United States District Court, D. Vermont
OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR
JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS (DOC. 15)
CHRISTINA REISS, DISTRICT JUDGE
HARR, LLC, owner of the Northfield Falls Mobile Home Park
("the Park"), brings this action against Defendant
Town of Northfield alleging that the placement of liens upon
Plaintiffs property for unpaid electrical bills accrued by
Plaintiffs mobile home tenants violates the Equal Protection
Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Due Process Clause of
the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Takings Clause of the
before the court is Defendant's May 8, 2019 motion for
judgment on the pleadings. (Doc. 15.) Plaintiff opposed the
motion on June 21, 2019. Defendant replied on July 2, 2019,
at which time the court took the pending motion under
is represented by David R. Bookchin, Esq. Defendant is
represented by Michael J. Leddy, Esq., and Kevin J. Coyle,
The Complaint's Allegations.
is a limited liability corporation that owns the Park located
in Northfield, Vermont. Plaintiff leases lots in the Park to
tenants, who are permitted to "situate and reside in
mobile homes (not owned by [Plaintiff]) in the Park, subject
to terms and conditions agreed upon by the respective tenants
and [Plaintiff] in a mobile home lot lease agreement, and
applicable laws and regulations." (Doc. 1 at 1-2, ¶
operates the Northfield Electric Department
("NED"), which furnishes electrical utilities and
services to customers in the towns of Northfield, Moretown,
and Berlin, Vermont, including to tenants residing in the
Park. NED's operations are governed by Subchapter 4 of
Defendant's Town Charter (the "Town Charter"),
which provides in relevant part:
The charges and rates for electric service shall be a lien
upon real estate, wherever located, furnished with such
service in the same manner and to the same effect as taxes
are a lien upon real estate under 32 V.S.A. § 5061. The
owner of such property furnished with electric service,
wherever located, shall be liable for such charges and rates.
24A V.S.A. § 129C-402(b) (the "Lien
alleges that in 2015, Christina D. Michaud owned and resided
in a mobile home at One Second Street, Lot Thirty-One in the
Park; Edward and Wanda Stone (collectively, the
"Stones") owned and resided in a mobile home at
Thirty-Five First Street, Lot Twenty in the Park; and Gregg
Booth and Brandi Brunell owned and resided in a mobile home
at Twenty-One Fourth Street, Lot Forty-Five in the Park. In
2016, Marissa and Jason Greene (collectively, the
"Greenes") owned and resided in a mobile home at
Four First Street, Lot Sixteen in the Park. In 2018, Wayne
Skiffington resided in a mobile home at Ninety-Nine
Northfield Falls Mobile Park, Lot Five in the
Park. The foregoing individuals (collectively,
the "Park Residents") owned their mobile homes as
their personal property. Their mobile homes were not a
fixture of the Park.
Park Resident submitted an application and was approved as an
electrical utility customer of NED. Thereafter, NED provided
electrical utilities and services to the Park Residents'
mobile homes for which they were billed on a monthly basis.
Plaintiff alleges that it was neither a co-applicant nor a
guarantor of the Park Residents' NED accounts. At an
unspecified time, the Park Residents each became delinquent
on his, her or their NED electric account. Thereafter, NED
continued to provide the Park Residents with electric
utilities and services and allowed their delinquent account
balances to accrue.
about January 29, 2015, after Ms. Michaud vacated her mobile
home and removed it from the Park, Defendant placed a lien in
the amount of $540.77 on Plaintiffs property in the Park for
the electric utilities and services NED provided to Ms.
Michaud at her mobile home. On or about October 29, 2015,
after the Stones vacated their mobile home, Defendant placed
a lien in the amount of $575.82 on Plaintiffs property in the
Park for the electric utilities and services NED provided to
the Stones at their mobile home.
about January 29, 2016, Defendant placed a lien in the amount
of $588.90 on Plaintiffs property in the Park for the
electric utilities and services NED provided to Mr. Booth at
the mobile home in which Mr. Booth and Ms. Brunell resided.
In 2016, NED approved and opened a new electrical account for
Ms. Brunell and continued to provide electric services to the
mobile home occupied by Mr. Booth and Ms. Brunell.
about July 27, 2016, after the Greenes vacated and sold their
mobile home to a new owner in the Park, Defendant placed a
lien in the amount of $1, 042.07 on Plaintiffs property in
the Park for the electric utilities and services NED provided
to the Greenes at their mobile home. On or about October 29,
2018, after Mr. Skiffington vacated and abandoned the mobile
home where he resided, Defendant placed a lien in the amount
of $285.70 on Plaintiffs property in the Park for the
electric utilities and services NED provided to Mr.
Skiffington at his former mobile home.
Conclusions of Law and Analysis.
Standard of Review.
deciding a Rule 12(c) motion, [the court] employ[s] the same
standard applicable to dismissals pursuant to Fed. R Civ. P.
12(b)(6)." Hayden v. Paterson, 594 F.3d 150,
160 (2d Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks omitted). The
sufficiency of a plaintiffs complaint is evaluated using a
"two-pronged approach[.]" Id. at 161
(internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009)). First, the court
discounts legal conclusions and "[t]hreadbare recitals
of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere
conclusory statements[.]" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at
678. Second, the court considers whether the factual
allegations, taken as true, "plausibly give rise to an
entitlement to relief." Id. at 679. "A
claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads
factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable
inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct
alleged." Id. at 678. The court does not
"weigh the evidence" or "evaluate the
likelihood" that a plaintiff will prevail on his or her
claims. Christiansen v. Omnicom Grp., Inc., 852 F.3d
195, 201 (2d Cir. 2017); see also Kardovich v. Pfizer,
Inc., 97 F.Supp.3d 131, 140 (E.D.N.Y. 2015)
("[I]ssues of fact, credibility, and the weight of the
evidence are not properly considered on a motion to
Whether Plaintiff Plausibly States a Claim Under the Equal
Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (Count
Count II of the Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that
Defendant's Town Charter "creates two classes of
property owners who lease their property to tenants: 1)
property owners whose tenants pay their NED bills on time;
and 2) property owners whose tenants are delinquent on their
NED bills." (Doc. 1 at 5, ¶ 33.) Plaintiff contends
that Defendant "singles out property owners whose
tenants are delinquent on their NED bills as a class that the
Town can burden with liens on their real property" and
that Defendant has "no rational basis justifying the
creation of these classes of property owners who are being
held accountable for the debts of third parties[.]"
Id. at 5, ¶ 34.
responds that the Town Charter does not distinguish between
property owners whose tenants pay their NED bills on time and
those whose tenants do not, but rather distinguishes between
landlords and tenants in setting forth a Lien Provision that
is rationally related to a legitimate government purpose of
ensuring debt collection for public utilities. Plaintiff does
not dispute Defendant's assertion that the rational-basis
test applies to Plaintiffs equal protection claim. See
Armour v. City of Indianapolis, Ind., 566 U.S. 673, 680
(2012) ("We have made clear . . . that, where
'ordinary commercial transactions' are at issue,
rational basis review requires deference to reasonable
underlying legislative judgments.") (quoting United
States v. Carolene Prods. Co., 304 U.S. 144, 152(1938)).
classification neither involving fundamental rights nor
proceeding along suspect lines is accorded a strong
presumption of validity." Heller v. Doe by Doe,509 U.S. 312, 319 (1993). "Such a classification cannot
run afoul of the Equal Protection Clause if there is a
rational relationship between the disparity of treatment and
some legitimate governmental purpose." Id. ...