COFFEY, Circuit Judge.
On March 5, 1997, Plaintiffs Charles and Randy Forseth (the "Forseths") filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and under Wisconsin state law in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin against Defendants Village of Sussex ("Village"), the Village's former President, John H. Tews ("Tews"), and the Village's Administrator, M. Chris Swartz ("Swartz"). The Forseths claimed that Defendants wrongfully interfered with their development of a tract of land. The court dismissed the action without prejudice pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c), holding that the Forseths' federal claims were "not ripe for adjudication." We AFFIRM IN PART AND REVERSE IN PART AND REMAND WITH INSTRUCTIONS.
A. The Forseths' Land Development and Events Leading to the Dispute
In July 1992, the Forseths, doing business as A&R Land Company, purchased thirty acres of land in the Village of Sussex, Waukesha County, Wisconsin, with the intention of developing the land as a residential subdivision. In August 1992, pursuant to Wisconsin law, the Forseths submitted a preliminary plat
Before the Forseths submitted the final plat for Village Board approval, Tews, whose homestead abutted four lots of the proposed development, was elected President of the Village Board. Plaintiffs made several allegations in their complaint and brief submitted in opposition to the motion to dismiss about the conduct of Village Board President Tews and Village Administrator Swartz, including, that even before he was elected President, Tews made various efforts to obstruct and/or delay the Forseths' subdivision development because Tews' homestead was in his family for decades and overlooked the Forseths' property. Plaintiffs further contended that Tews "became angered and frustrated at the prospect of streets and houses disrupting the natural area and obstructing his views"; thus, Tews "calculated a plan of harassment ... designed to exact retaliation and vengeance" and with the assistance of Swartz, engaged "in a series of actions [designed] to prevent and obstruct" the Forseths' proposed development and "ultimately exact a coveted piece of land Tews was previously unable or unwilling to fairly acquire—even from his own family." For example, in February 1993, the Forseths point out in their complaint that Tews claimed that Native American campgrounds of archeological or historical significance were located within the Forseths' subdivision. However, the State Historical Society of Wisconsin could not substantiate this claim.
Plaintiffs also allege in their complaint that in October 1993, Village Board President Tews persuaded the Army Corps of Engineers to perform a wetlands survey of the Forseths' property. The Corps agreed and determined that the size of the wetlands had increased about 100 feet westward since its 1982 survey, thereby reducing the area available for development. Because the increased wetlands had not been taken into account in the Forseths' plat designs, the Village Board denied their final plat.
The Forseths set out to revise their plat once more. But before they submitted another revised plat, in their complaint and brief opposing the motion to dismiss, Plaintiffs allege that President Tews, with the assistance of Administrator Swartz, conceived of a plan that would require the Forseths "to convey a buffer strip to Mr. Tews on both sides where his homestead bordered" the planned development, in exchange for Village Board approval of their subdivision. The Forseths further claimed in their complaint that they reluctantly agreed to President Tews' condition "because they were personally frustrated and financially strained by the delays and expenses incurred in connection with the prior two proposed plats." The Village Board went along with the conveyance and approved the revised final plat on the express condition that the buffer strip would be conveyed to Tews.
B. The District Court's Opinion
In early March 1996, the Forseths filed a Notice of Circumstances of Claim and an Itemized Claim and served them upon Defendants pursuant to state law governing actions against a governmental subdivision and its officers. See Wis. Stat. § 893.80(1). Because Defendants failed to respond after 120 days, the Forseths' claim was deemed disallowed under Wisconsin law. See id. On March 5, 1997, the Forseths filed suit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, seeking damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 with the filing of a substantive due process claim, an equal protection claim and two takings claims under the 5th and 14th Amendments. They also asserted various state law claims, including state constitutional violations, nuisance, negligence, and conversion.
Defendants, citing a lack of subject matter jurisdiction, moved to dismiss the Forseths' complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Defendants argued that the complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted because all four of the Forseths' federal claims failed to satisfy the ripeness requirements set forth by the Supreme Court in Williamson County Reg. Planning Comm'n. v. Hamilton Bank, 473 U.S. 172, 105 S.Ct. 3108, 87 L.Ed.2d 126 (1985).
Because Defendants had already filed their answer, the district court construed Defendants' motion to dismiss as a motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c).
On appeal, we are presented with the following issues: (1) Are the Forseths' federal claims subject to the ripeness requirements of Williamson; and (2) if they are, do their federal claims satisfy those requirements?
A. Standard of Review
We review de novo a district court's decision to grant a motion for judgment on the pleadings under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c).
B. The Applicability of Williamson
In Williamson County Reg. Planning Comm'n v. Hamilton Bank, 473 U.S. 172, 193-94, 105 S.Ct. 3108, 87 L.Ed.2d 126 (1985), the Supreme Court articulated a special ripeness doctrine for constitutional property rights claims which precluded federal courts from adjudicating land use disputes until: (1) the regulatory agency has had an opportunity to make a considered definitive decision, and (2) the property owner exhausts available state remedies for compensation. Indeed, this Circuit has followed Williamson and held, "[A] property owner may not avoid Williamson by applying the label `substantive due process' to the claim. So too with the label `procedural due process.' Labels do not matter. A person contending that state or local regulation of the use of land has gone overboard must repair to state court." River Park, Inc. v. City of Highland Park, 23 F.3d 164, 167 (7th Cir.1994) (citation omitted). Because we have subject matter jurisdiction over only those cases that are "ripe for adjudication",
1. Plaintiffs' Substantive Due Process Claim
The Forseths' substantive due process claim arises from Defendants' act of conditioning approval of the final plat on the Forseths' agreement to convey a buffer strip to Village Board President John Tews personally. Although we have recognized the potential for a plaintiff to maintain a substantive due process claim
In Gamble v. Eau Claire County, we distinguished substantive due process claims from takings claims and questioned whether, under certain circumstances, the former required Williamson ripeness:
Gamble, 5 F.3d at 286 (citations omitted) (emphasis added).
Here, the Forseths, in essence, base their due process claim on the fact that a two acre portion of their land was taken solely for private use, as a buffer strip for Village Board President Tews. Similarly, Gamble stated that substantive due process
Gamble, 5 F.3d at 286-87. The hurdle, however, would be high and difficult; to succeed, a plaintiff would have to demonstrate that the government's conduct has no "connection however tenuous to some at least minimally plausible conception of the public interest." See Gamble, 5 F.3d at 287;
Whatever door that was left open by Gamble's observation that "[t]he requirement that the contemplated use [of taken land] be public has been severely attenuated" such that "[w]e can find no case in the last half century where a taking was squarely held to be for a private use," Gamble, 5 F.3d at 287 (citation omitted), was slammed shut by Covington Court, Ltd. v. Village of Oak Brook, 77 F.3d 177 (7th Cir.1996). In Covington Court, we held that even where a state takes property for "a purely private rather than a public use," on "takings and due process claims, [a plaintiff] first must show that it
Further, our facts here are unmistakably similar to Covington Court. In Covington Court, as a condition of moving their development plans forward by the local board of trustees, the developer conveyed portions of the lots to a private party and even landscaped land, granted easements and erected a fence for the private party.
So too here do the Forseths allege that the defendants have taken their land for the sole purpose of satisfying the private aesthetic preferences of the Village Board President. Despite the troubling facts and allegations of the instant case, particularly the significant private pecuniary gain achieved by President Tews and the questionable use of his governmental position and authority, we are forced to conclude that Plaintiffs' are bound by Covington Court and Williamson. Because the Forseths' "labeled" substantive due process claim falls within the framework for takings claims, see Covington Court, 77 F.3d at 179; see also Hager v. City of West Peoria, 84 F.3d 865, 869-70 (7th Cir.1996); Gosnell v. City of Troy, 59 F.3d 654, 657 (7th Cir.1995); Coniston Corp., 844 F.2d at 464-66, we hold that their substantive due process claim is subject to Williamson's requirement that they seek a final decision and pursue state court remedies before federal courts have jurisdiction to hear their case.
2. Plaintiffs' Equal Protection Claim
The Forseths' equal protection claim arises from both Defendants' alleged act of conditioning approval of the Forseths' final plat on their agreement to convey a buffer strip to John Tews and from Defendants' other alleged conduct that obstructed and delayed the Forseths' subdivision development. The Forseths' equal protection claim, however, stands on firmer ground than their substantive due process claim. Because this Circuit's rulings relating to equal protection claims in the land-use context have yet to make clear the applicability of Williamson's ripeness requirements, we take this opportunity to articulate the applicable standards.
This Circuit has read Williamson broadly, rejecting attempts to label "takings" claims as "equal protection" claims and thus requiring "ripeness." See Unity Ventures v. County of Lake, 841 F.2d 770, 775 (7th Cir.1988) (stating that "[a]though the plaintiff's suit is not premised on a takings claim, ... we agree with the Ninth Circuit in Herrington that the ripeness analysis used in those cases applies as well to equal protection and due process claims"). However, this Circuit recognized in Hager v. City of West Peoria that bona fide equal protection claims arising from land-use decisions can be made independently from a takings claim and without being subject to Williamson ripeness. See Hager, 84 F.3d at 870. Absent a fundamental right or a suspect class, to demonstrate
A survey of this Circuit's previous holdings that maintained equal protection claims in the land use context, reveal that the Esmail standard was satisfied when the equal protection claim was based on: (1) the malicious conduct of a governmental agent, in other words, conduct that evidences a "spiteful effort to `get' him for reasons wholly unrelated to any legitimate state objective," Esmail, 53 F.3d at 180; or (2) circumstances, such as prayer for equitable relief and a "claim [that] would evaporate if the [governmental body] treated everyone equally," that sufficiently suggest that the plaintiff has not raised "just a single takings claim with different disguises." Hager, 84 F.3d at 870.
Here, the Forseths have indeed alleged that the Defendants, through the actions of the Board President and Village Administrator, acted "maliciously" in conditioning the plat approval on the conveyance of the buffer strip as well in failing to prevent the storm water run-off on their property. Because we are obligated to accept all well-pleaded allegations as true and accept all reasonable inferences drawn from them, see Porter, 93 F.3d at 305, we conclude that the Forseths have demonstrated a bona fide equal protection claim. Thus, we hold that the Forseths' equal protection claim is independent from their takings claim and accordingly, is not subject to Williamson's ripeness requirements. Consequently, because Plaintiffs had a viable claim for purposes of Rule 12(c) review, we conclude that the district court erred in dismissing Plaintiffs' equal protection claim for lack of ripeness.
We are also of the opinion that the facts of this case present sufficient grounds to allow the Forseths to maintain their equal protection claim on the basis of the questionable conduct of Village Board President Tews while in office. Unlike any of this Circuit's previous holdings on the issue of equal protection in the land-use context, Plaintiffs alleged that a member of the governing body denied them equal protection under the law when he demanded and received significant personal pecuniary gain by the abuse of his governmental authority. The Forseths allege that Tews, in his official capacity conceived of and engineered the review of Plaintiffs' plat in order to receive a buffer strip to his property at a significant discount. As a governmental actor, Tews' conduct, as alleged by Plaintiffs, raises significant questions about whether he abused his official authority for personal gain at the expense of the Forseths' right to equal protection under the law. Thus, we hold that these facts as alleged by Plaintiffs would be sufficient to demonstrate that the actions of Defendants were taken for improper purposes "wholly unrelated to any legitimate state objective," see Esmail, 53 F.3d at 180, and thus, dismissal under Rule 12(c) was inappropriate.
3. The Forseths' Takings Claims
The Forseths also made two takings claims under the 5th and 14th Amendments. First, they argue that the conveyance to Tews was an "unconstitutional condition" because they were required to give up land without just compensation in exchange for a government benefit (i.e., approval of the final plat) having little to do with the required conveyance. See Dolan v. City of Tigard, 512 U.S. 374, 385, 114 S.Ct. 2309, 129 L.Ed.2d 304 (1994). This is essentially a takings
The Forseths' second takings claim is based on the Village's design and/or construction of the current drainage system that causes storm water to run-off from surrounding subdivisions onto their land, which they claim constitutes a temporary taking by periodic invasion. This too is a garden variety takings claim clearly subject to the ripeness requirements of Williamson.
C. The Satisfaction of Williamson's Requirements
Having concluded that Williamson is applicable to the Forseths' federal substantive due process and takings claims, we must examine whether these claims satisfy the ripeness standard.
Because the policies underlying the exhaustion requirement often overlap with, but are distinct from those underlying the finality requirement, see Williamson, 473 U.S. at 193-94, 105 S.Ct. 3108 we address the exhaustion prong first. The Supreme Court has explained that the exhaustion requirement "stems from the Fifth Amendment's proviso that only takings without `just compensation' infringe that Amendment." Suitum v. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, 520 U.S. 725, 734, 117 S.Ct. 1659, 137 L.Ed.2d 980 (1997). After all, "if a State provides an adequate procedure for seeking just compensation, the property owner cannot claim a violation of the Just Compensation Clause until it has used the procedure and been denied just compensation." Id. (citation and quotation omitted); see also Williamson, 473 U.S. at 194 n. 13, 105 S.Ct. 3108 ("[B]ecause the Fifth Amendment proscribes takings without just compensation, no constitutional violation occurs until just compensation has been denied. The nature of the constitutional right therefore requires that a property owner utilize procedures for obtaining compensation before bringing a § 1983 action.") (emphasis in original); Gamble, 5 F.3d at 286 ("[U]ntil he exhausts his remedies for obtaining a compensation award or equivalent relief from the state ... [a landowner] cannot know whether he has suffered the only type of harm for which the just-compensation provision of the Constitution entitles him to a remedy.")(citations omitted).
We hold that the Forseths' federal substantive due process and takings claims were not ripe, and that the district court was correct to dismiss those claims. However, for purposes of a Rule 12(c) motion, Plaintiffs successfully pleaded and maintained a bona fide equal protection claim, which was not subject to Williamson ripeness. Further, we remand to the district court to resolve whether, with only the equal protection federal claim remaining, the court maintains supplemental jurisdiction over the Forseths' state law claims. See 28 U.S.C. § 1367; Van Harken v. City of Chicago, 103 F.3d 1346, 1354 (7th Cir.1997), cert. denied, 520 U.S. 1241 (1997), 117 S.Ct. 1846, 137 L.Ed.2d 1049. Accordingly, we AFFIRM the district court's dismissal
AFFIRMED IN PART, REVERSED IN PART AND REMANDED WITH INSTRUCTIONS.
Nevertheless, for the sake of completeness, we would be inclined to conclude that the Forseths did in fact satisfy Williamson's final decision requirement by demonstrating "a final decision on a `development plan submitted, considered, and rejected by the governmental entity,'" see Covington Court, 77 F.3d at 179 (quoting Unity Ventures, 841 F.2d at 775), by way of their Notice of Circumstances of Claim and an Itemized Claim served in early March 1996 upon Defendants. Pursuant to state law governing actions against a governmental subdivision and its officers, see Wis. Stat. § 893.80(1), because Defendants failed to respond after 120 days, the Forseths' claim was deemed disallowed. See id.
Although we do not know why the Forseths did not pursue several other opportunities to receive a decision under Wisconsin law, such as seeking a variance from the Plan Commission or an approval of a plat that included the increased wetlands areas without the buffer strip conveyance to Tews, we presume that it was because the Forseths did not believe they could receive a favorable decision in light of their treatment by President Tews and Village Administrator Swartz. Consistent with Williamson's ruling that a plaintiff need not pursue state procedures that are unavailable or inadequate, see Williamson, 473 U.S. at 194-95, 105 S.Ct. 3108 we are of the opinion that due to the questionable official conduct alleged by Plaintiffs that, if true, could taint their avenues for local administrative decisions, we would not require the Forseths to seek multiple final decisions only to be slain more than once.