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Griswold v. City of Carlsbad

September 27, 2007

CRAIG GRISWOLD AND ROBIN GRISWOLD, A HUSBAND AND WIFE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF CARLSBAD, CALIFORNIA, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hayes, Judge

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS

The matter before the Court is Defendant City of Carlsbad's September 1, 2006 motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint. (Doc. #4).

Background

On August 14, 2006, Plaintiffs Craig and Robin Griswold ("Plaintiffs") filed a Complaint against Defendant City of Carlsbad ("Defendant"), alleging violations of their rights as protected by the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article XIIID of the California Constitution.

Plaintiffs allege the following: On August 1, 2000, Defendant enacted Ordinance NS-555 of the Carlsbad Municipal Code ("Ordinance"), which applies to any building project determined by the City to cost more than $75,000 and increase the size of the building. Complaint ¶ 6. After Defendant determines these threshold requirements are met and the Ordinance applies to a building project, the property owner seeking to obtain a building permit must either pay an assessment for "necessary improvements" upon the property and along all street frontages ("Assessment") or defer the Assessment on the condition that the property owner sign and return a Neighborhood Improvement Agreement ("NIA"). Id. ¶¶ 8, 10, Exhibit 1. The NIA requires property owners to agree to the following relevant conditions: (1) the City Council may include the property in an assessment district which may be formed to construct improvements, (2) the City may levy an assessment against the property for construction of improvements, (3) the owner must grant the City a proxy to act for and on behalf of the property owner, which runs with the land, and (4) the owner must waive his rights under the California Constitution to submit an assessment ballot for or against the imposition of assessments on property owners for purposes of street improvements and/or the formation of an assessment district. Id. ¶ 12, Exhibit 3. Defendant will not issue a development permit for building projects subject to the Ordinance unless the property owner either pays the Assessment beforehand, or agrees to the conditions in the NIA. Id. ¶ 11. In 2004, Plaintiffs applied for a building permit and Defendant determined the Ordinance applied because their improvements would add 1400 square feet to their home and would exceed the $75,000 threshold set in the Ordinance. Id. ¶ 16. Defendant valued the Assessment at $114,979. Id. ¶¶15-16. Defendant then proffered an NIA. On May 20, 2005, after repeated protest of "the assessment of any 'improvement' cost on Plaintiffs' property," Plaintiffs signed the NIA. Id. ¶¶ 17-18.

Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief declaring the Ordinance, insofar as it requires them to pay the Assessment or sign the NIA in order to receive a building permit, deprives them of their rights as protected by the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article XIIID of the California Constitution. Plaintiffs' Complaint states the following claims for relief: (1) the conditions imposed by the NIA deprive Plaintiffs of the right to vote on the formation of an assessment district and the levy of an assessment of their property, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, (2) the scheme implemented by the Ordinance requires a property owner to choose between paying the amount assessed for improvements or foregoing the right to vote, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, because it constitutes an illegal poll tax: only those "who are able to pay the full cost of improvements are permitted to exercise their right to vote," (3) the scheme implemented by the Ordinance deprives Plaintiffs of property, in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, because it places "an unconstitutional restriction on the Plaintiffs' right to vote, is a contract of adhesion implemented under color of state law, [and] requires Plaintiffs to pay an assessment fee if they wish to exercise their right to vote," and (4) the conditions imposed by the NIA deprive Plaintiffs of the right to vote on the formation of an assessment district and the levy of an assessment of their property, in violation of Article XIIID of the California Constitution. Complaint ¶ 21-53. Plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment that the challenged laws are invalid, unenforceable and void. Complaint, p. 1.

On September 1, 2006, Defendant moved to dismiss the Complaint, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.*fn1 Defendant asserts that the Complaint fails to state a claim for the following reasons: (1) Plaintiffs' Complaint is time-barred, (2) Plaintiffs' Complaint fails to state a ripe case or controversy for review, (3) Plaintiffs' Complaint fails to state a claim because they knowingly waived their rights pursuant to the assessment law, and (4) the Court should decline to take supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claim.

Standard of Review

A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of the pleadings.

See De La Cruz v. Tormey, 582 F.2d 45, 48 (9th Cir. 1978). A complaint may be dismissed for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) where the factual allegations do not raise the right to relief above the speculative level. See Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965 (2007). Conversely, a complaint may not be dismissed for failure to state a claim where the allegations plausibly show that the pleader is entitled to relief. See id. (citing Fed R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)).

In ruling on a motion pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a court must construe the pleadings in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and must accept as true all material allegations in the complaint, as well as any reasonable inferences to be drawn therefrom. See Broam v. Bogan, 320 F.3d 1023, 1028 (9th Cir. 2003); see also Chang v. Chen, 80 F.3d 1293 (9th Cir. 1996). The court may consider the facts alleged in the complaint, documents attached to the complaint, documents incorporated by reference in the complaint, and matters of which the Court takes judicial notice. U.S. v. Richie, 342 F.3d 903, 908 (9th Cir. 2003).

Discussion

I. Plaintiffs' Second and Third Claims for Relief are Time-Barred

Defendant contends that Plaintiffs' second and third claims for relief are time-barred because this action was filed more than two years after these claims arose.*fn2 Mot. to Dismiss, p. 6. Defendant contends that the injuries alleged in Plaintiffs' second and third causes of action arise out of Defendant's decision that the Ordinance applied and Plaintiffs would either have to pay the Assessment or defer payment of the Assessment by signing the NIA in order to obtain a building permit; that Defendant's decision that these conditions applied to Plaintiffs' building project was final by June 16, 2004; and that Plaintiffs knew of Defendant's decision to impose ...


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