Front Royal Indus. Park Corp. v. FRONT ROYAL, VA.

Decision Date11 April 1996
Docket NumberCivil A. No. 87-00019-H.
Citation922 F. Supp. 1131
CourtU.S. District Court — Western District of Virginia


Robert C. Fitzgerald, Hazel & Thomas, Falls Church, VA, and Myron C. Smith, Fairfax, VA, for plaintiff.

David N. Crump, Jr., Adamson, Crump & Sharp. P.C., Front Royal, VA, and Glenn M. Hodge, and Mark D. Obenshain, Harrisonburg, VA, for defendants.


MICHAEL, District Judge.

This matter comes before the court upon the plaintiff's motion to reinstate a prior judgment of this court and to update the previous award of damages and attorneys' fees. In the prior judgment, this court held that the defendants had effected a so-called "regulatory taking"1 without providing just compensation in violation of the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States2 where the defendants had concertedly denied and failed to furnish sewer service to property owned by the plaintiff notwithstanding the explicit mandate of a Virginia Annexation Court. The court previously held additionally that the defendants had likewise denied the plaintiff the equal protection under the laws in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment3 where the defendants could not establish that a legitimate governmental interest was furthered by failing to furnish sewer service to the plaintiff's property yet furnishing such service to property owed by citizens similarly-situated to the plaintiff. For the reasons stated below, the court will reinstate its prior judgment, as amended by this opinion, and will award the plaintiff damages of $359,441.47 and attorneys' fees of $105,317.19.

I. Factual Background

In 1973 and in 1974, the plaintiff, Front Royal and Warren County Industrial Park Corporation, purchased parcels of land ultimately comprising eighty-six acres and then located in Warren County, Virginia. The cumulative purchase price was approximately $107,000.00. The plaintiff subdivided its property into sixteen lots suitable for industrial development. None of these lots had access to public water or sewer service, and the industrial properties could not be developed without such services. Accordingly, the plaintiff, along with adjacent residential property owners, petitioned for annexation by the defendant Town of Front Royal, Virginia (the "Town") to obtain public water and sewer utilities. Immediately prior to any annexation hearing, R. Alton Morrison, an owner of adjacent property, petitioned to intervene and to have his property included in the area sought to be annexed. Morrison's property was located across the street from the plaintiff's property.

On December 31, 1978, the Town annexed the plaintiff's property pursuant to an October 20, 1978 Order of a Virginia Annexation Court.4 In its Order, the Annexation Court required the Town to construct water and collector sanitary sewer lines to serve the properties annexed and provided that such construction was to be completed no later than five (5) years from the effective date of the final order.5 The Town zoned the plaintiff's lots for industrial use. In 1983, the Town requested and received a two-year extension of the five-year deadline.

Subsequent to the annexation of 1978 and prior to the installation of any water or sewer lines in the area annexed, the Town and Warren County jointly caused the creation of the Town and County Industrial Authority (the "Authority"), which had as its purpose the development into an industrial park the property located across the state route from the plaintiff's property. During the same period, the plaintiff invested approximately $300,000.00 in preparing its annexed land for use as an industrial park. However, the plaintiff began to believe that the Town intended to locate the sewer trunk line on the property across from the plaintiff's property, which sewer trunk line would service all of the Morrison property but only three of the plaintiff's sixteen lots. Consequently, the plaintiff petitioned that the Annexation Court reconvene and requested that the Town be compelled to install the sewer trunk line to provide service to all of the lots belonging to the plaintiff. At a December 13, 1984 hearing before the Annexation Court, the Town assured the Annexation Court that the Town would install sewer lines to provide service to all of the plaintiff's property upon the plaintiff's application for the service. Accordingly, the reconvened Annexation Court determined that the Town was in substantial compliance with its 1978 Order.

Ironically, in July 1984, the plaintiff had made an application for sewer service. Through May 20, 1986, the Town's Council repeatedly "deferred" its decision on providing the sewer service to the plaintiff's property. On May 20, 1986, the Town's Mayor and Council agreed to deny the plaintiff's application at the next official meeting of the Council on June 9, 1986. On June 10, 1986, the Town's Council notified the plaintiff of the denial and stated:

The mandate of the Annexation Court was service to the residents and industrial concerns of the annexed areas which are actually located therein. This the Town intends to honor. But, the Annexation Court did not intend that the Town be required to construct meaningless lines without users, simply because a landowner so requested.

Finally, as of November 29, 1995, the Town had installed the sewer system to service all of the individual lots of the plaintiff's property.

II. Procedural Background

On February 12, 1987, the plaintiff filed an action in this court seeking damages for the Town's failure to provide sewer service as required by the Order of the Annexation Court.6 In Front Royal & Warren County Indus. Park Corp. v. Town of Front Royal, Nos. CA-87-0019 & CA-87-0020, 1988 WL 156285 (W.D.Va. Feb. 22, 1988) ("Front Royal I"), this court overruled the defendants' defense of absolute legislative immunity.7 On appeal of this interlocutory order, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed. See Front Royal & Warren County Indus. Park Corp. v. Town of Front Royal, 865 F.2d 77 (4th Cir.1989) ("Front Royal II").

In Front Royal & Warren County Indus. Park Corp. v. Town of Front Royal, 708 F.Supp. 1477 (W.D.Va.1989), vacated, 945 F.2d 760 (4th Cir.1991) ("Front Royal III"), this court overruled the defendants' defense on the ground of qualified executive immunity8 and granted the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment for a violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 pursuant to a takings claim and an equal protection claim. In Front Royal & Warren County Indus. Park Corp. v. Town of Front Royal, 749 F.Supp. 1439 (W.D.Va.1990), vacated, 945 F.2d 760 (4th Cir.1991) ("Front Royal IV"), this court awarded the plaintiff $489,072.40 in compensatory damages.

In Front Royal & Warren County Indus. Park Corp. v. Town of Front Royal, 945 F.2d

760 (4th Cir.1991) ("Front Royal V"), the Court of Appeals vacated the decisions of this court in Front Royal III and Front Royal IV. The Court of Appeals reasoned as follows:

At the heart of the case before us is the question whether Front Royal ever complied with the orders of the Annexation Courts. The answer requires interpretation of the Annexation Courts' orders, which is a determination that the Annexation Court was uniquely qualified to make. The annexation system as set up in Virginia is a complex scheme. It involves a court system set up specifically to deal with the annexation process. It provides for appeal to the Virginia courts if the town fails to comply with the Annexation Court's orders. We believe that this annexation scheme is sufficiently local in nature to warrant our abstaining from deciding the issues before us. Like the claims in Fralin & Waldron, Inc. v. Martinsville, 493 F.2d 481 (4th Cir.1974), all of plaintiffs' federal claims necessarily depend upon the construction of state law — here the orders of the Annexation Courts. The courts of Virginia have much greater familiarity with the operations of the Virginia annexation scheme, and we believe that they should have the first opportunity to pass upon them.

Id. at 764-65 (internal citation omitted). The Court of Appeals believed also that there existed "other state remedies which might be available to plaintiffs." Id. at 765. Consequently, in accordance with the so-called "abstention doctrine" promulgated in Burford v. Sun Oil Co., 319 U.S. 315, 63 S.Ct. 1098, 87 L.Ed. 1424, reh'g denied, 320 U.S. 214, 63 S.Ct. 1442, 87 L.Ed. 1851 (1943), the Court of Appeals vacated the judgment of this court, yet remanded and instructed this court to retain jurisdiction pending the outcome of any state proceedings because such state proceedings may not fully dispose of all of the federal claims. See id.9 Thus, the federal courts sent the plaintiff off to seek its state remedies.10

By letters dated December 6, 1991, counsel for the plaintiff requested that both the Town and Warren County respectively petition the 1978 Annexation Court to reconvene. Pursuant to Va.Code Ann. § 15.1-1047 (Michie 1995), the plaintiffs could not directly petition the Annexation Court to reconvene. Additionally, § 15.1-1047 prescribes a ten-year period of existence for annexation courts, which period in the instant matter had expired in 1988. On January 9, 1992, counsel for the defendants notified the plaintiff that it was unnecessary for the Town to respond to the plaintiff's December 6, 1991 request.

The plaintiff filed a Petition for Writ of Mandamus and Other Relief in the Warren County Circuit Court. On April 14, 1993, Judge John E. Wetsel, Jr., granted the plaintiff's request for issuance of a writ of mandamus to the Town. Front Royal & Warren County Indus. Park Corp. v. Town of Front Royal, Chancery No. 92-121 (Warren County Cir. Ct. April 14,...

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5 cases
  • Allen, In re
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit
    • February 6, 1997
    ...F.3d 1540, 1545-47 (11th Cir.1995); Merritt v. Mackey, 827 F.2d 1368, 1373 (9th Cir.1987); Front Royal and Warren County Indus. Park Corp. v. Town of Front Royal, 922 F.Supp. 1131, 1142 (W.D.Va.1996). However, this question is one of first impression in this The Supreme Court has discussed ......
  • Front Royal and Warren County Indus. Park Corp. v. Town of Front Royal, Va.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit
    • January 23, 1998
    ...reinstate its prior judgment and amend the previous award of damages and attorney's fees. In a published opinion, see 922 F.Supp. 1131 (W.D.Va.1996) (Front Royal VII ), the district court granted IPC's motion and, following the completion of the sewer lines by the Town, now awards IPC damag......
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    ...8, 120 L.Ed.2d at 815 n. 8. Some courts appear to have adopted the suggested rule. See Front Royal and Warren County Indus. Park Corp. v. Town of Front Royal Va., 922 F.Supp. 1131, 1144-51 (W.D.Va.1996); Florida Rock Indus. v. United States, 18 F.3d 1560, 1568-73 (Fed.Cir.1994), cert. denie......
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    ...Florida Rock Indus., Inc. v. United States, 18 F.3d 1560, 1562-73 (Fed.Cir.1994) (same); Front Royal and Warren County Indus. Park Corp. v. Town of Front Royal, 922 F.Supp. 1131, 1133-53 (W.D.Va.1996) (regarding town's refusal to provide necessary sewer service for development); Bowles v. U......
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