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Spirit of Aloha Temple and Fredrick R. Honigs v. County of Maui and Maui Planning Commission

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

January 27, 2016

SPIRIT OF ALOHA TEMPLE AND FREDRICK R. HONIG, Plaintiffs,
v.
COUNTY OF MAUI AND MAUI PLANNING COMMISSION, Defendants.

ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO DISMISS AND/OR FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT

SUSAN OKI MOLLWAY, District Judge.

ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO DISMISS AND/OR FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT

I. INTRODUCTION.

Plaintiffs Spirit of Aloha Temple and Fredrick R. Honig applied for a State Land Use Commission Special Permit to build a church and hold religious events on a parcel of land located in the County of Maui. After the application was denied by Defendant Maui Planning Commission, Plaintiffs filed their Complaint in this court, asserting federal and state claims against both the Planning Commission and Defendant County of Maui.

Before the court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss and/or for Partial Summary Judgment, requesting that the Planning Commission be dismissed from the action, or all claims against it be dismissed with prejudice. The motion to dismiss is granted.

II. BACKGROUND.

Spirit of Aloha is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization that was incorporated as a church in 2007 to promote "Integral Yoga." See ECF No. 1, PageID #s 5, 7. Honig is a licensed minister and teacher of Integral Yoga. See id., PageID # 6.

Spirit of Aloha owns an eleven-acre parcel located in Haiku, Maui. See id., PageID # 9. The parcel is zoned "Agriculture" and is in a Special Management Area. See id. The property is being used for limited "secular" purposes, including a botanical garden, bird sanctuary, and staff housing. See id.

In 2010, Plaintiffs applied for a special use permit to use the property as a church. See id., PageID #s 10-11. Churches are permitted as a special use in an agricultural district. See id., PageID # 13. Plaintiffs propose to use the property for religious services, meetings, lectures, and events such as weddings. See id., PageID #s 10-11. Plaintiffs' application was denied by the Planning Commission on various grounds. See id., PageID #s 10-11.

On November 21, 2012, Plaintiffs filed another application for a special permit to use the property for the same religious purposes. See id., PageID # 10. The Maui Planning Department issued a report and recommendation that the permit be issued. See id., PageID # 22. However, after a public hearing in which several residents in the surrounding area expressed concern about road safety given increased traffic to and from the property, various zoning violations by Plaintiffs, and the impact of increased numbers of visitors on community resources, see id., PageID #s 26-27, the Planning Commission voted to deny the application, see id., PageID # 28. The Planning Commission set forth its findings and conclusions in its Decision and Order of October 30, 2014 ("October 2014 Decision"). See id., PageID #s 29-30.

After its application was denied, Plaintiffs chose not to seek review of the October 2014 Decision in state court under Haw. Rev. Stat. § 91-14. Instead, Plaintiffs filed their Complaint in this court on November 26, 2014. See ECF No. 1. The Complaint asserts claims for violations of federal law under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 and 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and violations of the Hawaii constitution. See id., PageID #s 35-44. In addition, Count X seeks review of the Planning Commission's October 2014 Decision pursuant to Haw. Rev. Stat. § 91-14.[1] See id., PageID # 44. Plaintiffs seek monetary damages, injunctive relief, and attorney's fees from both the County and the Planning Commission. See id., PageID #s 44-46.

Defendants filed the present motion to dismiss the Planning Commission because it is not an independent legal entity that can be sued separately from the County. See ECF No. 33, PageID # 146.

III. STANDARD.

Under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the court's review is generally limited to the contents of the complaint. Sprewell v. Golden State Warriors, 266 F.3d 979, 988 (9th Cir. 2001); Campanelli v. Bockrath, 100 F.3d 1476, 1479 (9th Cir. 1996). If matters outside the pleadings are considered, the Rule 12(b)(6) motion is treated as one for summary judgment. See Keams v. Tempe Tech. Inst., Inc., 110 F.3d 44, 46 (9th Cir. 1997); Anderson v. Angelone, 86 F.3d 932, 934 (9th Cir. 1996). Courts may "consider certain materials-documents attached to the complaint, documents incorporated by reference in the complaint, or matters of judicial notice-without converting the motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment." United States v. Ritchie, 342 F.3d 903, 908 (9th Cir. 2003).

On a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, all allegations of material fact are taken as true and construed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Fed'n of African Am. Contractors v. City of Oakland, 96 F.3d 1204, 1207 (9th Cir. 1996). However, conclusory allegations of law, unwarranted deductions of fact, and unreasonable inferences are insufficient to defeat a motion to dismiss. Sprewell, 266 F.3d at 988; Syntex Corp. Sec. Litig., 95 F.3d 922, 926 (9th Cir. 1996).

Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) may be based on either: (1) lack of a cognizable legal theory, or (2) insufficient facts under a cognizable legal theory. Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dept., 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1988) (citing Robertson v. Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc., 749 F.2d 530, 533-34 (9th Cir. 1984)).

"[T]o survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true even if doubtful in fact." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal quotation marks omitted); accord Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) ("[T]he pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require detailed factual allegations, ' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation"). "While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds' of his entitlement to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. The complaint must "state a claim to 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." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

IV. ANALYSIS.

A. Dismissal of Counts I to IX Against the Planning Commission.

Defendants seek dismissal of all claims against the Planning Commission, arguing that the Planning Commission is not an independent legal entity apart from the County that is capable of being sued. See ECF No. 33, PageID # 154. The parties appear to have agreed that the Planning Commission can be dismissed as a party as to Counts I through IX. At the hearing on the motion, Plaintiffs stated they would agree to the dismissal of these counts if the County agreed to stand by any judgment or injunctive order applicable to the Planning Commission. See ECF No. 47, PageID #s 220-23; ECF No. 80, PageID # 521. The County agreed to this proposal. See ECF No. 80, PageID # 522. Under these circumstances, the court grants Defendants' motion to dismiss the Planning Commission as a Defendant in Counts I to IX. Counts I to IX remain pending against the County.

B. Count X.

Count X seeks appellate review of the October 2014 Decision pursuant to Haw. Rev. Stat. § 91-14. See ECF No. 1, PageID #s 40-44. Defendants argue that this court lacks the jurisdiction to entertain such an action. See ECF No. 52, PageID #s 241, 244-45. This court concludes that it has supplemental jurisdiction over Count X. However, this court declines to exercise its discretion to retain supplemental jurisdiction over the claim.

1. The Court Has Supplemental Jurisdiction over Count X.

City of Chicago v. International College of Surgeons, 522 U.S. 156 (1997), addressed whether a federal district court may exercise supplemental jurisdiction over a claim seeking federal court review of a state administrative agency action. Id. at 174. The City of Chicago had removed to federal court a lawsuit that included claims raising federal questions as well as state-law claims seeking review of a city agency's denial of the plaintiff's request to redevelop two historic buildings. Id. at 159-61. The city argued that the applicable ordinance, which resembles Haw. Rev. Stat. § 91-14 in providing that judicial review of a municipal agency decision lies with the state court, deprived the federal district court of jurisdiction to conduct deferential appellate review of the agency action. Id. at 159, 166. The federal district court exercised supplemental jurisdiction over the state-law claims and ruled on them. Id. at 161. The Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded the case to state court, concluding that the district court had been without jurisdiction. Id.

The Supreme Court reversed. Id. at 174. The Court explained that a federal district court has supplemental jurisdiction to review state administrative challenges so long as those claims "are so related to claims in the action within such original jurisdiction that they form part of the same case or controversy under Article III of the United States Constitution." Id. at 165 (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 1367).

The Court nonetheless clarified that just because a district court may exercise supplemental jurisdiction over a cross-system appeal does not mean that it always should. The Court noted that a federal district court's decision to assert supplemental jurisdiction was a discretionary one:

Of course, to say that the terms of § 1367(a) authorize the district courts to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over state law claims for on-the-record review of administrative decisions does not mean that the jurisdiction must be exercised in all cases. Our decisions have established that pendent jurisdiction "is a doctrine of discretion, not of plaintiff's right, " [ United Mine Workers of Am. v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 726 (1966)], and that district courts can decline to exercise jurisdiction over pendent claims for a number of valid reasons, id., at 726-27.

522 U.S. at 172-73 (citing Carnegie-Mellon Univ. v. Cohill, 484 U.S. 343, 350 (1988) ("As articulated by Gibbs, the doctrine of pendent jurisdiction thus is a doctrine of flexibility, designed to allow courts to deal with cases involving pendent claims in the manner that most sensibly accommodates a range of concerns and values.")).

In addition, City of Chicago noted that principles of comity may warrant abstention:

In addition to their discretion under § 1367(c), district courts may be obligated not to decide state law claims (or to stay their adjudication) where one of the abstention doctrines articulated by this Court applies. Those doctrines embody the general notion that "federal courts may decline to exercise their jurisdiction, in otherwise exceptional circumstances, where denying a federal forum would clearly serve an important countervailing interest, for example where abstention is warranted by considerations of proper constitutional adjudication, regard for federal-state relations, or wise judicial administration." Quackenbush v. Allstate Ins. Co., 517 U.S. 706, 716 (1996) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

522 U.S. at 174. The Court cautioned that "there may be situations in which a district court should abstain from reviewing local administrative determinations even if the jurisdictional prerequisites are otherwise satisfied." Id.

There is no dispute that this court has original jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' federal claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Accordingly, under City of Chicago and 28 U.S.C. § 1367, this court may exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state administrative claim so long as it and the other claims "form part of the same case or controversy, " as evidenced by the sharing of a common nucleus of operative facts. 28 U.S.C. § 1367; City of Chicago, 522 U.S. at 165. The state administrative review claim and the federal claims in this action share a common nucleus of operative facts; they all arise out of Plaintiffs' attempts to obtain a special use permit to use its property as a church.

Defendants do not attack this aspect of the jurisdictional analysis, but maintain that there are other problems requiring this court to refrain from exercising supplemental jurisdiction over Count X. Defendants allege that Plaintiffs' appeal of the October 2014 Decision was untimely and inadequate. They note that Rule 72 of the Hawaii Rules of Civil Procedure required Plaintiffs to satisfy several steps, including the filing of its appeal within thirty days of the October 2014 Decision, the serving of a certified copy of the notice of appeal on Defendants, and the designating of the record on appeal. Defendants contend that these requirements have not been met. See ECF No. 52, PageID #s 242-43.

It is clear, however, that at least in this court it is the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure that govern Count X, not the Hawaii Rules of Civil Procedure. See, e.g., Nathan v. Boeing Co., 116 F.3d 422, 423 (9th Cir. 1997) (Federal Rules of Civil Procedure govern state law claims over which courts have supplemental jurisdiction); Laidlaw Waste Sys., Inc. v. Mallinckrodt, Inc., 925 F.Supp. 624, 634 (E.D. Mo. 1996) ("Federal courts apply the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to matters of procedure when considering non-federal questions, whether in a diversity action or as here when a state claim is heard under supplemental jurisdiction."); New. Net, Inc. v. Lavasoft, 356 F.Supp.2d 1090, 1099 (C.D. Cal. 2004) (same).

There is no federal equivalent to Rule 72 of the Hawaii Rules of Civil Procedure. Plaintiffs say that it would be absurd to require them to perfect their appeal in this court by preparing and presenting a designation to the clerk of the state circuit court, as required by Rule 72 of the Hawaii Rules of Civil Procedure. See ECF No. 55-1, PageID # 261. This court concludes that Plaintiffs' noncompliance with Rule 72 does not affect this court's jurisdiction over Count X.

While this court concludes that it has the power to exercise supplemental jurisdiction in this case, that does not mean this court should exercise that power.

2. The Court Declines to Exercise Supplemental Jurisdiction Over the State Law Claims.

Unlike federal question or diversity jurisdiction, supplemental, or pendent, jurisdiction is not mandatory. The power to adjudicate state-law claims "need not be exercised in every case in which it is found to exist. It has consistently been recognized that pendent jurisdiction is a doctrine of discretion, not of plaintiff's right." Gibbs, 383 U.S. at 726. In weighing whether to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over a state-law claim, courts should factor in "considerations of judicial economy, convenience and fairness to litigants.... Needless decisions of state law should be ...


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