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Mohit v. City of Haines City

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division

July 9, 2019

BENEDICT MOHIT, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF HAINES CITY, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          JULIE S. SNEED UMTED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on the Dispositive Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint filed by Defendant, the City of Haines City. (Dkt. 26) Plaintiff, Benedict Mohit, opposes the Motion. (Dkt. 27.) For the reasons set forth below, it is recommended that the Motion be granted in part and denied in part.

         BACKGROUND

         A. The State Court Action

         In May 2012, Plaintiff purchased a residentially zoned property within the City and immediately began using the property as a farm. (Dkt. 27 at 5.) Less than two months later, in July 2012, the City adopted its current land development regulations in the form of Ordinance No. 12-1424 (“LDR”), which, in pertinent part, prohibits any person from keeping farm animals within the City limits and requires a conditional use permit to use residentially zoned property for agricultural purposes. (Dkt. 23-1 at 7-8.)

         On October 3, 2014, Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, filed suit in the Tenth Judicial Circuit in and for Polk County, Florida, alleging that the City had unlawfully prohibited him from grazing livestock on his property. (Dkt. 23 ¶ 24; Dkt. 23-1 at 11; Dkt. 26-1.) In May 2015, Plaintiff, as ordered by the state trial court, submitted an application for a conditional use permit to pursue livestock grazing on the property. (Dkt. 23 ¶ 24; Dkt. 23-1 at 9, 21.) On August 6, 2015, the City Commission passed Resolution No. 15-1153 (the “Conditional Use Permit”), which grants Plaintiff permission to conduct agricultural activities on his property subject to certain conditions. (Dkt. 23 ¶ 26; Dkt. 23-1 at 11-14.) Specifically, the Conditional Use Permit authorizes Plaintiff to use his property for “bona fide agricultural purposes” on the condition that he is permitted to maintain a maximum of 20 cattle, 20 goats, and 5 horses. (Dkt. 23-1 at 12-13.) The conditional use permit prohibits Plaintiff from maintaining swine or feed lot operations on the property. (Id.) Notably, the scope and restrictions contained in the Conditional Use Permit mirror those set forth in Plaintiff's application. (Dkt. 26-2 at 31-35.)

         After obtaining the Conditional Use Permit, Plaintiff resumed his lawsuit against the City. In his Third Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleged that:

(1) The LDR violated §§ 380.04, 823.14, 163.3162(3)(a), and 604.50, Fla. Stat. (Counts I, II, III, IV, and V);
(2) The adoption of the LDR violated the Due Process Clause of United States Constitution and the Eminent Domain Clause, Art. X, § 6(a), of the Florida Constitution (Count VI);
(3) The LDR constituted a regulatory taking without just compensation in violation of the United States Constitution and the Florida Constitution (Counts VII and X);
(4) The Conditional Use Permit violated §§ 823.14(4)(a), 823.14(6), and 163.3162(3)(a), Fla. Stat. (Counts VIII, IX, and XII);
(5) The LDR and the Conditional Use Permit violated § 586.10, Fla. Stat. (Count XI); and
(6) City officials were negligent in violating Florida law (Count XIII).

(Dkt. 26-2 ¶¶ 42-104.)

         In Paragraph 40 of the Third Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleged that he “wish[ed] to reserve his constitutional claims and to preserve access to the federal courts for subsequent litigation by making a reservation on the state record as to the disposition of the entire case by the state courts.” (Dkt. 26-2 ¶ 40.)

         On June 23, 2016, the state trial court granted in part the City's Motion to Dismiss the Third Amended Complaint. (Dkt. 26-3.) In doing so, the state trial court dismissed without prejudice Plaintiff's federal and state law takings claims (Counts VI, VII, and X), stating as follows:

Counts VI, VII, and X are DISMISSED without prejudice. These Counts apparently seek to state a cause of action for regulatory taking yet fall short of the standard for pleadings set forth in Fla. R. Civ. Pro. 1.110 and for the apparent irreconcilable inconsistency with Paragraph 40 of Plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint. This Court may not apprise a pro se litigant as to the extent of his weak points and may not assist him to the detriment of the opposing party.

(Dkt. 26-3 at 1) (emphasis in original). In the same order, the state trial court also dismissed without prejudice Counts XI and XIII. (Dkt. 26-3 at 1-2.)

         On November 18, 2016, the state trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the City as to Counts II, III, IV, VIII, IX, and XII. (Dkt. 26-4.) Thus, as of November 18, 2016, only Counts I and V of Plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint remained pending. During a hearing on February 22, 2017, the state trial court discussed the status of the various counts within Plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint. (Dkt. 26-5.) During that hearing, Plaintiff indicated that he had chosen not to amend the counts previously dismissed without prejudice (Counts VI, VII, X, XI, and XIII). (Dkt. 26-5 at 2.) The following month, on March 16, 2017, the state trial court entered an order granting summary judgment as to the remaining claims (Counts I and V) in the Third Amended Complaint. (Dkt. 26-6.) The state trial court entered final judgment in favor of the City on April 24, 2017. (Dkt. 26-7.)

         Plaintiff thereafter moved for leave to amend the previously dismissed counts (Counts VI, VII, X, XI, and XIII) of the Third Amended Complaint. (Dkt. 28-8.) On August 2, 2017, the state trial court denied the motion to amend, noting that it had previously entered final judgment in favor of the City and that “all judicial labor in this case at the trial court level has been concluded.” (Dkt. 28-8 at 2.)

         In December 2016, while the case was pending in the state trial court, Plaintiff filed an appeal with the Second District Court of Appeal. (Dkt. 26-9.) Plaintiff initially challenged the state trial court's order granting summary judgment in favor of the City. (Dkt. 26-9 at 1.) The Second District Court of Appeal ultimately converted the appeal into one from the final judgment. (Dkt. 26-9 at 6.) On January 24, 2018, the Second District Court of Appeal affirmed the final judgment in favor of the City without a written opinion. Mohit v. City of Haines City, 242 So.3d 348 (Fla. 2d DCA 2018). Plaintiff sought further review in the Florida Supreme Court. (Dkt. 26-8.) On March 22, 2018, the Florida Supreme Court dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. Mohit v. City of Haines City, No. SC18-444, 2018 WL 1433044, at *1 (Fla. Mar. 22, 2018).

         B. The Instant Action

         On July 20, 2018, Plaintiff filed his Complaint for Violation of Civil Rights in this Court. (Dkt. 1.) The City moved to dismiss the Complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Dkt. 6.) Plaintiff thereafter sought, and was granted, leave to file an amended complaint, which Plaintiff filed on October 14, 2018. (Dkts. 10, 21, 23.) In Count I of the First Amended Complaint, Plaintiff asserts that the LDR and the Conditional Use Permit represent a regulatory taking without just compensation, in violation of the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution. (Dkt. 23 ¶¶ 42-50.) In Count II, Plaintiff asserts that the LDR and the Conditional Use Permit violate the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution. (Dkt. 23 ¶¶ 52-62.) In Count III, Plaintiff asserts that the City's conduct violated the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”), 42 U.S.C. § 3601 et seq. (Dkt. 23 ¶¶ 63-72.)

         On October 29, 2018, the City filed its Motion. (Dkt. 26.) Plaintiff opposes the Motion. (Dkt. 27.)

         APPLICABLE STANDARDS

         In considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must accept the plaintiff's allegations as true and construe the complaint in the plaintiff's favor. Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984); Duke v. Cleland, 5 F.3d 1399, 1402 (11th Cir. 1993). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must “‘give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)).

         “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, ” id., as the complaint must contain “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, ” id. at 570. Although pro se pleadings are governed by less stringent standards than pleadings prepared by attorneys, see Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); Tannenbaum v. United States, 148 F.3d 1262, 1263 (11th Cir. 1998) (per curiam), pro se parties are still required to comply with minimum pleading standards set forth in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and this district's Local Rules. Grew v. Hopper, No. 2:07-cv-550-FtM-34SPC, 2008 WL 114915, at *2 (M.D. Fla. Jan. 9, 2008); see also Beckwith v. Bellsouth Telecomms., Inc., 146 Fed.Appx. 368, 371 (11th Cir. 2005) (per curiam) (citation omitted) (stating “[a]lthough we construe them liberally, pro se complaints also must comply with the procedural rules that govern pleadings”).

         ANALYSIS

         A. Judicial Notice

         As a preliminary matter, the Court addresses the propriety of taking judicial notice of the record of the state court action. Because the City's arguments rest in part on the pleadings and orders entered in the state court action, the City requests that the Court take judicial notice of those records. (Dkt. 26 at 2 n. 1.) Plaintiff has not objected to the City's request (Dkt. 27) and indeed relies on many of the same records. (Dkt. 27-1.) The Eleventh Circuit has acknowledged that “[c]ourts may take judicial notice of publicly filed documents, such as those in state court litigation, at the Rule 12(b)(6) stage.” Osheroff v. Humana, Inc., 776 F.3d 805, 811 n. 4 (11th Cir. 2015). Here, the Court finds that judicial notice of the prior state court proceedings is appropriate because the nature of the proceedings and the contents of the filings in that case may be accurately and readily determined from the state court's docket, the accuracy of which cannot reasonably be questioned. See Fed.R.Evid. 201(b)(2); see also McClamma v. Remon, 561 Fed.Appx. 787, 789 (11th Cir. 2014) (taking judicial notice of documents in underlying criminal case “because these facts can be accurately and readily determined from the district court's docket, the accuracy of which cannot reasonably be questioned”). However, the Court will judicially notice the state court case for the limited purpose of recognizing the judicial act or acts that the case represents or ...


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