Posted by: Patricia Salkin | September 27, 2015

Fed Dist Court in NY Finds a Plausible RLUIPA/Discrimination Claim Against Town to Survive Motion to Dismiss

Sullivan Farms II, Inc.; the Bloomingburg Jewish Education Center; Learning Tree Properties, LLC; Malka Rosenbaum; Sheindel Stein; Winterton Properties, LLC; and Commercial Corner, LLC (collectively the “Plaintiffs”) alleged that defendants are working together to prevent Hasidic Jews from moving into the vicinity of Bloomingburg, New York, a small village in Sullivan County with a population of about 400. Specifically, they alleged that defendants’ acts of resistance have violated their rights under the First Amendment, the Equal Protection Clause, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”), and New York state law. The First Amended Complaint alleges that defendants are (a) obstructing the completion of a housing development project known as Chestnut Ridge, which they believe is being marketed to Hasidic home buyers, (b) impeding the opening of the Bloomingburg Jewish Education Center, a private Hasidic religious school that plans to open on Bloomingburg’s Main Street, (c) preventing a property in Bloomingburg from being converted to a mikvah, a bath used by Hasidic Jews for ritual immersion and purification, and (d) engaging in a program of harassment and discriminatory building code enforcement aimed at Jewish residents or prospective residents of Bloomingburg. The defendants (Village of Bloomingburg, and entities and individuals associated with the Town of Mamakating) moved to dismiss.

As to the Plaintiffs’ claims with regard to the religious school, the court found that they must be dismissed on both mootness and ripeness grounds, since the site plan for the school was approved in March 2015. Next, the court examined Plaintiffs’ constitutional claims pursuant to § 1983 and § 1985 based on the Village’s allegedly discriminatory application and enforcement of the New York State Building Code. The court found that the plaintiffs’ vague allegations that the Village has discriminated against “plaintiffs’ properties”, “Jewish-owned properties,” and “ ‘Jewish building in the Village” were insufficient to support Article III standing because they were unconnected to any concrete, particularized alleged injury. Accordingly, all of plaintiffs’ claims against the Village that were predicated on the allegedly discriminatory enforcement of the New York State Building Code are dismissed in their entirety due to lack of standing. As a final threshold issue, the court dismissed Plaintiffs’ New York state law claims under §§ 3, 6, and 11 of the New York Constitution as well as their request for an injunction on state law grounds against the Moratorium as redundant, because these claims would all be addressed under the federal due process claims.

In the First Amendment claim, Plaintiffs alleged that Town Supervisor Herrmann’s and the Town’s actions with regard to the mikvah stem from improper, discriminatory motives on Herrmann’s part, as shown by his role in founding the allegedly anti-Hasidic RCC, his campaign slogan “stop 400 from turning into 4000,” appointing opponents of the Hasidic community to town boards, and alleging public comments regarding his desire to keep Jews from moving into the Town. Plaintiffs further alleged that the Town ZBA, whose chair was appointed by Herrmann, overturned the Town Planning Board’s approval of the site plan for the property without providing a reasoned basis for its conclusion or explaining why a mikvah is not a neighborhood place of worship. Therefore, the court found that plaintiffs Winterton Properties and Rosenbaum had stated valid free exercise and freedom of association claims against the Town, the Town ZBA, and Herrmann. Likewise, under the equal protection clause, the court found plaintiffs provided detailed and legally sufficient allegations that lead to the reasonable inference that in taking these actions, the Village, the Village Board of Trustees, Gerardi, Johnson, and Roemer were motivated by discriminatory animus and intentionally acted to discriminate against Hasidic Jews. At this stage of the litigation, the court also held that under the due process clause and FHA, Sullivan Farms had adequately alleged that it suffered has been deprived of a property interest via the diminution in the value of its investment in Chestnut Ridge that has been caused by the financial injury due to the delays in closing sales on the completed townhomes.

Bloomingburg Jewish Education Center v Village of Bloomingburg, 2015 WL 3604300 (SDNY 6/9/2015)

The opinion and order can be accessed at: http://www.newyorklawjournal.com/id=1202729033706/Bloomingburg-Jewish-Education-Center-et-al-Plaintiffs-v-Village-of-Bloomingburg-New-York-et-al-Defendants-14cv7250-KBF


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