Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Long PT. Cooper Investment Group LLC v. Town of Mount Pleasant

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division

April 8, 2019

LONG PT. COOPER INVESTMENT GROUP LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
TOWN OF MOUNT PLEASANT, MOUNT PLEASANT WATERWORKS, and CLAY DUFFIE, Defendants.

          ORDER

          DAVID C. NORTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The following matter is before the court on defendants Mount Pleasant Waterworks (MPW) and Clay Duffie's (“Duffie”) motion for summary judgment, ECF No. 45, and defendant Town of Mount Pleasant's (“the Town”) motion for summary judgment, ECF No. 46. For the reasons set forth below, the court grants the motions.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The case arises from a dispute over sewer services. Plaintiff Long Pt. Cooper LLC (“Long Pt. Cooper”)[1] purchased two pieces of property (“the Properties”) in an unincorporated area of Charleston County that is contiguous to the Town's boundaries. The Properties were previously used as a concrete facility, and they have septic tanks instead of sewer service. Long Pt. Cooper alleges that prior to purchasing the Properties, the members of Long Pt. Cooper met with then Mayor Billy Swails, and he expressed a desire that the Properties be developed. Long Pt. Cooper explains that prior to closing the sale, it knew that the Properties did not have sewer service, but it still purchased the Properties in reliance on its conversations with Mayor Swails and the fact that it expected that MPW would still provide sewer service even if the Town did not approve an annexation petition.

         Long Pt. Cooper contends that it worked with the Town to create a development plan for the Properties that the Town would accept. On June 25, 2014, Long Pt. Cooper submitted petitions for annexation of the Properties into the Town. Over the next year, Long Pt. Cooper amended its petitions, and the final petitions requested: (1) annexation; (2) zoning of the Properties as PD, or Planned Development; and (3) an amendment the Town's Comprehensive Plan. Long Pt. Cooper alleges that the Town frequently considers these types of requests within a petition as a bundle of requests instead of separate requests.

         On November 10, 2015, the Town Council considered the petitions for the first time. When considering the petitions, one of the council members asked how the Properties would be zoned if they were annexed. ECF No. 45-4 at 3. Another council member responded that absent a zoning request, it would come zoned as R-1, which is low-density residential. Id.; ECF No. 46-1 at 2. The Town contends that is unknown what zoning classification the Properties would have ultimately been given after annexation because Long Pt. Cooper withdrew its petitions, preventing the Town from making a zoning determination; however, Long Pt. Cooper asserts the Town would have imposed a default R-1 zoning, making it impractical for Long Pt. Cooper's development plans. ECF No. 45-4 at 1. The Town Council ultimately voted to approve the annexation requests but to deny the zoning requests and the requests for an amendment to the Comprehensive Plan. Long Pt. Cooper alleges that this piecemeal treatment of its petitions is contrary to the Town's previous treatment of petitions of this nature, which are normally approved in full or denied in full.

         Long Pt. Cooper alleges that the Town Council's acceptance of the annexation requests but denial of the zoning requests forced Long Pt. Cooper to withdraw the petitions prior to the Town Council's second reading. In its letter withdrawing the petitions, Long Pt. Cooper stated that it was doing so “[b]ecause the default R-1 zoning the Town would impose on the parcels is impractical, financially unfeasible, out of keeping with the surrounding development and the applicant's intended use, and a massive downzoning of the properties.” ECF No. 45-5 at 1. In other words, Long Pt. Cooper believed that once annexed, the Properties would be zoned so that Long Pt. Cooper could not profitably develop the land. The Town accepted the letter and withdrew the petitions prior to the Town Council's second reading, meaning that the Properties were not annexed into the Town.

         In January 2016, Long Pt. Cooper made a written request and application to MPW for sewer service for the Properties. MPW responded with a letter on January 26, 2016 acknowledging its receipt of Long Pt. Cooper's request. MPW then sent a form to the Town to determine if the Properties were contiguous, and the Town completed the form, confirming that the Properties were contiguous. The Town's lawyer subsequently sent an email to MPW's lawyer telling MPW that the Town's position was that the Properties' annexation was neither approved nor denied because Long Pt. Cooper withdrew its petitions. This fact is crucial, because according to § 51.092 of the Town's ordinances, MPW may only provide sewer services to Properties that have been annexed or denied annexation. The ordinance states:

(A) Continguous Properties. Annexation into the Town is required as a condition prior to the Mount Pleasant Town Waterworks providing sanitary sewer to any lot, parcel, or piece of land located outside the corporate limits of the Town and contiguous to the Town limits.
(B) Denied Contiguous Properties. If a formal annexation petition on any lot, piece, or parcel of land, located outside the corporate limits of the Town and also contiguous to the Town, is denied by the Town, or if Town Council make[s] such a determination on its own motion without a petition, sanitary sewer services may be provided by the Mount Pleasant Waterworks to such property, notwithstanding division (A) of this Section.

         Am. Compl. ¶ 15. Pursuant to the Town's position on the annexation issue, MPW denied sewer service to the Properties because the Properties were neither annexed, as required by § 51.092(A), nor had their annexation petitions been denied, as required by § 51.092(B). Long Pt. Cooper alleges that there is no process for the Town to communicate annexation status to MPW and that it was unusual for the Town to communicate with MPW about this issue.

         MPW also contends that it denied sewer service to the Properties because the Properties did not comply with MPW's Guidelines for Development, which state:

Any property that has wastewater service available and is not within the Town limits of Mount Pleasant [ ] will be referred to the Town of Mount Pleasant Planning Department to ensure compliance with the Town's Sewer Use Ordinance, Annexation for Sewer Services requirements. The Engineering Department cannot provide service until notification is received from the Town Planning Department that annexation requirements have been met.

ECF No. 45-1 at 6-7. Long Pt. Cooper contends that it is unclear whether MPW is actually obligated to abide by the Town's annexation decisions based on statements made by the current Mayor of the Town.

As a result of the denial of sewer service to the Properties, Long Pt. Cooper filed this action in the Court of Common Pleas for the County of Charleston, South Carolina on May 4, 2016. Long Pt. Cooper amended its state court complaint on August 10, 2016 and now seeks: (1) a declaratory judgment declaring that the Town denied Long Pt. Cooper's annexation petitions and that Long Pt. Cooper has satisfied the requirements of § 51.092 of the Town's ordinances; (2) a writ of mandamus compelling Duffie and MPW to provide sewer service the Properties; (3) a mandatory injunction compelling MPW to provide sewer service to the Properties; (4) a mandatory injunction compelling MPW to provide sewer service to the Properties based on MPW and the Town's violation of Long Pt. Cooper's rights to substantive due process and equal protection; (5) a mandatory injunction compelling MPW to provide sewer services to the Properties based on MPW and the Town's deprivation of Long Pt. Cooper's rights, privileges, or immunities in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and (6) actual damages arising from the diminished value of the Properties and the lost profits from Long Pt. Cooper's inability to develop the Properties.
The Town removed the case on September 7, 2016 on the basis of federal question jurisdiction arising from the substantive due process and equal protection claims. MPW and Duffie filed a motion for summary judgment on October 19, 2018. ECF No. 45. The Town filed a motion for summary judgment on the same day. ECF No. 46. Long Pt. Cooper responded to both motions on November 16, 2018, ECF No. 40, and the Town replied on November 30, 2018, ECF No. 53. The court held a hearing on the motions on February 14, 2019. The motions are now ripe for review.

         II. STANDARD

         Summary judgment shall be granted “if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). “By its very terms, this standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). “Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Id. at 248. “[S]ummary judgment will not lie if the dispute about a material fact is ‘genuine,' that is, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. “[A]t the summary judgment stage the judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 249. The court should view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all inferences in its favor. Id. at 255.

         III. DISCUSSION

         The court grants summary judgment as to all of Long Pt. Cooper's claims because they can all be resolved on a legal basis, and there are no genuine issues of material fact that could affect their outcome. All of Long Pt. Cooper's actions stem from its characterization of the Town's treatment of the Properties' petitions as a de facto denial. However, as discussed below, the court finds that the Town's treatment of the petitions was not a de facto denial. Moreover, MPW's denial of sewer services to the Properties did not violate Long Pt. Cooper's substantive due process rights because under South Carolina law, Long Pt. Cooper does not have a property interest in sewer services. Summary judgment is also warranted for Long Pt. Cooper's equal protection claim because Long Pt. Cooper has presented no evidence that the Properties were treated differently than other similarly situated properties. And as a result of summary judgment on these first three claims, the remaining causes of actions cannot survive.

         A. Declaratory Judgment

         Long Pt. Cooper first seeks a declaratory judgment from the court that the Town's treatment of its petitions was a de facto denial. The Town, MPW, and Duffie (collectively, “defendants”) argue that there was no de facto denial because Long Pt. Cooper voluntarily withdrew its petitions, and the concept of a de facto denial has never been applied in such a context. Moreover, the Town argues that determining the Town de facto denied the petitions would require the court to delve into a local land dispute, ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.