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M & N Materials, Inc. v. Town of Gurley

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division

June 10, 2014

M & N MATERIALS, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
TOWN OF GURLEY, ALABAMA, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

C. LYNWOOD SMITH, Jr., District Judge.

Plaintiff, M & N Materials, Inc. ("M & N") filed this case on January 31, 2014, asserting claims for unconstitutional taking, arbitrary and capricious due process denial, declaratory judgments under both federal and state law, and an injunction against the following defendants: (1) the Town of Gurley, Alabama ("the Town" or "Gurley"); (2) Vulcan Construction Materials, L.P.; (3) Vulcan Lands, Inc.; and (4) Vulcan Materials Company, Inc.[1] The case presently is before the court on the Town's motion to dismiss plaintiff's claim for an unconstitutional taking (Count I).[2] Upon consideration of the motion, plaintiff's response, [3] and the Town's reply, [4] the court concludes the motion is due to be denied.

I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b) permits a party to move to dismiss a complaint for, among other reasons, "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). This rule must be read together with Rule 8(a), which requires that a pleading contain only a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). While that pleading standard does not require "detailed factual allegations, " Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 550 (2007), it does demand "more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citations omitted). As the Supreme Court stated in Iqbal:

A pleading that offers "labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." [ Twombly, 550 U.S., at 555]. Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders "naked assertion[s]" devoid of "further factual enhancement." Id., at 557.
To survive a motion to dismiss founded upon Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), [for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted], a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to "state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face." Id., at 570. A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. Id., at 556. The plausibility standard is not akin to a "probability requirement, " but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully. Ibid. Where a complaint pleads facts that are "merely consistent with" a defendant's liability, it "stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.'" Id., at 557 (brackets omitted).
Two working principles underlie our decision in Twombly. First, the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice. Id., at 555 (Although for the purposes of a motion to dismiss we must take all of the factual allegations in the complaint as true, we "are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation" (internal quotation marks omitted)). Rule 8 marks a notable and generous departure from the hyper-technical, code-pleading regime of a prior era, but it does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions. Second, only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss. Id., at 556. Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will, as the Court of Appeals observed, be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense. 490 F.3d, at 157-158. But where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged - but it has not "show[n]" - "that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 8(a)(2).
In keeping with these principles a court considering a motion to dismiss can choose to begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.

Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79 (emphasis added).

II. RELEVANT ALLEGATIONS OF PLAINTIFF'S COMPLAINT

M & N was formed in 2003 by Brian McCord and Brian Nelson for the purpose of owning and operating a rock quarry. The land M & N was planning to use for the quarry was a 160-acre parcel already owned by Nelson and located outside the Gurley town limits.[5] M & N purchased the land from Nelson and obtained permits from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management ("ADEM") to operate a quarry on the land.[6] It also obtained business licenses from Madison County and the State of Alabama.[7] As the property was located outside the Gurley town limits, M & N was not originally required to obtain a license or permit from the Town.

Sometime in 2003, some of Gurley's residents began to oppose the opening of the quarry. The residents proposed that the Town annex the property M & N intended to use for the quarry, so that the Town could then regulate the quarry's operation.[8] The Town initially declined to annex the land, but the issue was put to a vote on April 13, 2004, and as a result of that vote, M & N's property was involuntarily incorporated into the Town of Gurley.[9]

M & N applied for a business license from the Town, but the Town Clerk's office informed M & N that it had "been instructed not to issue a business license for M & N.'"[10] Less than two weeks later, "the Town imposed a moratorium, specific to the M & N property only, on accepting any application for a permit, license, zoning request, or any similar request that could be made by M & N to the Gurley government."[11] Additionally, in July of 2004, the Town created a Board of Adjustment for the purpose of hearing applications for variances from zoning decisions.[12] Six of the eight members of the newly-created Board of Adjustment were individuals known to be against the development of the quarry.[13] Citizens who had made public statements against the quarry also were elected to the offices of Mayor and City Council.[14] The newly elected Town government reassigned the responsibility for processing business licenses to an individual who was known to be against the quarry.[15] The newly elected Mayor appointed to the Town's Planning Commission five new members who were opposed to the quarry.[16] The Planning Commission subsequently recommended that the property M & N intended for the quarry be re-zoned for agricultural use, and that recommendation was adopted by the City Council.[17]

After M & N received its ADEM permits and State and County licenses, but before the Town annexed M & N's property, defendant Vulcan Materials Company ("Vulcan Materials") and certain of its subsidiaries became aware of M & N's intent to open the quarry.[18] Additionally, prior to the annexation, Vulcan Construction Materials, LP ("Vulcan Construction") paid M & N for the right to explore the property for mineral deposits and other characteristics of potential value, so it could determine if it wanted to purchase the property from M & N.[19] After conductig that exploration, Vulcan Construction obtained an option to purchase the property from M & N for an amount that apparently was specified in the parties' agreement, but is not specified in plaintiff's complaint.[20] After the new Mayor, City Council, and Planning Commission were elected, and after the new Board of Adjustment was created, Vulcan Construction "substantially reduced" the purchase price it was willing to pay M & N due to what it referred to as "this Gurley situation.'"[21] The complaint does not specify how much Vulcan Construction's new offer was, or how much it was ...


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