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Skoric v. Killington Ski Resort

United States District Court, D. Vermont

September 28, 2017

IVO SKORIC, Plaintiff,

          OPINION AND ORDER (DOC. 1)


         Plaintiff Ivo Skoric, proceeding pro se, brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against his former employer Defendant Killington Ski Resort (Killington), alleging that Killington violated his constitutional rights when it issued a notice of trespass against him on January 25, 2017. (Doc. 1-2 at 4.) He seeks rescission and withdrawal of the notice against trespass as well as money damages. (Id.) Mr. Skoric has filed a motion to proceed in forma pauperis under 28 U.S.C. § 1915 (see Doc. 1), and has submitted an affidavit (Doc. 1-1) that makes the showing required under § 1915(a). Accordingly, the request to proceed in forma pauperis (Doc. 1) is GRANTED. However, for the reasons set forth below, the complaint is DISMISSED.

         Under the in forma pauperis statute, the court conducts an initial screening of the complaint. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). The court is required to read a pro se plaintiffs complaint liberally and construe it to raise the strongest arguments it suggests. Harris v. Miller, 818 F.3d 49, 56 (2d Cir. 2016) (per curiam). However, the court must dismiss the complaint if it determines that the action fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii).

         I. Killington Did Not Act Under Color of State Law

         The court concludes that Mr. Skoric has failed to state a § 1983 claim. Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a claimant may bring suit against "[e]very person who, under color of any statute ... of any State . . . subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen ... to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and law . . . ." Wyatt v. Cole, 504 U.S. 158, 161 (1992) (alterations in original) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 1983). "The purpose of § 1983 is to deter state actors from using the badge of their authority to deprive individuals of their federally guaranteed rights and to provide relief to victims if such deterrence fails." Id. "A § 1983 claim has two essential elements: (1) the defendant acted under color of state law; and (2) as a result of the defendant's actions, the plaintiff suffered a denial of her federal statutory rights, or her constitutional rights or privileges." Annis v. Cty. of Westchester, 136 F.3d 239, 245 (2dCir. 1998).

         In this case, the first element is lacking. Here, nothing in Mr. Skoric's allegations suggests that Killington was acting under color of state law when it issued the notice against trespass. Killington is a private company; there is no sufficient allegation that Killington is a state actor.

         The court rejects Mr. Skoric's contention that Killington should be considered a state actor because it operates on leased public land. (See Doc. 1-2 at 4.) As this court has observed in a separate case, a portion of the land upon which Killington operates is indeed leased from the State of Vermont. See Post v. Killington, Ltd, No. 5:07-CV-252, 2010 WL 3323659, at *1 (D. Vt. May 17, 2010); see also Sherburne Corp. v. Town of Sherburne, 124 Vt. 481, 207 A.2d 125 (1965). That fact alone, however, does not bring this case within the ambit of the "symbiotic relationship" test in Burton v. Wilmington Parking Authority, 365 U.S. 715 (1961).

         In Burton, the owner of a private restaurant that leased space in a state-owned building practiced racial discrimination. The Supreme Court held that the owner's discriminatory action qualified as state action because "the state owned the building, paid the building's maintenance, owned an adjacent parking lot and therefore had a direct financial interest in the restaurant's success, and dedicated the building for public purposes, thereby conferring tax exempt status on the building." Hadges v. Yonkers Racing Corp., 918 F.2d 1079, 1082 (2d Cir. 1990) (citing Burton, 365 U.S. at 723-24).

         But Burton "does not stand for the broad proposition . . . that leasing property from a government agency transforms a private actor into a state actor for purposes of section 1983 liability" in all cases. Lattibeaudiere v. AMR Servs. Corp., No. CV 95 5269 (RJD), 1996 WL 518076, at *3 (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 3, 1996). Rather, the outcome of the analysis depends on the facts of each individual case. See Burton, 365 U.S. at 723 (multiple "factors" were relevant to whether state action was present); see also Hadges, 918 F.2d at 1081 (the test in Burton does not lend itself to "formulaic applications"; the court must instead "sift through and weigh the facts to determine whether the alleged ties between the State and the private actor are sufficiently strong to attribute the private actor's conduct to the state"); Int'l Soc 'y for Krishna Consciousness, Inc. v. Air Canada, 727 F.2d 253, 255 (2d Cir. 1984) (per curiam) (each inquiry is "fact-intensive").

         Here, the complaint alleges no facts regarding the details of the relationship between Killington and the State of Vermont. But the relevant details do appear in state public records, including the 1960 lease itself, [1] and Appendix A4 of the State Auditor's January 20, 2015 report entitled State Land Leases Boost Ski Industry, but Are Dated and Inconsistent.[2]The court may take judicial notice of these documents. See Giraldo v. Kessler, 694 F.3d 161, 164 (2d Cir. 2012) (court may take judicial notice of "relevant matters of public record"); Moore U.S.A., Inc. v. Standard Register Co., 139 F.Supp.2d 348, 363 (W.D.N.Y. 2001) (courts considering matters of public record on a rule 12(b)(6) motion may consider "published reports" and "records of administrative agencies").

         The arrangement in this case does not meet Burton's symbiotic-relationship test. The State of Vermont does have an ownership interest in some of the land and structures at Killington, but the court concludes that that is not by itself enough. Neither is the payment of rent. Killington makes lease payments to the State of Vermont under the terms of the 100-year lease. The rental payment depends on Killington's gross receipts, and in fiscal year 2014 it was about $1.2 million. The court concludes that the lessor-lessee relationship is not sufficient by itself to constitute the symbiotic relationship that was present in Burton. It is true that the State gains greater tax revenues if Killington's gross receipts increase, but that link is insufficient to forge a symbiotic relationship. Hadges, 918 F.2d at 1082.

         The Burton Court also considered the tax advantages of the arrangement in that case: "Should any improvements effected in the leasehold by Eagle [the restaurant] become part of the realty, there is no possibility of increased taxes being passed on to it since the fee is held by a tax-exempt government agency." Burton, 365 U.S. at 724. The arrangement in this case similarly creates certain tax advantages for Killington, since the lift facilities are real estate and are also deemed to be the property of the State. See Sherburne, 124 Vt. at 486, 207 A.2d at 128 (lift facilities at Killington (then called Sherburne) are real estate owned by the State of Vermont, and thus exempt from taxation). The court is not persuaded, however, that the tax advantage is sufficient to qualify the relationship as symbiotic.

         This case is distinguishable from Burton in key respects. Whereas in Burton the upkeep and maintenance of the building was the responsibility of the governmental entity, the 1960 lease in this case specifies that the lessee is generally responsible for maintenance of all lifts, buildings, and structures. Perhaps most importantly, the Burton Court noted the "peculiar relationship" of the restaurant to the parking facility in which the restaurant was located: restaurant guests had a convenient place to park, and the convenient dining might drive additional demand for the parking facility. Burton, 365 U.S. at 724. There is no such symbiotic relationship in this case: nothing in Mr. Skoric's allegations or in the lease suggests that Killington is operated as an integral part of a public building or other public enterprise. For these reasons, the court concludes that the symbiotic-relationship test is not met, and that Mr. Skoric has failed to allege that Killington acted under color of state law.

         II. ...

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