Clewiston Commons, LLC v. City of Clewiston, Case No. 2:18cv339-FtM-PAM-MRM

CourtUnited States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Florida
Writing for the CourtPaul A. Magnuson United States District Court Judge
PartiesClewiston Commons, LLC, Plaintiff, v. City of Clewiston, Mali Gardner, Al Perry, Travis Reese, Debbie McNeil, and Kathy Combass, Defendants.
Docket NumberCase No. 2:18cv339-FtM-PAM-MRM
Decision Date10 March 2020

Clewiston Commons, LLC, Plaintiff,
City of Clewiston, Mali Gardner, Al Perry, Travis Reese,
Debbie McNeil, and Kathy Combass, Defendants.

Case No. 2:18cv339-FtM-PAM-MRM


March 10, 2020


This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's three Motions for Partial Summary Judgment1 (Docket Nos. 137, 154, 159) and Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket No. 161). For the following reasons, Defendants' Motion is granted in part and denied without prejudice in part, and Plaintiff's Motions are denied without prejudice.


This case involves a zoning dispute over Clewiston Commons, a mobile-home park in Clewiston, Florida ("the City"). The full factual history of the case has been set forth previously (Docket No. 145), and the relevant facts are incorporated into the discussion. Clewiston Commons brings claims alleging equal protection, state-law due process, inverse

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condemnation, tortious interference, and Fla. Stat. § 286.911 violations. Clewiston Commons further asks for declaratory relief regarding its use of the property. Clewiston Commons asks for summary judgment on its equal-protection claim, its claim for declaratory relief, and against Defendant's assertion of sovereign immunity. The City and the individual Defendants move for summary judgment on all claims.


Summary judgment is proper only if there are no disputed issues of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). The Court must view the evidence and the inferences that may be reasonably drawn from the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Burton v. City of Belle Glade, 178 F.3d 1175, 1187 (11th Cir. 1999) (citation omitted).

The moving party bears the burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. O'Ferrell v. United States, 253 F.3d 1257, 1265 (11th Cir. 2001). When opposing a motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must demonstrate the existence of specific facts in the record that create a genuine issue for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986). A party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment may not rest on mere allegations or denials and "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986) (citation omitted).

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A. Equal Protection

The parties bring cross-Motions as to Clewiston Commons's claim that the City, Gardner, Perry, Reese, and McNeil violated the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments by denying permits to replace damaged units, denying a special exception to zoning the law, and issuing termination notices at the property without a rational basis.

To prevail on this "class of one" equal protection claim, a plaintiff must show that it was treated differently from others who were similarly situated and "there is no rational basis for this difference in treatment." Grider v. City of Auburn, 618 F.3d 1240, 1266 (11th Cir. 2010). Similarly situated comparators must be prima facie identical in all relevant respects. Campbell v. Rainbow City, 434 F.3d 1306, 1314 (11th Cir. 2006). Clewiston Commons bears the burden to "negat[e] every conceivable basis which might support [the City's actions], whether or not the basis has a foundation in the record." Lofton v. Sec'y of Dep't of Children & Family Servs., 358 F.3d 804, 818 (11th Cir. 2004).

Clewiston Commons first alleges that it is the only legal nonconforming mobile-home park to be issued termination notices. But the termination notices have not yet gone into effect, the mobile-home park continues to operate, and this issue is already on appeal in state court. See City of Clewiston v. Clewiston Commons, LLC, Case No: 2018-CA-0777. This claim is thus not ripe in federal court, and both parties' Motions are denied without prejudice as to this aspect of the claim.

Clewiston Commons next claims that it is the only mobile-home park operating as a legal non-conforming use to be denied replacement permits. Clewiston Commons fails to allege sufficient facts support its bald claim that any properties are similarly situated.

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Further, whether Clewiston Commons operates as a legal nonconforming use is unresolved at the state level. Therefore, this claim is likewise not ripe in federal court, and both parties' Motions are denied without prejudice as to this aspect of the claim.

Clewiston Commons's final contention is that similarly situated comparators were granted special exceptions to the zoning law. In particular, Clewiston Commons alleges that the City granted Clewiston Marina, Inc., a special exception. Clewiston Marina's temporary exception for a transient RV park is on its face distinguishable from Clewiston Commons's request for a permanent exception for a permanent RV park. Further, the properties are zoned differently—Clewiston Marina is zoned high-density residential, while Clewiston Commons is zoned commercial. (Reese Aff. (Docket No. 51-4); Appl. for Special Exception (Docket No. 168-2).) Therefore, these properties are not similarly situated in all relevant aspects, and the claim fails as to the permits.

Even if Clewiston Commons could meet its burden of alleging a similarly situated comparator, the City provides legitimate government purposes to plausibly explain its actions, such as reducing blight and creating a cohesive neighborhood. "[T]he Supreme Court and this court have repeatedly held . . . noise, traffic, congestion, safety, aesthetics, valuation of adjoining land, and effect on city services" "to be rational and permissible bases for land use restrictions." Corn v. City of Lauderdale Lakes, 997 F.2d 1369, 1387 (11th Cir. 1993)."2

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Gardner, Perry, Reese, and McNeil also assert qualified immunity on the equal-protection claim. "Qualified immunity offers complete protection for government officials sued in their individual capacities [for violations of § 1983] if their conduct 'does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.'" Vinyard v. Wilson, 311 F.3d 1340, 1346 (11th Cir. 2002) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)). Defendants seeking qualified immunity must first establish that they were acting within the scope of their discretionary authority. McClish v. Nugent, 483 F.3d 1231, 1237 (11th Cir. 2007). Then the plaintiff must show that the defendant violated a constitutional right and prove that the constitutional violation was "clearly established." Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001). Gardner, Perry, Reese, and McNeil's alleged actions were made in their official capacities, and Clewiston Commons makes no showing of a "clearly established" constitutional violation. Thus, even if the equal-protection claim succeeded, the City officials are entitled to qualified immunity.

B. State Due Process

The City asks for summary judgment on Plaintiff's claim that it was denied procedural due process under Article I, Section 9 of the Florida Constitution.

First, Clewiston Commons claims that the City...

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