In this case the United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, presides over Kiryas Joel Alliance’s appeal from the determination of the United States District Court, Southern District of New York, which granted the defendants’ motions to dismiss. The Second Circuit affirmed, finding the plaintiffs lacked standing and failed to state a claim for which relief could be granted, and that some claims were barred by res judicata.
These parties have been engaged in litigation for decades. This action centers on the Village of Kiryas Joel, which was founded for and is entirely populated by members of a sect of the Jewish faith. The plaintiff group does not support the present leader of the sect, which has led this group to becoming a dissident group. The plaintiffs allege that those who support the religious leader fully occupy the municipal government, and as a result of the plaintiff group’s nonsupport of the community’s religious leader, the plaintiffs claim they have been discriminated against by the municipality.
The court first addressed whether the district court erred in finding the property related claims barred by res judicata. The court provided that once res judicata has been established, the parties are forbidden from relitigating the issues that were or could have been litigated in the initial proceeding. Res judicata is established where there is a judgment on the merits, the action involved the parties (or those in privity with the parties), and the claims were or could have been raised in the previous action. For a claim to be barred in the second action, it needs to be shown that the second suit involves the same claim, or nucleus of operative facts. In this case, the court applied the doctrine of res judicata to the plaintiffs’ RLUIPA discrimination claims, which asserted that the local government required the dissident group to obtain certain permits, but did not require the same from the mainstream members of the sect. The court found res judicata applied, as many of the plaintiffs already litigated these claims to finality in state court. The plaintiff attempted to avoid this result by claiming the presence of new facts. The court disagreed with this allegation, stating the plaintiff cannot avoid res judicata by splitting up claims, and further stated these facts where not actually new.
Next, the court addressed whether the plaintiffs’ had standing to allege certain claims of individuals not a party to the action. The Kiryas Joel Alliance alleged that it was an unincorporated nonprofit association that advocates for citizens of the Village, which confers representational standing to bring claims for non-parties. The court rejected this argument, finding the Alliance lacked standing, as the Alliance failed to allege any of the non-parties were members, the Alliance failed to seek their inclusion in the case, and because § 1983 claims, being personal, cannot be asserted by an organization for its members. Although the Second Circuit found the Alliance court not assert § 1983 claims for its members, the court did affirm that the Alliance may continue with its own claim – that the Alliance had to divert funds to provide security for a dissent group member. However, this standing related to that claim alone, and did not provide broader standing to assert other claims.
Last, the court addressed the plaintiffs’ remaining claims, affirming their dismissal for failure to state a claim for which relief could be granted. First, the court stated that the Equal Protection claim must fail because the plaintiffs failed to show plausible intentional religious discrimination, but rather there assertions boiled down to a political disagreement: the leader of the sect. The court likewise found the Establishment Clause claim failed, as the assertion of overlapping leadership of the local government and the sect was alone insufficient. Finally, the court dispensed with the plaintiffs’ 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3) conspiracy claim, as the plaintiffs’ assertions where conclusory and vague, which did “not suffice.”
Kiryas Joel Alliance, et al. v. Village of Kiryas Joel, et al., 2012 WL 3892744 (U.S.C.A., 2nd Cir., Sept. 10, 2012).
The opinion is available here.