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Gap Farms L.L.C. v. Town of Arcadia

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Shreveport Division

April 16, 2018

GAP FARMS, L.L.C.
v.
TOWN OF ARCADIA, ET AL.

          HORNSBY MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          MEMORANDUM RULING

          S. MAURICE HICKS, JR., CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.

         Before the Court is Plaintiff Gap Farms, LLC's ("Gap Farms") "Amended Motion for Preliminary Injunction" (Record Document 18) prohibiting Defendants, the Town of Arcadia ("Arcadia"), the Arcadia Town Council (the "Council"), and the Mayor of Arcadia, Jesse Eugen Smith, Jr. ("Mayor Smith") (collectively the "Defendants"), from (1) refusing to issue a permit to Gap Farms for the construction of a fence or other barrier on its property and (2) issuing a building permit to any non-owner to construct a concrete driveway across a portion of Gap Farms' property.[1] For the reasons contained herein, Gap Farms' Motion is DENIED.

         PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         This suit arises out of certain actions taken by Mayor Smith on behalf of Arcadia and as authorized by the Council. The property in question is located north of Interstate 20 and adjacent to Highway 151. See Record Document 1 at 3. In 2009, Gap Farms applied for and was granted permission by the Town of Arcadia to construct a road traversing its property; the plat and road dedication were approved by the Mayor and recorded in the conveyance records in late December that same year. See id. at 2-3. In 2010, Gap Farms constructed a road ("Gap Farms Road") that runs parallel to Interstate 20 and intersected Highway 151. See id. at 3. In exchange, Gap Farms statutorily dedicated "the road rights of way and utility servitudes showed hereon to public use" on December 28, 2009. See Record Document 18-3. This dedication, issued pursuant to La. R.S. 33:5051(7), was for the "use of said property for road and utility purposes only, reserving unto said owners, its successors and assigns, the full fee of said property in full ownership including, but not limited to, all oil, gas and other minerals on, in, under or that which may be produced therefrom." Id.

         Gap Farms claims it intentionally reserved a strip of land on the northern boundary of its property that was not burdened by the road servitude placed upon Gap Farms Road, and which is only partially burdened by the dedicated utility servitude. See Record Document 1 at 3. It is this strip of land that is at issue (the "Boundary Strip"). The case at hand arises from Mayor Smith, acting in his official capacity, denying a permit that Gap Farms submitted to construct a fence or barrier on this Boundary Strip. See Record Document 23-2 at 3. This denial was issued in response to concerns regarding the public's health and safety should such an obstacle be placed on this property, and potential liabilities that might arise should something occur on this land, which is burdened by a utility servitude and which exposes Arcadia to such liability. See id. It was also issued on the basis that Arcadia has the exclusive right to make sure that any use of the property affected by the servitude is commensurate with its use of all servitudes within Arcadia, and that no action is permitted which would establish a precedent which could create improper use of other properties within Arcadia which are impacted by a servitude. See id. The instant matter also involves Arcadia giving Kiran of Monroe, L.L.C. ("Kiran"), an adjacent landowner of Gap Farms, a "verbal permit" to construct a concrete driveway across a portion of the Boundary Strip in order to provide access to Gap Farms Road. See Record Document 18-6 at 8.

         On May 3, 2017, Gap Farms filed a Motion and Memorandum for Preliminary Injunction, asserting violations of its substantive due process rights under the United States Constitution and claims arising under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 allegedly perpetrated by Defendants. See Record Document 1-2. In particular, Gap Farms alleged that Defendants had refused to issue a permit to it so that it might construct a fence or other barrier on a piece of property subject to a utility servitude dedicated to Arcadia but owned exclusively by Gap Farms. See id. After the Court issued a Memorandum Order (Record Document 13) directing Plaintiff to file a new motion for preliminary injunction setting forth the elements required for the issuance of such an injunction as dictated by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, Gap Farms submitted an Amended Motion and Memorandum in Support of a Preliminary Injunction.[2] See Record Documents 18 and 18-6. Defendants timely filed their opposition. See Record Document 23. Thus, the motion is ripe for decision.

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         A. Preliminary Injunction Standard

         The grant or denial of a preliminary injunction lies in the discretion of the district court. See Canal Auth. of State of Fla. v. Callaway, 489 F.2d 567, 572 (5th Cir. 1974). However, such discretion is not unbridled and must be exercised "in light of what [the Fifth Circuit has] termed the four prerequisites for the extraordinary relief of preliminary injunction." Id. (internal citation and quotation omitted). Under this standard, a plaintiff seeking preliminary injunctive relief must demonstrate: "(1) a substantial likelihood that plaintiff will prevail on the merits, (2) a substantial threat that plaintiff will suffer irreparable injury if the injunction is not granted, (3) that the threatened injury to plaintiff outweighs the threatened harm the injunction may do to defendant, and (4) that granting the preliminary injunction will not disserve the public interest." Id. "A preliminary injunction is an extraordinary remedy which courts grant only if the movant has clearly carried the burden as to all four elements." Guy Carpenters Co., Inc. v. Provenzale, 334 F.3d 459, 464 (5th Cir. 2003).

         When considering these prerequisites, the district court must remember that a preliminary injunction is an extraordinary and drastic remedy not to be granted unless the movant clearly carries the burden of persuasion. See Canal Auth. of State of Fla., 489 F.2d at 573; House the Homeless, Inc. v. Widnall, 94 F.3d 176, 180 (5th Cir. 1996) ("We have frequently cautioned that '[a] preliminary injunction is an extraordinary remedy, ' and '[t]he decision to grant a preliminary injunction is to be treated as the exception rather than the rule'"). The chief aim for applying this extraordinary remedy is to preserve the court's ability to render a meaningful decision on the merits. See id. The Fifth Circuit has further reasoned:

Although the fundamental fairness of preventing irremediable harm to a party is an important factor on a preliminary injunction application, the most compelling reason in favor of (granting a preliminary injunction) is the need to prevent the judicial process from being rendered futile by defendant's action or refusal to act. Thus only those injuries that cannot be redressed by the application of a judicial remedy after a hearing on the merits can properly justify a preliminary injunction.

Canal Auth. of State of Fla., 489 F.2d at 573 (internal citation omitted).

         Many times, courts loosely state that the purpose of a preliminary injunction is to preserve the status quo. See id. at 576. However, there is no "particular magic" in the phrase, Id. Instead, the focus should be "to prevent irreparable injury so as to preserve the court's ability to render a meaningful decision on the merits." Id. While "it often happens that this purpose is furthered by preservation of the status quo, " such is not always the case. Id. Thus, the focus of the ...


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