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Cheatham v. City of Hartselle

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

March 3, 2015

GARLIN CHEATHAM, JR., et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF HARTSELLE, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

INGE PRYTZ JOHNSON, Senior District Judge.

This case comes before the court on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment, supporting briefs, evidence and responses to the cross-motions (docs. 24-28 and 34), and a hearing on February 27, 2015, at which all parties were present by and through their respective counsel of record. Plaintiff Garlin Cheatham was also present in person. The court has considered the motions, evidence and arguments of the parties in support of their respective positions.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The facts of this case are not in dispute. The plaintiffs, Garlin and Sally Cheatham, purchased a piece of property in 2012.[1] G. Cheatham depo. at 52. The property is located outside of the city limits of defendant City of Hartselle, Alabama ("Hartselle"), but within the planning jurisdiction of the Hartselle City Planning Commission.[2] G. Cheatham depo. at 50; Griffith[3] depo. at 10, 31. No zoning law applies to the plaintiffs' parcel of land.

The property is located at the corner of Kyle Road and Walls Lane. G. Cheatham depo. at 87. See also doc. 26, Exhibits E and F. The opposite side of Kyle Road from the plaintiffs' property is within Hartselle's city limits. Griffith depo. at 33. The corner of the property bounded by those two roads contains a house, which the plaintiffs rented to tenants. S. Cheatham depo. at 20.

On the rest of the property, the plaintiffs began development of an RV park, which is accessed from Walls Lane. G. Cheatham depo. at 53-54, 64; S. Cheatham depo. at 29-30. From May to August 2013, Mr. Cheatham created roads within the property, put in sewer and water lines, ran electricity and put in parking places for the RVs. G. Cheatham depo. at 54-55. The parties do not dispute that neither the City of Hartselle nor Morgan County have authority to regulate the development of the RV Park.

The plaintiffs submitted a request to subdivide the property to the Hartselle Planning Commission in July 2013. G. Cheatham depo. 57-58; see also doc. 27-1, Exhibit A. They wanted to separate the rental house from the rest of the property, in order to sell the house to their then tenant. G. Cheatham depo. at 47, Griffith depo. at 16, 27. Although that sale is no longer viable, plaintiffs represented in open court during the hearing that they still seek to subdivide the property to sell the parcel containing the house.

The Hartselle Planning Commission considers all subdivision applications within Hartselle's planning jurisdiction. Griffith affidavit, ¶ 2. That jurisdiction includes everything within Hartselle's city limits, plus an additional 1.5 mile radius surrounding the city within Morgan County.[4] Id. A subdivision request for land within the planning jurisdiction, but not the city limits, requires approval of the Planning Commission and the Morgan County Engineer.[5] Id., ¶¶ 2, 4.

Morgan County, Alabama, also has subdivision regulations, which require a proposed subdivision to provide a 60 foot right-of-way for minor roads, which equals a distance of 30 feet from the center line of the road to the property in question.[6] Griffith affidavit, ¶ 5. The Planning Commission will not approve a subdivision request until the application includes the required right-of-way dedication. Id., ¶ 6.

The plaintiffs' request was denied August 6, 2013 because the right-of-way dedication on Walls Lane was only 30 feet, although the county required 60 feet. G. Cheatham depo. at 67-68. Thus, from the center line of Walls Lane, plaintiffs were required to dedicate an additional 15 foot right-of-way, without receiving any compensation therefor, under the Morgan County requirements, to facilitate future widening of the road. Griffith affidavit, ¶¶ 9-10. According to Jeremy Griffith, the technical review committee of the Planning Commission was concerned about the width of Walls Lane right-of-way for RV traffic and the increase in traffic an RV park would bring. Griffith depo. at 18, 20; Griffith affidavit, ¶ 10. Also according to Griffith, the County Engineer had received resident complaints with regard to the road width of Walls Lane being inadequate to support an RV park. Griffith depo. at 35-36. However, the court has no evidence of any such complaints before it.

The plaintiffs declined to provide the additional 15 foot right of way along the length of Walls Lane because they believed having to do so would be a "taking" under the Alabama Constitution and they were not offered any payment. G. Cheatham depo. at 75; doc. 27-1 at 7-10. The first RV appeared on the property in November 2013. G. Cheatham depo. at 51, 58.

Based on the above facts, the plaintiffs filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C § 1983, claiming damages against Harselle for violation of their civil rights, and seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. Amended Complaint, ¶ 1. Specifically, plaintiffs assert that the demand for an additional 15 foot right-of-way before the subdivision is approved constitutes inverse condemnation in violation of the 5th Amendment to the United States Constitution. Amended Complaint, ¶ 10.

II. STANDARD FOR EVALUATING SUMMARY JUDGMENT

A moving party is entitled to summary judgment if there is no genuine issue of material fact, leaving final judgment to be decided as a matter of law. See Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56; Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 1355-56 (1986). An issue is "material" if it is a legal element of the claim under the applicable substantive law which might affect the outcome of the case. It is "genuine" if the record taken as a whole could ...


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