DeSisto College, Inc. v. Town of Howey-In-The-Hills

Decision Date23 January 1989
Docket NumberNo. 87-1-Civ-Oc-14.,87-1-Civ-Oc-14.
Citation706 F. Supp. 1479
PartiesDeSISTO COLLEGE, INC. and Loren E. Horner, Plaintiffs, v. The TOWN OF HOWEY-IN-THE-HILLS, Thomas P. Line, in his individual capacity, and Paul Mazade, in his individual capacity, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Florida


Roderick MacLeish, Jr., Fine & Ambrogne, Exchange Place, Boston, Mass., Stephen H. Durant, Martin, Ade, Birchfield & Johnson, P.A., Jacksonville, Fla., for plaintiffs.

Keith R. Mitnik and John M. Robertson, Robertson, Williams, Mitnik & McDonald, P.A., Orlando, Fla., for defendants.


SUSAN H. BLACK, District Judge.

I. Introduction

Howey-in-the-Hills is a small town in Central Florida, approximately forty miles northwest of Orlando. The town is sixteen blocks long from north to south and four blocks wide from east to west. It has a population of some 650 residents. The town governs itself through a Mayor, Town Council, Zoning Commission, and other agencies. The town controls land use and development within its borders through its power to zone. The Town of Howey-in-the-Hills hereinafter "Howey-in-the-Hills," "Howey," or "town" is one of the defendants in this case.

Various educational institutions have for many years used property in the town. One of these institutions, located on a forty-one acre tract of land on the southern border of the town, has been a privately owned and operated high school. In 1980, Michael DeSisto and Will Roberts through a partnership bought the high school campus. They leased the campus to the DeSisto School hereinafter "DeSisto School" or "DeSisto High School", a high school for learning disabled students.

In 1986, DeSisto and Roberts through their partnership purchased property for the use of a second educational institution in Howey-in-the-Hills. This second educational institution was the DeSisto College, a college serving learning disabled students. DeSisto College, Inc. hereinafter "DeSisto College" or "College" is one of the plaintiffs in this case.

The town at first accepted and even promoted the creation of a college for the learning disabled. When the College purchased residential homes in areas not adjacent to the DeSisto High School, the town withdrew its support for the DeSisto College. The town discovered that certain college uses in residentially-zoned areas violated its Zoning Ordinance. The town also promulgated new ordinances to more closely regulate the function of colleges in residentially zoned areas.

DeSisto College and Loren E. Horner, a student at the College, sue the town and various government officials under 42 U.S. C. § 1983 and the fourteenth amendment's equal protection and due process clauses. DeSisto College wishes to secure the right to use residential property without restriction anywhere within the town's boundaries. Plaintiff Horner wishes to safeguard the College's operations in Howey to prevent her loss of DeSisto College's "unique educational and treatment program."2

If this case went to trial, the plaintiffs would attempt to prove that the defendant town opposed the College and used its powers to exclude it from the town based on irrational fear and prejudice towards learning disabled students. The town would attempt to prove that Michael DeSisto was no more than a businessman trying to establish a business in Howey in the cheapest possible way, by converting residences into college facilities rather than by building on vacant land from the ground up. Although the Court finds that the parties genuinely dispute each of these extreme factual contentions, neither of these facts if established are material to this case. The Court finds from the facts that are not genuinely disputed that summary judgment is appropriate.

The Court will first review the procedural history of this case. The Court will then summarize background facts as they appear from the record and specify the standard of review on a motion for summary judgment. Finally, the Court will analyze plaintiffs' claims.

II. Procedural History

The present plaintiffs along with a party who is no longer a plaintiff, Keith Murphy, filed their original Complaint in this action on January 2, 1987. The original Complaint named as defendants Thomas P. Line, Arthur Pratt, Alan B. Mills, Jr., Rodney T. Griffin, individually and in their capacity as members of the Zoning Commission of Howey-in-the-Hills, Paul Mazade, John P. Purser, III, Carlin Washo, individually and in their capacity as members of the Town Council of Howey-in-the-Hills.

Plaintiffs voluntarily filed an Amended Complaint on January 15, 1987. The First Amended Complaint named the same defendants as the original Complaint with the addition of the Town Of Howey-in-the-Hills. On January 29, 1987, defendant Thomas P. Line filed a Motion To Dismiss First Amended Complaint. On March 17, 1987, the Court granted the motion as to Count III, but denied the motion as to Counts I and II. The Court stated that "plaintiffs had alleged sufficient facts to state the causes of action for violations of the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution." The motion did not raise and the Court did not address questions of immunity of the individual defendants.

Plaintiffs filed the Second Amended Complaint on July 10, 1987. The Second Amended Complaint named the same defendants as the First Amended Complaint. Keith Murphy was not included as a plaintiff in the Second Amended Complaint. The defendants filed various motions to dismiss the Second Amended Complaint. In an order dated November 10, 1987, the Court granted the motions to dismiss on the grounds that the Second Amended Complaint sought to hold the individual defendants personally liable for their legislative conduct for which the individuals were absolutely immune. The Court gave plaintiffs leave to file an amended complaint "eliminating any causes of action against the defendants in their individual capacities based on the defendants' legislative activities." November 10, 1987, order at 16. In order to clarify plaintiffs' claims against each defendant and to distinguish the claims from one another, the Court further ordered plaintiffs to plead each count and the facts supporting each count separately, to plead separate counts for each defendant, and to plead counts based on defendants actions in their individual capacities separately from counts based on defendants' actions in their official capacities. Id. at 15-17.

On December 7, 1987, the plaintiffs filed their Third Amended Complaint. The Third Amended Complaint included the same defendants as the Second Amended Complaint with the exception of Carlin Washo and John P. Purser III. The Third Amended Complaint further named Paul Mazade in his capacity as Mayor of Howey. The plaintiffs failed, however, to plead each count and the facts supporting each count separately, to plead separate counts for each defendant, and to plead counts based on defendants' actions in their individual capacities separately from counts based on defendants' actions in their official capacities. On April 1, 1988, the Court granted defendants' motions to dismiss the Third Amended Complaint for violation of the Court's order of November 10, 1987.3 The Court gave plaintiffs leave to file a Fourth Amended Complaint and gave plaintiffs further instructions in pleading.

Plaintiffs filed the Fourth Amended Complaint on April 20, 1988. The defendants listed in the Fourth Amended Complaint were the same as those in the Third Amended Complaint with the exception of Alan B. Mills. The plaintiffs withdrew the claims against defendants Arthur W. Pratt and Rodney T. Griffin by stipulation on May 6, 1988. Defendants once again filed a motion to dismiss. In light of counsels' representations as to the law and the fact that discovery in the case had terminated on June 29, 1988, the Court summarily denied the motion to dismiss stating that the issues would be more appropriately addressed on a motion for summary judgment.

Defendants filed their motion for summary judgment at bar on September 22, 1988. Plaintiffs filed their own motions for summary judgment on Counts IV and V on May 18, 1988, and July 22, 1988, respectively. The parties filed timely responses and replies. The Court heard oral argument on November 18, 1988.

III. Background Facts

The Court has carefully reviewed the pleadings, affidavits, exhibits, depositions, memoranda, transcript of oral argument on the instant motions for summary judgment, and the file in this case as a whole. Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 and for the purpose of summarizing the record, the Court will list various background facts as they appear on the record. In listing facts, the Court will resolve all genuinely disputed factual questions in plaintiffs' favor. The inclusion of facts in the statement of facts does not indicate that those facts listed are material pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. The Court's discussion of materiality is encompassed in the Court's analysis of the substantive law. Furthermore, the inclusion of various facts is not a finding that the defendants could not establish different facts if this case went to trial.

A. The Parties

1. This is an action pursuant to 42 U.S. C. § 1983, brought by a college for the learning disabled and one of its students. The defendants are Howey-in-the-Hills and two town officials who are sued in their individual capacities. The Complaint seeks declaratory and injunctive relief. Pretrial Stipulation, Stipulated Fact 1.

2. Plaintiff DeSisto College is a Florida not-for-profit corporation. The College is located in Howey-in-the-Hills, Florida. The College was temporarily licensed by the Florida State Board of Independent Colleges and Universities in March, 1986, and has operated under that temporary license since the College commenced classes on September 8, 1986. Pretrial...

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