ALBANY ALBANY — A federal judge has dismissed two separate lawsuits, each alleging the city violated the constitutional rights of the plaintiffs.
In the first case, Joseph Howard, et al. v. Country Club Estates Homeowners Assoc. Inc., et al, the plaintiffs were suing the city of Albany in federal court, contending their Fifth and 14th Amendment rights had been violated by the Albany City Commission when, in 2009, the board voted to rezone a piece of property the plaintiff was planning to develop after the board had approved the development.
According to court documents, the plaintiffs paid an architect and engineer $105,000 to draw up the plans for what they had anticipated would be a $2 million multi-family residential development consisting of duplexes and townhouses. After they paid that fee, the city rezoned the property from multiple-family residential district to single-family residential, in effect rendering the property “useless” for further development.
Court documents also show that Howard had been working with an Atlanta-area financial consultant, who, in turn, sought out additional financing from an unidentified Korean investor.
After two-years of federal court proceedings, U.S. District Court Judge Louis Sands granted the city’s motion for a summary judgment against Joseph Howard, the property owner, based both on technical, procedural and substantive grounds, saying that Howard didn’t follow the prescribed method of challenging a zoning issue through state court before bringing the case into the federal realm and that he failed to show that the city’s decision had rendered the property useless.
“It is well established that a plaintiff may only establish a Takings Clause claim if the challenged regulation or state action ‘destroys the value of the land entirely, even if temporarily, without compensating the property owner,’” Sands wrote in his opinion. “... It is undisputed that under the rezoning plaintiffs may still develop the property as (42) single-family homes. Therefore, any assertion that the decrease in value of the subject property as a result of the rezoning rendering the subject property as ‘worthless’ is an exaggeration. While the rezoning does create a diminution in value to plaintiffs’ investment, there is no evidence that plaintiffs’ property is now useless as defined by applicable law.”
In the second case, Cross Landing Inc. v. City of Albany, Georgia et al, Cross Landing, a private company that is a tenant at the Southwest Georgia Regional Airport that provides food and beverage services, sued the city on the claim that Airport Director Yvette Aehle took actions to “stifle commerce, drive away potential customers, and inconvenience current patrons of the company’s restaurant” because the company was black-owned.
Cross Landing contends that while the company was planning to extend its hours to better serve the traveling public and the public at large at the airport, Aehle made the decision to close the parking lot adjacent to the airport at 5 p.m. on weekends. Cross Landings argues that was done specifically to hamper its efforts to expand and that the airport chief’s decision to close the terminal one hour after the last passenger arrived for the last flight of the day further hampered the company economically.
In his order granting the city’s request for a summary judgment against Cross Landing, Sands wrote that Cross Landing failed to state any facts to show that it was deprived of anything based on the race of its owners. The mere facts that they were African American and an action hurt their business do not meet the federal standards to levy a racial discrimination suit, the judge said.
“Put simply, the sole fact that plaintiff corporation has a minority identity, or that putative plaintiffs are African-American, does not alone make out a claim for racial discrimination in the form of factual allegation. Plaintiff is not relieved from asserting or putting forward some evidence or factual allegation of discrimination, or evidence or alleged facts from which discrimination could be inferred, simply because it has alleged it belongs to a protected class. Plaintiff could have shown the court some evidence of discrimination through a variety of methods. Here, plaintiff has failed to show a single fact in support of its contentions that racial discrimination occurred,” Sands wrote.
Jenise Smith, the city attorney who argued both cases, said it was good to get them dealt with.
“I think our civil rights lawsuits are our most challenging to deal with just because they often are more complex and multi-faceted,” Smith said. “It’s good to get these put behind us.”