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Snyder v. Gaudet

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

June 25, 2014

ROBERT S. SNYDER, Plaintiff, Appellee,
v.
RALPH E. GAUDET; PATRICK POWELL, Defendants, Appellants, BERNADETTE D. SEWELL; CITY OF WALTHAM; SERAFINA COLLURA; JEANNETTE A. MCCARTHY, Defendants

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS. Hon. Rya W. Zobel, U.S. District Judge.

Bernadette Dunn Sewell, Assistant City Solicitor, City of Waltham Law Department, for appellants.

Zaheer A. Samee, with whom Leonard A. Frisoli and Frisoli Associates, P.C., were on the brief, for appellee.

Before Lynch, Chief Judge, Thompson and Kayatta, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 31

KAYATTA, Circuit Judge.

Robert Snyder operated a business in a building he owned, and shared with two tenants, in a mostly residential area of Waltham, Massachusetts. After Snyder fired an employee who was a member of the Waltham city council, the former employee complained to the city building department that Snyder was using

Page 32

his property unlawfully. Code enforcement officers then scrutinized Snyder's use of his property and fined him under a local land use ordinance. Snyder eventually brought this suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the city of Waltham and five individuals, claiming a violation of his right to equal protection of the laws under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. After unsuccessfully seeking summary judgment based on immunity defenses, two of the individual defendants filed this appeal. Finding that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law, we reverse.

I. Background

In reviewing an interlocutory appeal from a denial of qualified immunity, we accept as given the facts that the district court ruled could be found by a reasonable jury viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Johnson v. Jones, 515 U.S. 304, 313-19, 115 S.Ct. 2151, 132 L.Ed.2d 238 (1995). We do not entertain challenges to the inferences drawn by the district court in doing so or to its determinations regarding the evidentiary support for the plaintiff's claims. See id.; Cady v. Walsh, 753 F.3d 348, 361, 2014 WL 2518865, at *10 (1st Cir. June 4, 2014). We can consider an interlocutory appeal of this kind, then, to the extent the appellants ground their arguments in the record as viewed most favorably to the plaintiff, leaving undisturbed all factual inferences implied by the district court's decision. See Johnson, 515 U.S. at 319. Here, while Gaudet and Powell sometimes stray from that path in their brief, the facts that ultimately prove dispositive are those that both sides agree we can assume to be true for purposes of this appeal. We describe those facts below, adding some additional context.

Snyder's difficulties with the city began when he fired an employee, Serafina Collura, who served as a member of the Waltham city council. Collura soon complained to the city's building department that Snyder's use of his building violated a land use ordinance because, according to Collura, Snyder rented a portion of the second floor as a residence. Collura continued to pressure city officials to investigate Snyder over the following months.

Appellants Ralph Gaudet and Patrick Powell were Waltham's superintendent of public buildings and senior building inspector, respectively. Gaudet and Powell eventually did investigate Snyder. The district court found it reasonable to infer, and we accept for purposes of this appeal, that Gaudet and Powell knew of Collura's motivations and acted " in aid of [her] efforts." Powell inspected Snyder's property twice in February 2007, approximately seven months after Collura first complained. Although Powell initially indicated in a conversation with a city attorney that he had found no violations during his inspections, he later issued a citation to Snyder in June 2007. We assume that Powell's about-face can be attributed to pressure from Collura.

In the citation, Powell found that Snyder had violated a zoning variance issued to the original owner of the building in 1967 by using it for purposes other than professional offices. The original owner, an optometrist, had sought to use the property for three medical offices and received a variance allowing its use as " professional offices." The original owner sold the property to another optometrist, who sold to Snyder in 1997. The parties dispute whether the variance allowed use of the second ...


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