Burns v. Town of Palm Beach, No. 18-14515

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtLUCK, Circuit Judge
Citation999 F.3d 1317
Parties Donald BURNS, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. TOWN OF PALM BEACH, a Florida municipal corporation, Defendant-Appellee.
Decision Date08 June 2021
Docket NumberNo. 18-14515

999 F.3d 1317

Donald BURNS, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
TOWN OF PALM BEACH, a Florida municipal corporation, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 18-14515

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit.

June 8, 2021


Laurie Webb Daniel, Matthew David Friedlander, Philip James George, Holland & Knight, LLP, Atlanta, GA, Jennifer Anne Mansfield, Lynette Mattison, Holland & Knight, LLP, Jacksonville, FL, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Margaret Leslie Cooper, Joanne M. O'Connor, John C. Randolph, Jones Foster, PA, West Palm Beach, FL, for Defendant-Appellee.

William G. Glass, Attorney, Weiner Shearouse Weitz Greenberg & Shawe LLP, Savannah, GA, for Amici Curiae National Association of Home Builders and Florida Home Builders Association.

Before LUCK, ED CARNES, and MARCUS, Circuit Judges.

LUCK, Circuit Judge:

999 F.3d 1322

Donald Burns wants to knock down his "traditional" beachfront mansion and build a new one, almost twice its size, in the midcentury modern style. The new mansion, Burns says, will reflect his evolved philosophy of simplicity in lifestyle and living with an emphasis on fewer personal possessions. The new two-story mansion will have a basement garage, outdoor pool and spa, cabana, and exercise room.

To build his new mansion, Burns had to get the approval of the Town of Palm Beach's architectural review commission. Palm Beach created the commission to review building permit applications to make sure new structures were "in harmony with the proposed developments on land in the general area" and "not excessively dissimilar in relation to any other structure existing ... within 200 feet of the proposed site in respect to ... [a]rchitectural compatibility[,] ... [a]rrangement of the components of the structure[,] ... [a]ppearance of mass from the street," and "[d]iversity of design that is complimentary with the size and massing of adjacent properties." In other words, the town doesn't want elephants next to poodles. Or, as the town explained in its findings creating the commission, Palm Beach "has become a worldwide synonym for beauty, quality and value" and the "essential foundation of beauty in communities is harmony." "The task of the architectural commission is ... to preserve various elements of urban beauty and require that new projects enhance the existing elements" in order "to achieve a pleasant and comprehensive cohesiveness in community development."

Applying its criteria, the architectural review commission denied Burns's building permit. The commission found that his new mansion was not in harmony with the proposed developments on land in the general area and was excessively dissimilar to other homes within 200 feet in terms of its architecture, arrangement, mass, and size.

Burns sued the town, claiming that the criteria the commission used to deny his building permit violated his First Amendment free speech rights and his Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process and equal protection. The district court granted summary judgment for the town. We conclude that summary judgment was not granted too early and affirm on the First Amendment claim because there was no great likelihood that some sort of message would be understood by those who viewed Burns's new beachfront mansion. We also affirm the summary judgment on the Fourteenth Amendment claims because the commission's criteria were not unconstitutionally vague and Burns has not presented evidence that the commission applied its criteria differently for him than for other similarly situated mansion-builders.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Palm Beach's Architectural Review Commission

Palm Beach created its architectural review commission because the town is "internationally known ... for beauty, quality and value" and "beautiful communities can be created only through a deliberate search for beauty on the part of the community leadership, architects, planners, realtors and the building industry." Town

999 F.3d 1323

of Palm Beach, Fla., Code § 18-146(a)–(b).1 The "essential foundation of beauty in communities," the town found, "is harmony." Id. § 18-146(e). "The plan for achieving beauty must grow out of special local characteristics of site, aesthetic tradition and development potential." Id. The commission was directed to "preserve various elements of urban beauty and require that new projects enhance the existing elements." Id. § 18-146(d). Palm Beach's "intent," it made clear, was "to achieve a pleasant and comprehensive cohesiveness in community development." Id. § 18-146(e).

There are seven commissioners on the architectural review commission. Id. § 18-166(a). The commissioners must be "specially qualified" by "training or experience in art, architecture, community planning, land development, real estate, landscape architecture, or other relevant business or profession, or by reason of civic interest and sound judgment to judge the effects of a proposed building upon the desirability, property values and development of surrounding areas." Id. § 18-167(a). No less than two, but no more than three, commissioners must be Florida-registered architects. Id. § 18-166(a). And one commissioner must be a landscape architect or a "master gardener." Id.

Except for minor changes and changes to historic buildings, all applications for demolition and construction in the town must be approved by the commission. Id. § 18-175(a). The commission reviews an application for a building permit based on the criteria in section 18-205(a) of the town's code. Id. If an applicant meets the criteria, the commission "shall" approve the application. Id. § 18-205(b). Section 18-205(a) identifies ten criteria for the commission to consider:

(1) The plan for the proposed building or structure is in conformity with good taste and design and in general contributes to the image of the town as a place of beauty, spaciousness, balance, taste, fitness, charm and high quality.

(2) The plan for the proposed building or structure indicates the manner in which the structures are reasonably protected against external and internal noise, vibrations, and other factors that may tend to make the environment less desirable.

(3) The proposed building or structure is not, in its exterior design and appearance, of inferior quality such as to cause the nature of the local environment to materially depreciate in appearance and value.

(4) The proposed building or structure is in harmony with the proposed developments on land in the general area, with the comprehensive plan for the town, and with any precise plans adopted pursuant to the comprehensive plan.

(5) The proposed building or structure is not excessively similar to any other structure existing or for which a permit has been issued or to any other structure included in the same permit application within 200 feet of the proposed site in respect to one or more of the following features of exterior design and appearance:
999 F.3d 1324
a. Apparently visibly identical front or side elevations;

b. Substantially identical size and arrangement of either doors, windows, porticos or other openings or breaks in the elevation facing the street, including reverse arrangement; or

c. Other significant identical features of design such as, but not limited to, material, roof line and height of other design elements.

(6) The proposed building or structure is not excessively dissimilar in relation to any other structure existing or for which a permit has been issued or to any other structure included in the same permit application within 200 feet of the proposed site in respect to one or more of the following features:

a. Height of building or height of roof.

b. Other significant design features including, but not limited to, materials or quality of architectural design.

c. Architectural compatibility.

d. Arrangement of the components of the structure.

e. Appearance of mass from the street or from any perspective visible to the public or adjoining property owners.

f. Diversity of design that is complimentary with size and massing of adjacent properties.

g. Design features that will avoid the appearance of mass through improper proportions.

h. Design elements that protect the privacy of neighboring property.

(7) The proposed addition or accessory structure is subservient in style and massing to the principal or main structure.

(8) The proposed building or structure is appropriate in relation to the established character of other structures in the immediate area or neighboring areas in respect to significant design features such as material or quality or architectural design as viewed from any public or private way (except alleys).

(9) The proposed development is in conformity with the standards of this Code and other applicable ordinances insofar as the location and appearance of the buildings and structures are involved.

(10) The project's location and design adequately protects unique site characteristics such as those related to scenic views, rock outcroppings, natural vistas, waterways, and similar features.

Id. § 18-205(a).

Burns's New Mansion

For the last eighteen years, Burns has been living in his 10,063 square foot mansion—which he describes as a "traditional home"—on the Atlantic Ocean...

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17 practice notes
  • McDonald v. City of Pompano Beach, CASE NO. 20-60297-CIV-ALTMAN/Hunt
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Southern District of Florida
    • August 23, 2021
    ...expressive conduct, permitting him to invoke the First Amendment in challenging his conviction."); Burns v. Town of Palm Beach , 999 F.3d 1317, 1336 (11th Cir. 2021) ("In determining whether the government has violated free speech rights, the initial inquiry is whether the speech or conduct......
  • Fort Lauderdale Food Not Bombs v. City of Fort Lauderdale, 19-13604
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
    • August 31, 2021
    ...the Constitution. "Generally, we don't answer constitutional questions that don't need to be answered." Burns v. Town of Palm Beach, 999 F.3d 1317, 1348 (11th Cir. 2021) ; see Lyng v. Nw. Indian Cemetery Protective Ass'n, 485 U.S. 439, 445, 108 S.Ct. 1319, 99 L.Ed.2d 534 (1988) ("A fundamen......
  • Fla. State Conference of the Naacp v. Lee, Case No. 4:21cv187-MW/MAF
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Northern District of Florida
    • December 17, 2021
    ...and (2) whether the likelihood was great that the message would be understood by those who viewed it." Burns v. Town of Palm Beach , 999 F.3d 1317, 1336 (11th Cir. 2021) (cleaned up) (quoting Johnson , 491 U.S. at 404, 109 S.Ct. 2533 ). While the first question is self-explanatory, the seco......
  • League of Women Voters of Fla., Inc. v. Lee, Case No.: 4:21cv186-MW/MAF
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Northern District of Florida
    • December 17, 2021
    ...and (2) whether the likelihood was great that the message would be understood by those who viewed it." Burns v. Town of Palm Beach , 999 F.3d 1317, 1336 (11th Cir. 2021) (cleaned up) (quoting Johnson , 491 U.S. at 404, 109 S.Ct. 2533 ). While the first question is self-explanatory, the seco......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
17 cases
  • McDonald v. City of Pompano Beach, CASE NO. 20-60297-CIV-ALTMAN/Hunt
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Southern District of Florida
    • August 23, 2021
    ...expressive conduct, permitting him to invoke the First Amendment in challenging his conviction."); Burns v. Town of Palm Beach , 999 F.3d 1317, 1336 (11th Cir. 2021) ("In determining whether the government has violated free speech rights, the initial inquiry is whether the speech or conduct......
  • Fort Lauderdale Food Not Bombs v. City of Fort Lauderdale, 19-13604
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
    • August 31, 2021
    ...the Constitution. "Generally, we don't answer constitutional questions that don't need to be answered." Burns v. Town of Palm Beach, 999 F.3d 1317, 1348 (11th Cir. 2021) ; see Lyng v. Nw. Indian Cemetery Protective Ass'n, 485 U.S. 439, 445, 108 S.Ct. 1319, 99 L.Ed.2d 534 (1988) ("A fundamen......
  • Fla. State Conference of the Naacp v. Lee, Case No. 4:21cv187-MW/MAF
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Northern District of Florida
    • December 17, 2021
    ...and (2) whether the likelihood was great that the message would be understood by those who viewed it." Burns v. Town of Palm Beach , 999 F.3d 1317, 1336 (11th Cir. 2021) (cleaned up) (quoting Johnson , 491 U.S. at 404, 109 S.Ct. 2533 ). While the first question is self-explanatory, the seco......
  • League of Women Voters of Fla., Inc. v. Lee, Case No.: 4:21cv186-MW/MAF
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Northern District of Florida
    • December 17, 2021
    ...and (2) whether the likelihood was great that the message would be understood by those who viewed it." Burns v. Town of Palm Beach , 999 F.3d 1317, 1336 (11th Cir. 2021) (cleaned up) (quoting Johnson , 491 U.S. at 404, 109 S.Ct. 2533 ). While the first question is self-explanatory, the seco......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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