Murphy v. Zoning Com'n of Town of New Milford, No. CIV. 3:00 CV 2297 (HBF).

CourtUnited States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Connecticut)
Writing for the CourtFitzsimmons
Citation148 F.Supp.2d 173
PartiesRobert MURPHY and Mary Murphy Plaintiffs, v. ZONING COMMISSION OF THE TOWN OF NEW MILFORD, et al. Defendants.
Decision Date05 July 2001
Docket NumberNo. CIV. 3:00 CV 2297 (HBF).
148 F.Supp.2d 173
Robert MURPHY and Mary Murphy Plaintiffs,
v.
ZONING COMMISSION OF THE TOWN OF NEW MILFORD, et al. Defendants.
No. CIV. 3:00 CV 2297 (HBF).
United States District Court, D. Connecticut.
July 5, 2001.

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COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED

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Vincent P. McCarthy, McCarthy Law Offices, New Milford, CT, for Plaintiffs.

Steven E. Byrne, Law Offices of Thomas P. Bryne, Farmington, CT, for Defendants.

RULING ON PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION

FITZSIMMONS, United States Magistrate Judge.


In this action, plaintiffs allege violations of their constitutional rights, including the rights to free exercise of religion, free association, peaceable assembly, privacy, and speech, as well as due process, equal protection, takings, and establishment clause violations. [Doc. # 12, 35.] Plaintiffs also allege that defendants engaged in illegal reverse-spot zoning, an ultra vires act in violation of the town laws; and violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000cc, et seq., in addition to various state constitutional rights and state statutory provisions. [See id.]

On December 21, 2000, Judge Eginton granted plaintiffs' Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order. [Doc. # 17.] This court heard evidence on plaintiffs' Motion for Preliminary Injunction [Doc. # 3] on January 18, 2001.1 At the close of

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the preliminary injunction hearing, the court ordered further briefing on several issues. [Doc. # 29.] The parties submitted responses to the court's inquiries on March 12, 2001. [Doc. # 33, 34.] The Court delayed a ruling to give the parties time to discuss a settlement.

For the reasons discussed below, plaintiffs' Motion for Preliminary Injunction [Doc. # 3] is GRANTED. Defendants are enjoined from enforcing the cease and desist order issued to plaintiffs by the Zoning Enforcement Officer on December 19, 2000. This ruling is without prejudice to plaintiffs seeking further interim relief if faced with actions by the defendants which threaten the plaintiffs' rights while the case is pending, or permanent injunctive relief if plaintiffs prevail on the merits. See Sierra Club v. United States Army Corps. of Eng'rs, 732 F.2d 253, 256 (2d Cir.1984) (preliminary injunction issues to maintain the status quo pending a resolution of the case on the merits).

FINDINGS OF FACT

1. Plaintiffs Robert Murphy and Mary Murphy are the owners of, and have resided at, 25 Jefferson Street, New Milford, Connecticut for approximately 28 years. [Preliminary Injunction Hearing Transcript, Jan. 18, 2001, "T.," at 52]

2. Plaintiffs' home is in a single family residential neighborhood, at the end of a cul-de-sac [T. 15], on which seven houses are located [T. 117]

3. Plaintiffs started hosting prayer group meetings in their home on Sunday afternoons in 1994, after Mr. Murphy became ill. [T. 12]

4. Mr. Murphy testified that he and his wife and six children had always hosted various social gatherings in their home and would often have 50 to 60 guests, depending on the event. [T. at 12-14]

5. Mr. Murphy also testified that during these events, people would park their cars "anywhere they could" ... "[o]ut in the circle down the street, in the backyard, in the driveways, in their yard, [or] in the front lawn." [T. 14]

6. The prayer meetings generally last from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. on Sunday afternoons. [T. 17]

7. Some people who attend the prayer meetings come earlier than 4:30 p.m. for other matters, such as fund-raising or clothing or food donation drives, and many people stay after 6:30 p.m. for dinner. [T. at 16-17]

8. Plaintiffs do not limit the number of people they invite to the prayer group meetings. [T. 18]

9. Plaintiffs' meetings are not open to the general public. [T. at 19-20]

10. The number of people attending the prayer group varies, but is never less than ten to twelve people. [T. 44]

11. The prayer group meetings generally take place on an enclosed porch at the back of the house. [T. 18]

12. The number of people attending the weekly prayer group meeting has declined, in part because of the enforcement action and the town's position since "they're afraid [they will be] arrested." [T. 45]

13. Mr. Murphy testified that the weekly prayer group meetings are an important part of his faith because of the way he was raised and, for him, did not take the place of church. [T. at 20-22] He testified that the prayer meetings brought "him closer to God" and changed his life after he became ill. [T. 22]

14. Mr. Murphy testified that his religious beliefs required him to hold the prayer group meetings on Sunday and that enforcement of the cease and desist order

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would impede his ability to practice his beliefs. [T. at 46, 48-49]

15. Plaintiffs built an addition to their home in August 2000, creating a new garage with an upstairs living area. [T. 71] At that time, the existing driveway stopped at the addition. Plaintiffs then built a roughed-in driveway to a handicapped-parking area at the back of the addition. [T. at 24-25]

16. Plaintiffs obtained a permit to pave the rough portion of the driveway and the handicapped parking area in November 2000. [Pl. Exh. 1A, 1B] Plaintiffs did not pave the driveway during the fall because it was too late in the year, but indicated that they planned to do so in the future. [T. 28]

17. The Zoning Commission and the Zoning Enforcement Officer ("ZEO") have no authority to issue or revoke driveway permits. Rather, this authority is vested in the Mayor's office and in the public works department. [T. 68]

18. Around August 2000, the zoning office began receiving complaints about plaintiffs' meetings because of traffic concerns, parking on the street, and parking in the rear yard. [T. at 83, 116]

19. After complaining to the zoning office, the neighbors then began expressing their concerns at the public participation sessions of the New Milford Zoning Commission ("Commission") meetings. [T. 83]

20. Once the Commission began receiving these complaints from plaintiffs' neighbors, it instructed the ZEO to investigate the situation and to speak with the plaintiffs. [T. at 84, 118]

21. Plaintiffs' neighbors submitted letters to the commissioners detailing their concerns. Specifically, the neighbors' concerns stemmed from the increased flow of traffic on the street and fear that, in the event of an accident, emergency personnel would be unable to maneuver around the vehicles. The neighbors also expressed concerns about the safety of children playing in the cul-de-sac. [Def. Exh. 512-514]

22. The police have been called to plaintiffs' home on several occasions due to complaints about the number of parked cars, but plaintiffs have not been cited for any violation. [T. at 35-36]

23. After her investigation of the neighbors' complaints, the ZEO requested that the Commission issue an opinion on whether plaintiffs' use of their property conformed with the town's zoning regulations. [T. 165]

24. On November 28, 2000, the Commission issued an opinion regarding whether the Sunday meetings were a permitted use under the zoning regulations. [Def. Exh. 516]

25. The Commission found that regularly scheduled meetings are not a customary accessory use in a single-family residential area. [Def. Exh. 516, at 3.] In determining whether a particular use is a "customary accessory use," the town uses a case-by-case analysis and relies upon no zoning guidelines.

26. The Commission stated that:

[s]uch regularly scheduled meetings together with the construction and use of the parking lot associated therewith, in the opinion of the commission, do not constitute a permitted principal use of a single-family home in an R-40 zone because they are not listed as such in the zoning regulations, nor do they constitute a permitted accessory use because, to the knowledge of the commission, such a use has not been commonly, habitually and by long practice been established as reasonably associated with a single-family home in an R-40 zone.

[Def. Exh. 516, at 4.]

27. Plaintiffs received a letter from the ZEO on November 29, 2000, stating that

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the meetings plaintiffs held on Sunday afternoons were prohibited and that plaintiffs were not permitted to use their rear yard as a parking lot for the attendees of these meetings. [Pl. Exh. 2]

28. The ZEO testified that the zoning regulations do not permit a large assembly of people in a single-family residential neighborhood. [T. 107] When asked what was too large, the ZEO responded that there was not a set number. [See id.] The decision turned on when the number of people assembled became so large that it had a negative impact on the neighborhood. [See id.]

29. The ZEO did not know if the Commission investigated whether other people had prayer group meetings in their homes, or other regular group meetings, such as Cub Scout meetings.

30. Prior to issuing their opinion, commissioners were given photographs taken by plaintiffs' neighbors of cars parked in plaintiffs' backyard and on the cul-de-sac. [T. 74; Def. Exh. 505-511]

31. The ZEO testified that she visited plaintiffs' property on three Sundays and found that the number of cars in plaintiffs' driveway or rear yard and in the cul-de-sac ranged from 13 to 20 cars. She did not find that any of the parked cars blocked access to any of the neighbors' properties. [T. at 75-76]

32. On December 19, 2000, the ZEO issued a cease and desist order, charging plaintiffs with violations of the single-family district regulations

which [do] not permit use of said premises as a meeting place by a diverse group of people (25 to 40), who are not "family" as that term is defined in these regulations, on a regularly scheduled basis, in this instance each Sunday, throughout the year; nor do the regulations permit the use of a parking lot in the rear yard of said premises which is being used to meet the parking needs of those persons attending the...

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40 practice notes
  • Elsinore Christian Center v. City of Lake Elsinore, CV 01-04842 SVW (RCx) (C.D. Cal. 6/23/2003), CV 01-04842 SVW (RCx).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Central District of California
    • June 23, 2003
    ...that concerns regarding the vitality of city life are of paramount importance in land use planning. See Murphy v. Zoning Comm'n, 148 F. Supp. 2d 173, 190 (D. Conn. 2001) ("local governments have a compelling interest [under RLUIPA] in protecting the health and safety of their communities . ......
  • Guru Nanak Sikh Society v. County of Sutter, No. CV.S-02-1785 LKK/GGH.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Eastern District of California
    • November 19, 2003
    ...Grace United Methodist Church v. City of Cheyenne, 235 F.Supp.2d 1186 (D.Wyo.2002); Murphy v. Zoning Commission of Town of New Milford, 148 F.Supp.2d 173, 188-89 (D.Conn.2001). The use of term "chilling effect," however, seems inappropriate. As applied in the cases, this "chilling effect" s......
  • Cottonwood Christian Center v. Cypress Redev. Ag., No. SA CV 02-60 DOC (ANx).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Central District of California
    • August 6, 2002
    ...Cottonwood from meeting as a single body, as its beliefs counsel. The district court in Murphy v. Zoning Com'n of Town of New Milford, 148 F.Supp.2d 173 (D.Conn.2001), thoroughly set out the framework on the issue of "substantial "Substantial burden" has been defined or explained in various......
  • Murphy v. New Milford Zoning Com'n, Docket No. 03-9329.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit
    • March 25, 2005
    ...use decision to a zoning board of appeals or to apply for a variance before initiating a federal suit. See Murphy v. Zoning Comm'n, 148 F.Supp.2d 173, 184-85 (D.Conn.2001). The court next characterized the Murphys' claims as "primarily legal rather than factual" and concluded that "the part......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
40 cases
  • Elsinore Christian Center v. City of Lake Elsinore, CV 01-04842 SVW (RCx) (C.D. Cal. 6/23/2003), CV 01-04842 SVW (RCx).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Central District of California
    • June 23, 2003
    ...that concerns regarding the vitality of city life are of paramount importance in land use planning. See Murphy v. Zoning Comm'n, 148 F. Supp. 2d 173, 190 (D. Conn. 2001) ("local governments have a compelling interest [under RLUIPA] in protecting the health and safety of their communities . ......
  • Guru Nanak Sikh Society v. County of Sutter, No. CV.S-02-1785 LKK/GGH.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Eastern District of California
    • November 19, 2003
    ...Grace United Methodist Church v. City of Cheyenne, 235 F.Supp.2d 1186 (D.Wyo.2002); Murphy v. Zoning Commission of Town of New Milford, 148 F.Supp.2d 173, 188-89 (D.Conn.2001). The use of term "chilling effect," however, seems inappropriate. As applied in the cases, this "chilling effect" s......
  • Cottonwood Christian Center v. Cypress Redev. Ag., No. SA CV 02-60 DOC (ANx).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Central District of California
    • August 6, 2002
    ...Cottonwood from meeting as a single body, as its beliefs counsel. The district court in Murphy v. Zoning Com'n of Town of New Milford, 148 F.Supp.2d 173 (D.Conn.2001), thoroughly set out the framework on the issue of "substantial "Substantial burden" has been defined or explained in various......
  • Murphy v. New Milford Zoning Com'n, Docket No. 03-9329.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit
    • March 25, 2005
    ...use decision to a zoning board of appeals or to apply for a variance before initiating a federal suit. See Murphy v. Zoning Comm'n, 148 F.Supp.2d 173, 184-85 (D.Conn.2001). The court next characterized the Murphys' claims as "primarily legal rather than factual" and concluded that "the part......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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