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Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. Petitions U.S. Supreme Court to Protect Homeowners From Municipal Planning Board’s Disregard of Construction Set-Back Restrictions

Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. has filed a Petition for a Writ of Certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court to prohibit a Municipal Planning Commission from violating the Contract Clause of the U.S. Constitution by modifying deed restrictions adopted by the commission in a way that would disrupt the neighborhood of the long-time homeowners that the firm represents.

When the neighborhood had been laid out in the 1960s, the local planning commission had adopted a subdivision plan which set forth carefully selected “set-back lines” for each lot in the neighborhood and prohibited property owners from building homes that encroached into the area between the setback line and the street. Under applicable municipal law, the subdivision plan and set-back lines became “deed restrictions,” meaning that they were contractual restrictions binding by all affected landowners.

When the purchasers of one of the homes in the neighborhood wanted to tear down an existing home to build a new home with a swimming pool, they proposed to violate the subdivision plan’s set-back lines by siting their new home within the area protected by their lot’s set-back line. Over the objection of neighboring homeowners, the planning commission approved the construction of the new home and disregarded the set-back lines the commission had adopted more than 40 years ago.

The homeowners sued to overturn the planning commission’s abrogation of the long-established set-back lines. In the trial court, Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. acted as co-counsel to the homeowners, successfully arguing under the U.S. Constitution’s Contract Clause, which prohibits the enactment of “Law impairing the Obligation of Contract,”  the planning commission was barred from permitting construction that would violate the contractual deed restrictions that it had previously adopted. The Appellate Division, however, avoided the contract clause question and reversed the trial court’s ruling in the homeowners’ favor on non-constitutional grounds. The New York Court of Appeals denied review on a procedural basis.

Because the appellate courts in New York were unwilling to face the contract clause question, the homeowners asked Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. petition to the highest court in the United States on this important issue of constitutional law, under which governmental entities are obligated to protect settled property rights and cannot ignore contractual obligations they have entered into.

When the planning commission adopted the subdivision plan with its set-back lines, they became contractual obligations that required that homes be constructed so that the subdivision would develop into an inviting neighborhood with a broad sweep of open space extending invitingly from the road. To protect these contractual rights and the character of the neighborhood, and to address the important questions regarding the ability of local governments to ignore the settled contractual expectations of their landowners, Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. filed a Petition for a Writ of Certiorari in the U.S. Supreme Court asking that the court overturn the planning commission’s decision under the U.S. Constitution’s Contract Clause.

Adam Leitman Bailey and Jeffrey R. Metz prepared the Supreme Court petition.

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