to the ordinance at issue; and (2) because there was no appropriate “participant, beneficiary, or fiduciary” to whom fees could lawfully be awarded in this case, the fee award must be set aside. Remanded.View "Merit Constr. Alliance v. City of Quincy" on Justia Law

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The City of Springfield passed an ordinance creating a single-parcel historic district encompassing a church owned by the Roman Catholic Bishop of Springfield (RCB). Under the ordinance, RCB could not make any changes affecting the exterior of the church without the permission of the Springfield Historical Commission (SHC). RCB challenged the ordinance, claiming it violated RCB's rights under the First Amendment, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, and the Massachusetts Constitution. The district court granted summary judgment for the City, concluding that some of RCB's claims were not ripe for review and that its remaining claims failed as a matter of law. The First Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed RCB's unripe claims without prejudice and rejected the remaining ripe claim, holding (1) the claims that the district court found were unripe should have been dismissed without prejudice, not resolved on summary judgment; (2) those of RCB's claims which depended on the potential consequences of compliance with the ordinance were not ripe for adjudication; and (3) RCB's claim based on the enactment of the ordinance was ripe for review but failed on the merits. View "Roman Catholic Bishop of Springfield v. City of Springfield" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff applied for a special permit to open an adult entertainment establishment within an industrial district. By the terms of a City ordinance, adult entertainment was forbidden on sites within an industrial district. The City denied Plaintiff's application. The Zoning Board of Appeals denied Plaintiff's appeal for variances from the ordinances. At issue on appeal was whether the City's zoning ordinances violated the First Amendment by preventing Plaintiff from opening his adult entertainment establishment on land zoned industrial without providing an adequate opportunity elsewhere. The federal district court entered summary judgment for the City. The First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, holding (1) the district court did not err in calculating the land available to Plaintiff for adult use; and (2) the available land provided Plaintiff a reasonable opportunity to open an adult business. View "Lund v. Fall River, Mass." on Justia Law