Justia U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Zoning, Planning & Land Use
by
Palisade sought to build a 150-bed for-profit assisted living facility, which would provide supportive services to memory care patients 0n a 4.96-acre parcel located partially in the city and partially in the borough. The city opposes its construction because the property is in a “one-family residence” zoning district. Palisade argued that the zoning ordinance discriminated on its face against individuals with disabilities by not permitting assisted living facilities as of right in the single-family district and by explicitly allowing them in only one zoning district. The district court granted Palisade a preliminary injunction.The Third Circuit vacated. The zoning ordinance, by failing to include “assisted living facilities” among its permitted uses in the single-family district, but explicitly allowing them in a different district, does not facially discriminate against the disabled in violation of the Fair Housing Amendments Act, 42 U.S.C. 3604. Failure to permit a land use as of right is not tantamount to an express prohibition. There is no indication that disabled status, rather than the building size or the commercial character of the development, is the dispositive trait, singled out for different treatment. The court noted that Palisade did not seek a variance. View "431 East Palisade Avenue Real Estate LLC v. City of Englewood" on Justia Law

by
The Baptistes filed suit on behalf of a class of homeowner-occupants and renters (about 8,400 households) claiming interference with the use and enjoyment of their homes and loss in property value caused by noxious odors and other air contaminants emanating from the 224-acre Bethlehem Landfill. The Third Circuit reversed the dismissal of the suit. While everyone in the community—including visitors, commuters, and residents—may suffer from having to breathe polluted air in public spaces, the Baptistes have identified cumulative harms that are unique to residents, such as the inability to use and enjoy their outdoor spaces. These injuries are above and beyond any injury to the public; the Baptistes sufficiently alleged a “particular damage” to sustain a private claim for public nuisance. They also stated a claim for private nuisance. Pennsylvania law does not reject a private nuisance claim on the ground that the property affected was too far from the source of the alleged nuisance. Nor does Pennsylvania law condition an individual’s right to recover private property damages on a nuisance theory on the size of the nuisance or the number of persons harmed, as opposed to the nature of the rights affected or the degree of the harm suffered. The question remains whether the Baptistes have sufficiently pleaded a cognizable injury to state an independent negligence claim. View "Baptiste v. Bethlehem Landfill Co." on Justia Law

by
Planned Parenthood was the site of numerous clashes between opponents and advocates of abortion rights, including bomb threats, vandalism, and blockades. The police deployed an overtime detail to maintain order. After Pittsburgh was declared a financially distressed municipality in 2003, the detail was discontinued. Police were called as needed. The clinic reported an “obvious escalation.” The City Council held hearings on proposed legislation. Many witnesses expounded on the competing interests and expressed a desire to protect both free speech and access to healthcare, including abortions. A member of the police overtime detail attested that the criminal laws were not adequate. The Ordinance states that “[n]o person or persons shall knowingly congregate, patrol, picket or demonstrate” in a 15-foot “buffer zone” outside the entrance of any hospital or healthcare facility. Plaintiffs engage in leafletting and “peaceful . . . one-on-one conversations” conducted “at a normal conversational level and distance” intended to dissuade listeners from obtaining an abortion. The city asserted that the Ordinance applies to this “sidewalk counseling,” The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the city, concluding that the Ordinance does not cover sidewalk counseling and thus does not impose a significant burden on speech. The Ordinance prohibits “congregat[ing],” “patrol[ling],” “picket[ing],” and “demonstrat[ing],” saying nothing about leafletting or one-on-one conversations. Nor does it mention a particular topic or purpose. With respect to the listed activities, the Ordinance is “narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest.” View "Bruni v. City of Pittsburgh" on Justia Law

by
The Authority's Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre holds up to 10,000 people and hosts athletic and other commercial entertainment events. The Arena is set back and fenced apart from the public road. Patrons drive on an access road, park in an Arena parking lot, and then walk on a concrete concourse to the “East Gate” and “West Gate” entrances. “All persons are welcome to express their views” at the Arena; protesters must stand within “designated area[s]” on the concourse and “[h]andouts can only be distributed from within” those areas. The designated areas are two “rectangular enclosure[s] constructed from bike racks,” next to the Gates. The policy bans protesters from using profanity or artificial voice amplification. LCA, an animal rights group wanting to protest circus events, sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983.The trial court found that the Authority was “a public governmental entity acting under color of state law” and entered a preliminary injunction that allowed up to 20 protesters to distribute literature and talk to patrons within a circumscribed section of the concourse; protesters could not block ingress or egress. LCA protested under those terms at 2016-2017 circus performances. At a subsequent trial, LCA introduced evidence that protesters in the "designated areas" attracted little attention and videos showing nonconfrontational interactions with no abnormal congestion. The Arena expressed concerns about unruly protestors and argued that the location condition minimizes congestion and security risks. The court found all three restrictions violated the First Amendment.The Third Circuit reversed in part. The concourse’s function is to facilitate pedestrian movement; a policy sensibly designed to minimize interference with that flow is not unreasonable. The Arena did not establish that the bans on profanity and voice amplification are reasonable. View "Pomicter v. Luzerne County Convention Center" on Justia Law

by
Matheis, a retired police officer who has successfully managed a diagnosis of PTSD, routinely and safely donated plasma roughly 90 times in an 11-month period at CSL’s plasma donation facility. CSL barred him from making further donations when he brought his new service dog, Odin, to the facility, citing its policy to bar any individual who is prescribed daily more than two separate anxiety medications or who uses a service animal to manage anxiety. The company required Matheis to provide a letter from his doctor stating he had no need for a service animal before it would screen him for further plasma donation. He sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12181. The Third Circuit reversed the district court. Plasma donation centers are “service establishments,” subject to the ADA’s prohibition on unreasonable discrimination. CSL violated the ADA by imposing a blanket ban on prospective donors who use a psychiatric service animal. Public accommodations like CSL must permit disabled individuals to use service animals unless they can show a regulatory exception applies, “based on actual risks and not on mere speculation, stereotypes, or generalizations about individuals with disabilities.” View "Matheis, Jr. v. CSL Plasma Inc" on Justia Law

by
Englewood amended its ordinances to address aggressive antiabortion protests that had been regularly occurring outside of a health clinic that provided reproductive health services, including abortions. Some of the “militant activists and aggressive protestors” support violent reprisal against abortion providers. The ordinance restricted the use of public ways and sidewalks adjacent to healthcare facilities during business hours to persons entering or leaving such facility; the facility's employees and agents; law enforcement, ambulance, firefighting, construction, utilities, public works and other municipal agents within the scope of their employment; and persons using the public way solely to reach another destination. The ordinance created overlapping buffer zones at qualifying facilities. Turco, a non-aggressive “sidewalk counselor,” filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging violations of her First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, assembly, and association. The district court concluded that the statute was overbroad and not narrowly tailored to serve the government’s interest. The Third Circuit reversed, finding that genuine issues of material fact preclude the entry of summary judgment to either side. The buffer zones’ exact impact on the sidewalk counselors’ speech and the concomitant efficacy of their attempts to communicate is unclear. Turco admitted that she continued to speak with patients entering the clinic. The city considered and attempted to implement alternatives before creating the buffer zone. View "Turco v. City of Englewood" on Justia Law

by
Under the Natural Gas Act of 1938 (NGA), 15 U.S.C. 717, Tennessee Gas holds a certificate of public convenience and necessity from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, authorizing it to construct natural gas pipelines in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Tennessee Gas sought easements over King’s 975-acre Pike County, Pennsylvania tract. After unsuccessfully attempting to purchase the easements, Tennessee Gas filed a condemnation action under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 71.1. The parties stipulated that Tennessee Gas could access and possess the easements, then engaged in discovery pertinent to determining the appropriate compensation. The district court ruled that federal law governs the substantive determination of just compensation and that, although King could recover consequential damages for professional fees and development costs under Pennsylvania law, it could not do so under federal law. The Third Circuit reversed. Because federal law does not supply a rule of decision on this precise issue, the court created a common law remedy, opting to incorporate state law as the federal standard. The court reasoned that fashioning a nationally uniform rule is unnecessary, incorporating state law does not frustrate the NGA’s objectives, and application of a uniform federal rule would risk “upsetting the parties’ commercial expectations” based upon “the already well-developed state property regime.” View "Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co v. Permanent Easement for 7.053 Acres" on Justia Law

by
T Mobile unsuccessfully applied to Wilmington’s Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) for permission to erect an antenna. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 allows a disappointed wireless service provider to seek review in a district court “within 30 days after” a zoning authority’s “final action,” 47 U.S.C. 332(c)(7)(B)(v), T Mobile filed suit. After the case had proceeded for over a year, the district court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction because the claim was not ripe; T Mobile filed its complaint before the ZBA released a written decision confirming an earlier oral rejection of the zoning application. T Mobile had not supplemented its complaint to include the ZBA’s written decision within 30 days of its issuance. The Third Circuit remanded the case. While only a written decision can serve as a locality’s final action when denying an application and the issuance of that writing is the government “act” ruled by the 30-day provision, that timing requirement is not jurisdictional. An untimely supplemental complaint can, by relating back, cure an initial complaint that was unripe. The district court had jurisdiction and should not have granted Wilmington’s motion for summary judgment. View "T Mobile Northeast LLC v. Wilmington" on Justia Law

by
In 2007, the Site, in Trainer Borough, was owned by SCT, and used for making corrosion inhibitors, fuel additives, and oil additives. SCT kept flammable, corrosive, and combustible chemicals. Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) determined that “there is a release or threat of release of hazardous substances or contaminants, which presents a substantial danger to human health or the environment. The federal EPA initiated removal actions. SCT could not afford the cleanup expenses, including electricity to power pollution control and security equipment, The power company was going to shut off the Site's electricity, so PADEP assumed responsibility for the bills. Delaware County forced a tax sale. Buyers purchased the Site for $20,000; the purchase agreement stated that the Site had ongoing environmental issues and remediation. Trainer Custom Chemical took title in October 2012. The EPA and PADEP completed their removal actions in December 2012. PADEP had incurred more than $818,000 in costs. The buyers had demolished many of the Site’s structures; reclaimed salvageable materials were sold for $875,000. In 2014, PADEP received reports indicating that hazards still existed at the Site; its buildings had asbestos-containing materials. PADEP sued under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. 9601-28, and Pennsylvania’s Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act (HSCA), to recover cleanup costs. The Third Circuit held that the Buyer is liable for environmental cleanup costs incurred at the Site both before and after the Buyer acquired it. View "Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection v. Trainer Custom Chemical LLC" on Justia Law

by
From 1910 until 1986, Greenlease Holding Co. (“Greenlease”), a subsidiary of the Ampco-Pittsburgh Corporation (“Ampco”), owned a contaminated manufacturing site in Greenville, Pennsylvania. Trinity Industries, Inc. and its wholly-owned subsidiary, Trinity Industries Railcar Co. (collectively, “Trinity”), acquired the site from Greenlease in 1986 and continued to manufacture railcars there until 2000. An investigation by Pennsylvania into Trinity’s waste disposal activities resulted in a criminal prosecution and eventual plea-bargained consent decree which required, in relevant part, that Trinity remediate the contaminated land. That effort cost Trinity nearly $9 million. This appeal arose out of the district court’s determination that, under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (“CERCLA”), and Pennsylvania’s Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act (“HSCA”), Trinity was entitled to contribution from Greenlease for remediation costs. The parties filed cross-appeals challenging a number of the district court’s rulings, including its ultimate allocation of cleanup costs. The Third Circuit ultimately affirmed the district court on several pre-trial rulings on dispositive motions, vacated the cost allocation determination and remanded for further proceedings. View "Trinity Industries Inc v. Greenlease Holding Co." on Justia Law