Posted by: Patricia Salkin | October 20, 2017

Fed. Dist Court in NY Finds Alleged RLUIPA Violation was Not Ripe Since No Final Action Resulted from Landmark Designation

Islamic Community Center for Mid Westchester, a non-profit entity, brought action against the City of Yonkers, city agencies, city mayor, and city council members, alleging that city’s designation of the property on which it sought to build religious center and house of worship as a landmark violated Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) by discriminating against it based on religious affiliation. Accordingly, the Islamic Community Center sought a preliminary injunction declaring landmark designation void. The city officials moved to dismiss, and Islamic Community Center moved to strike and for leave to file a supplemental complaint to add a claim of First Amendment retaliation under § 1983.

Defendants first argued that the court should deny plaintiffs’ motion for leave to file a supplemental complaint because the supplementation would be futile. The court noted that while the general rule is that federal district courts have subject matter jurisdiction over Section 1983 claims, the principle of comity and the Tax Injunction Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1341, barred the court from hearing a Section 1983 claim that plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights were violated through the imposition of state taxes. The court next found that the plaintiffs’ argument that they did not allege a tax law issue was unpersuasive. Here, plaintiffs alleged the City of Yonkers “retaliated by revoking plaintiffs’ property tax exemption status,” and thus violated plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights. The court determined that the allegation of retaliatory revocation of tax exempt status was unambiguously a tax law issue. As such, the Court did not have subject matter jurisdiction over plaintiffs’ supplemental claim that defendants violated plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights by revoking the property tax exemption in retaliation for filing the present action.

Finally, as plaintiffs asserted only as-applied challenges, the court had to determine whether plaintiffs’ claims satisfied the final decision requirement and were therefore ripe for adjudication. The court noted that the Second Circuit has held that the traditional approach to ripeness inquires was not applicable to land-use disputes; instead, ripeness was to be determined under the final-decision requirement set forth in Williamson County. Here, plaintiffs had not yet received a final decision with respect to the landmarking of the subject property. Moreover, plaintiffs had not yet applied for a certificate of appropriateness, appealed from an unfavorable ruling, or applyed for economic hardship, and thus the futility exception to the final-decision requirement was inapplicable. Accordingly, the court granted defendants’ motion to dismiss the complaint without prejudice because the claims asserted were not ripe.

Islamic Community Center for Mid Westchester v. City of Yonkers Preservation Board, 258 F. Supp. 3d 405 (SDNY 6/28/2017)

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