Pipkin v. Carvalho et al
ORDER granting 37 MOTION for Summary Judgment by City of Bridgeport, Elaine Carvalho. Signed by Judge Warren W. Eginton on 5/12/14. (Ladd-Smith, I.)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF CONNECTICUT
SCARLETT M. PIPKIN,
CITY OF BRIDGEPORT,
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION ON DEFENDANTS’ MOTION FOR
This is an action by a homeowner, Scarlett Pipkin, claiming violations of the Fourteenth
Amendment to the United States Constitution by the city of Bridgeport and its tax assessor,
Elaine Carvalho. Pipkin, an African-American female, alleges that defendants deprived her of
her right to equal protection of the laws by taxing her real property at amounts significantly
higher than property owned by similarly situated Caucasian males. Defendants have moved for
summary judgment. For the following reasons, defendants’ motion for summary judgment will
Pipkin owns real property located at 695 Lakeside Drive in Bridgeport, Connecticut. On
November 11, 2004, the house on the property caught fire and suffered extensive damage to all
floors. Pipkin subsequently built a new home on the same lot. The new house was completed in
2007. Pipkin alleges that defendants discriminated against her because of her race and gender by
not reducing the property value for tax purposes for the years 2005 – 2007, during the time that
the house was being rebuilt.
The burden is on a taxpayer to come forward and notify the assessor if a building is
destroyed and, unless the assessor is notified, no changes are made to the value unless there is a
citywide revaluation. Citywide revaluations occurred in 2003 and 2008. From the time her
house burned down in 2004 through the 2007 tax year, Pipkin did not appeal her assessment.
After the October 1, 2008 citywide revaluation, Pipkin successfully appealed her 2008
assessment for 695 Lakeside Drive. The assessed fair market value was reduced from $519,457
to $480,000 for 2008 and subsequent years. The Superior Court of Bridgeport approved Pipkin
and the City’s stipulated judgment that detailed the reduction in fair market value on March 3,
Carvalho became the tax assessor for the City of Bridgeport on November 25, 2008.
Prior to that date, she had no authority to set or make changes to real property values. Other than
authorizing the settlement of Pipkin’s 2008 appeal, Carvalho has had no interaction with Pipkin
concerning the value of the property at 695 Lakeside Drive. Carvalho has never met Pipkin and
disclaims having knowledge of Pipkin’s race or gender.
Pipkin wrote Carvalho on May 19 and December 18, 2009, requesting a rebate on taxes
paid from 2005 – 2007 but did not receive any response.
Pipkin contends that Caucasian male property owners have received more favorable tax
assessments from defendants. Specifically, Pipkin has submitted a table alleging that three
Caucasian male property owners pay a lower amount in property tax than she does. Only one of
the three properties is lakeside, like Pipkin’s, and there is no evidence that any of the three
properties experienced major damage during the relevant time period. The other lakeside
property to which Pipkin compares herself actually paid more in property taxes per square foot in
2010-11, and 2011-12 (the only years for which both properties’ taxes were listed by Pipkin).
A motion for summary judgment will be granted where there is no genuine issue as to
any material fact and it is clear that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). "Only when reasonable minds could not
differ as to the import of the evidence is summary judgment proper." Bryant v. Maffucci, 923
F.2d 979, 982 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 502 U.S. 849 (1991).
The burden is on the moving party to demonstrate the absence of any material factual
issue genuinely in dispute. American International Group, Inc. v. London American International
Corp., 664 F.2d 348, 351 (2d Cir. 1981). In determining whether a genuine factual issue exists,
the court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences against the moving
party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).
If a nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of
its case with respect to which it has the burden of proof, then summary judgment is appropriate.
Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323. If the nonmoving party submits evidence which is "merely
colorable," legally sufficient opposition to the motion for summary judgment is not met.
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.
Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies
The Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to consider challenges to tax assessments
where a plaintiff has not exhausted her administrative remedies. Marshall v. Town of
Middlefield, 2011 WL 3891679 at *2; see also Kucej v. Town of Watertown, 2005 WL 3047408
The legislature has implemented a statutory scheme for challenging the assessment of
taxes on personal property. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 12-111. Pursuant to Section 12–111, a taxpayer
may administratively appeal an assessment to the local board of assessment appeals. Section
12–111(a) provides in relevant part:
Any person ... claiming to be aggrieved by the doings of the assessors of such town
may appeal therefrom to the board of assessment appeals. Such appeal shall be filed,
in writing, on or before February twentieth. The written appeal shall include, but is
not limited to, the property owner's name, name and position of the signer,
description of the property which is the subject of the appeal, name and mailing
address of the party to be sent all correspondence by the board of assessment appeals,
reason for the appeal, appellant's estimate of value, signature of property owner, or
duly authorized agent of the property owner, and date of signature. The board shall
notify each aggrieved taxpayer who filed a written appeal in the proper form and in
a timely manner, no later than March first immediately following the assessment
date, of the date, time and place of the appeal hearing ... An appellant whose appeal
will not be heard by the board may appeal directly to the Superior Court pursuant to
Alternatively, a taxpayer may directly file an action in Connecticut Superior Court to
claim that a property has been wrongfully assessed. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 12-119. However, such
application must be made within one year from the date as of which the property was last
evaluated for purposes of taxation. Id.
From the time her house burned down in 2004 through the 2007 tax year, Pipkin did not
appeal her assessment pursuant to Section 12–111, and the instant action is time-barred by
Section 12-119's statute of limitations.
Pipkin argues that she exhausted her administrative remedies when she filed her appeal
for the 2008 tax year. She contends that the Superior Court’s stipulation of judgment regarding
that appeal included an agreement that the City of Bridgeport would provide her a “credit for her
overpayment of taxes after her home was destroyed by fire.” The stipulation contains no such
language. The assessed fair market value for 695 Lakeside Drive was reduced from $519,457 to
$480,000 for 2008 and subsequent years, but the stipulation does not affect tax assessments for
the years 2004 – 2007.
Finally, Pipkin concludes that it is not necessary to exhaust administrative remedies
where such process would be futile. However, she makes no effort to explain how or why appeal
of her tax assessment would have been futile. Indeed, at her deposition, Pipkin explained that
she did not take an appeal prior to 2008 “because [she] didn’t know [she] needed to.” Pl.’s Dep.
Even if Pipkin could establish that the Court had subject matter jurisdiction, her equal
protection claim would fail because there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, and it is
clear that defendants are entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
To establish equal protection “selective enforcement” claim, a plaintiff must establish:
(1) the person, compared with others similarly situated, was selectively treated, and
(2) the selective treatment was motivated by an intention to discriminate on the basis
of impermissible considerations, such as race or religion, to punish or inhibit the
exercise of constitutional rights, or by a malicious or bad faith intent to injure the
Zahra v. Town of Southold, 48 F.3d 647, 683 (2d Cir. 1995).
“Under the standards of Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978), a
municipality can be held liable under Section 1983 if the deprivation of the plaintiff's rights
under federal law is caused by a governmental custom, policy, or usage of the municipality.”
Jones v. Town of East Haven, 691 F.3d 72, 80 (2d Cir. 2012).
The individual property owners that Pipkin cites as comparable to her were not similarly
situated because they did not suffer damage to their real property. Moreover, Pipkin has failed to
raise a genuine issue of fact as to disparate treatment based on race or gender.
There is no evidence that Carvalho or the City of Bridgeport selectively treated Pipkin
because of her race or gender. At her deposition, Pipkin admitted that she had never met
Carvalho. Pipkin speculates that Carvalho would have known that Pipkin was African American
merely because her last name, “Pipkin,” does not end in a vowel. Further, Carvalho was not the
tax assessor for the City of Bridgeport until after Pipkin’s house was rebuilt in 2007, and Pipkin
successfully appealed her 2008 assessment for 695 Lakeside Drive. Likewise, Pipkin has failed
to make a sufficient showing that a custom, policy, or usage of the City of Bridgeport deprived
her of any rights based on her race or gender. See Jones, 691 F.3d at 80-81 (2d Cir. 2012) (citing
Monell). Accordingly, defendants’ motion for summary judgment will be granted.
For the foregoing reasons, defendants’ motion to dismiss [Doc. # 37] is GRANTED.
Dated this 9th day of May, 2014, at Bridgeport, Connecticut.
/s/Warren W. Eginton
WARREN W. EGINTON
SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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