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Lateef v. City of Madera

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 21, 2017



         This matter is before the court on a motion to dismiss claims in plaintiff Junaid Lateef's first amended complaint brought on behalf of defendants City of Madera (“City”), Madera City Council (“City Council”), and Madera Planning Commission's (“Planning Commission”). A hearing on the motion was held on February 21, 2017. Attorney Brian C. Leighton appeared on behalf of plaintiff Lateef, and attorney Gregory Lee Myers appeared on behalf of the defendants. Having considered the parties' briefs and oral arguments and for the reasons set forth below, the court will grant defendants' motion.


         A. Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint

         According to the first amended complaint, in 2015, plaintiff Lateef sought the Planning Commission's approval of a conditional use permit for the sale of cigarettes, beer, and wine; a two-parking-stall variance; and a site plan review for a neighborhood market located at 300 West Olive Avenue, in Madera, California. (Doc. No. 14 ¶ 8.) Prior to the Planning Commission's hearing on the matter, Planning Commission staff unanimously recommended granting plaintiffs application. (Id. ¶ 9.) Separately, Charles F. Rigby, a member of the City Council, sent an email to members of the Planning Commission imploring them to deny plaintiffs application. (Id. ¶ 8.) On December 8, 2015, the Planning Commission voted to deny plaintiffs application by a five-to-one vote. (Id.) Mr. Rigby's email was not disclosed at the Planning Commission hearing, and plaintiff was not made aware of the email until weeks after the hearing. (Id. ¶¶ 8-9.) Plaintiff alleges that Mr. Rigby's email substantially caused members of the Planning Commission to deny plaintiffs application despite the recommendation by Planning Commission staff. (Id. ¶ 9.)

         On December 9, 2015, plaintiff appealed the Planning Commission's decision to the City Council pursuant to Madera Municipal Code (“MMC”) § 10-3.1309. (Id. ¶ 10.) At the time of the appeal, MMC § 10-3.1310, enacted when the City Council was comprised five members, provided that a “four-fifths vote of the whole Council shall be required to grant, in whole or in part, any appealed application denied by the Commission.” (Id.) However, because the size of the City Council increased from five to seven members in 2012, Planning Commission staff and plaintiff agreed to a continuance of the appeal until § 10-3.1310 could be amended to reflect a seven-member City Council. (Id.) The City Council subsequently amended § 10-3.1310 to require a “five-sevenths vote of the whole of the Council” to grant an appealed application. (Id. ¶¶ 11, 21.)

         On May 4, 2016 the City Council heard plaintiffs appeal. (Id. ¶ 14.) As of that date, there was one vacant seat on the City Council, and Mr. Rigby recused himself from the vote, leaving five voting members for plaintiffs appeal. (Id.) After the City Council voted four-to-one in favor of granting plaintiffs appeal, the members of the City Council and the city clerk appeared to understand that plaintiffs application had been approved as a result of that vote, and such approval was announced from the dais. (Id.) However, following the vote, the City Attorney took the position that under MMC § 10-3.1310, five affirmative votes were required to grant plaintiffs appeal, and because only four members of the City Council voted in plaintiffs favor, the City, acting through its City Attorney, denied plaintiff's application. (Id. ¶ 15-16.)

         Plaintiff Lateef also alleges that he is an immigrant from Pakistan, lawfully admitted into the United States, and a practicing Muslim. (See Id. ¶¶ 7, 24.) He alleges that his application was ultimately denied in part because of his race, ethnicity, national origin, or religious beliefs. Specifically, in his first amended complaint plaintiff alleges he became aware that the City's planning manager did not like the fact that a young Pakistani Muslim person was attempting to open a business involving a beer and wine license; that the City's planning manager recently told another Muslim individual with a pending project that “your kind of people will have the hardest time in opening businesses in Madera;” and that five similar conditional use permits, involving beer and wine licenses, were approved for individuals or corporations involving individuals of Indian descent. (Id. ¶ 24.)

         Plaintiff's first amended complaint contains three causes of action. Plaintiff's first and second causes of action allege that defendants violated his due process rights under the federal and state constitutions, respectively, when (1) members of the Planning Commission considered Mr. Rigby's email without disclosing it to plaintiff, and relied on the email in denying plaintiff's application; and (2) the City misinterpreted the Madera Municipal Code and reversed the City Council's decision to grant plaintiff's appeal. Plaintiff's third cause of action alleges that defendants denied plaintiff his right to equal protection by discriminating against him on the basis of his race, ethnicity, national origin, or religious beliefs.

         B. Procedural History

         On December 13, 2016, this court granted in part defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiff's original complaint, with leave to amend. (Doc. No. 12.) Specifically, the court dismissed plaintiff's federal and state due process causes of action with respect to defendants' alleged nondisclosure of Mr. Rigby's email prior to the Planning Commission's vote, as well as plaintiff's federal equal protection cause of action. The court however, denied defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiff's due process causes of action with respect to the City's alleged misinterpretation of the Madera Municipal Code. (Id. at 9.)

         On January 11, 2017, following the filing of plaintiff's first amended complaint, defendants again moved to dismiss plaintiff's complaint for failure to state a claim. (Doc. No. 15.) On January 27, 2017, plaintiff filed an opposition. (Doc. No. 17.)


         The purpose of a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) is to test the legal sufficiency of the complaint. N. Star Int'l v. Ariz. Corp. Comm'n, 720 F.2d 578, 581 (9th Cir. 1983). “Dismissal can be based on the lack of a cognizable legal theory or the absence of sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory.” Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990). A plaintiff is required to allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). “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.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

         In determining whether a complaint states a claim on which relief may be granted, the court accepts as true the allegations in the complaint and construes the allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984); Love v. United States, 915 F.2d 1242, 1245 (9th Cir. 1989). However, the court need not assume the truth of legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations. United States ex rel. Chunie v. Ringrose, 788 F.2d 638, 643 n.2 (9th Cir. 1986). While Rule 8(a) does not require detailed factual allegations, “it demands more than an unadorned, the defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. A pleading is insufficient if it offers mere “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; see also Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676 (“Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.”). Moreover, it is inappropriate to assume that the plaintiff “can prove facts which it has not alleged or that the defendants have violated the . . . laws in ways that have not been alleged.” Associated Gen. Contractors of California, Inc. v. California State Council of Carpenters, 459 U.S. 519, 526 (1983). In ruling on a motion to dismiss brought pursuant to Rule ...

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