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Madden v. Town of New Haven

United States District Court, D. Vermont

July 14, 2015

John Madden, Plaintiff,
v.
Town of New Haven, Vermont, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER (Doc. 17)

JOHN M. CONROY, Magistrate Judge.

New Haven, Vermont resident and "Registered Voter" John Madden, proceeding pro se, brings this voting-rights action under 28 U.S.C. § 1343 and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Town of New Haven (the "Town"). ( See Doc. 1.) Specifically, Madden claims that the Town "has deprived the registered voters of the Right of Vote" by amending the "Town Plan Land Use Zoning Districts Map"[1] without holding an Australian ballot vote under 24 V.S.A. § 4385(c).[2] ( See Doc. 1.) For relief, Madden seeks an order that amendments to the "Town Plan Land Use Zoning Districts Map" be made by Australian ballot vote. ( Id. ) The Town filed an Answer on January 16, 2015, denying that the Court has jurisdiction to hear Madden's claim, denying that it deprived the Town's voters of the right to vote as Madden claims, and asserting a variety of affirmative defenses, including res judicata. (Doc. 6 at 1-3.)

On April 8, 2015, the Town filed a Motion to Dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) and (6), (Doc. 17), and accompanying memorandum in support (Doc. 17-1).[3] The Town argues that the Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction to hear the action; that a determination by the Vermont Superior Court, Environmental Division precludes federal consideration; that Madden lacks standing to bring the action; and that Madden has failed to present any legally cognizable case or controversy. (Doc. 17.) The Town also seeks an award of its costs and attorney's fees in regards to its Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 17-1 at 6.) Madden filed a Response on May 11, 2015. (Doc. 23.)

The Court held a hearing on the Town's Motion to Dismiss on June 19, 2015. The Court has also reviewed Madden's post-hearing filing dated June 20, 2015. (Doc. 30.) All parties have consented to direct assignment to the undersigned Magistrate Judge. (Docs. 3, 7.) For the reasons discussed below, the Town's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 17) is GRANTED and the case is DISMISSED.

Background

Madden's one-page Complaint contains few factual allegations other than those stated above. For the purposes of the Town's res judicata argument, the Court takes notice of the Vermont Superior Court, Environmental Division's decisions in Madden v. Town of New Haven, No. 49-4-14 Vtec.[4] In that case, Madden appealed pro se the Town Selectboard's decision to amend the Town bylaws and Zoning Map to reflect zoning changes to a certain parcel of land within the Town. In a decision dated September 12, 2014, the Superior Court, Environmental Division granted summary judgment to the Town, rejecting Madden's assertion that amending the Zoning Map requires a town vote by Australian ballot. Specifically, the court reasoned as follows:

[Madden's] assertion arises out of an apparent failure to distinguish between the Zoning Map and the Town Plan Map. Zoning maps are part of the zoning regulations and provide a visual representation of existing bylaws as applied to "different classes of situations, uses, and structures and to different and separate districts of the municipality." 24 V.S.A. § 4411(b); Town of New Haven Zoning Bylaws, Art. II § 220 ("The official Zoning Map is hereby made a part of these regulations...."). Distinct from the zoning map, the town plan map (alternatively referred to as the Land Use Map) is part of the town plan and reflects both the present and prospective location and character of land uses and guides the sequence of development. 24 V.S.A. § 4382(a)(2). Thus, an amendment to the Zoning Map must be in accord with the procedural requirements for amending the Town bylaws, whereas an amendment to the Town Plan Map must follow the procedural requirements for amending the Town Plan. While Mr. Madden is entitled to the benefit of all reasonable doubts and inferences, his mistaken belief that the changes in the zoning of parcel 788.1 are reflected in the Town Plan Map is not grounded in fact or law. It is therefore undisputed that the changes will be represented in the Town's Zoning Map and that the Selectboard followed the proper statutory procedures for amending the Town bylaws.

Madden v. Town of New Haven, No. 49-4-14 Vtec, 2014 WL 4796649, at *2 (Vt. Super. Ct., Environmental Div. Sept. 12, 2014) (Walsh, J.) (footnote omitted).[5] The court also observed that "[w]hile [24 V.S.A.] § 4411(b) allows for a municipality to designate the Town Plan Map (Land Use Map) as the zoning map, the Town of New Haven has not done so." Id. at *2 n.4. The court accordingly entered judgment for the Town. ( See Doc. 17-2.)

On October 9, 2014, Madden filed a motion to amend, arguing that he has been deprived of his right to vote. Treating that motion as a motion to amend judgment under V.R.C.P. 59(e), the court denied the motion, reiterating that "[t]he matter at issue in this appeal is an amendment to the Town bylaws and Zoning Map, not the Town Plan Map." Madden, No. 49-4-14 Vtec, 2014 WL 6600135, at *2 (Oct. 28, 2014), available at https://www.vermontjudiciary.org/GTC/Environmental/ENVCRTOpinions2010-Present/Madden%20v%20%20New%20Haven%XXXX-X-XX%20Vtec%20M%20Alter.pdf. The court accordingly concluded that, "[d]espite disagreeing with the Court's legal analysis, Mr. Madden points to no justification for disturbing our judgment." Id.

On November 14, 2014, Madden filed a second motion to amend, again arguing that he has been deprived of his right to vote. Again treating the motion as brought under V.R.C.P. 59(e), the court denied the motion as untimely. Madden, No. 49-4-14 Vtec, 2014 WL 7640784, at *1 (Nov. 20, 2014), available at https://www.vermontjudiciary.org/GTC/Environmental/ENVCRTOpinions2010-Present/Madden%20No%20%XXXX-X-XX%20Vtec%20Amend%202.pdf. The court further reiterated its prior conclusion that the Zoning Map is distinct from the Town Plan Map. Id. The court also rejected Madden's assertion that, under 24 V.S.A. § 4410, the Zoning Map and the Town Plan Map are required to be the same. Id. at *2. Finally, the court stated:

If Mr. Madden, or any other party, wishes to appeal our September 12, 2014 decision to the Vermont Supreme Court, they were required to do so by following the procedures set out in the Vermont Rules for Environmental Court Proceedings and the Vermont Rules of Appellate Procedure. Under Rule 5(k)(2) of the Vermont Rules for Environmental Court Proceedings, the deadline for such an appeal was October 13, 2014.

This matter is closed and no further motions will be considered. Id. It does not appear that Madden attempted to file any appeal with the Vermont Supreme Court. Madden filed his Complaint in this Court on December 16, 2014. (Doc. 1.)

Analysis

I. Subject-Matter ...


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