143 F.3d 765 (2nd Cir. 1998), 96-6289, LeBlanc-Sternberg v. Fletcher
|Citation:||143 F.3d 765|
|Party Name:||Rabbi Yitzchok LeBLANC-STERNBERG, Chanie LeBlanc-Sternberg, Fred Walfish, Lewis Kamman, Park Avenue Synagogue, Inc., Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. Robert FLETCHER, Marianne Cucolo, and John C. Layne, Individually and in their capacity as Trustees of the Village of Airmont, Maureen Kendrick, Individually and in her capacity as Mayor of the Village of Civ|
|Case Date:||May 13, 1998|
|Court:||United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit|
Argued Oct. 9, 1997.
Reuben S. Koolyk, New York City, (Arnold & Porter, New York City, Kevin W. Goering, Brian C. Dunning, Coudert Brothers, New York City, Craig L. Parshall, Fredricksburg, Virginia, Anne-Marie Arriel, The Rutherford Institute, Charlottesville, Virginia, on the brief), for Plaintiffs-Appellees.
Edmund C. Grainger, III, White Plains, New York (Charles A. Goldberger, Patricia W. Gurahian, McCullough, Goldberger & Staudt, White Plains, New York, on the brief), for Defendant-Appellant.
Before KEARSE and CABRANES, Circuit Judges, and CHIN, District Judge [*].
KEARSE, Circuit Judge:
Defendant Nicholas Vertullo, a former trustee of the Village of Airmont, New York ("Airmont" or the "Village"), whom a jury found not liable in connection with the Village's violations of plaintiffs' civil rights, appeals from so much of an order of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Gerard L. Goettel, Judge, as denied his motion under 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b) for an award of attorneys' fees against plaintiffs. The district court, although stating its view that the action against Vertullo was unreasonable and
groundless, denied the motion on the ground that that view was untenable in light of this Court's decision in LeBlanc-Sternberg v. Fletcher, 67 F.3d 412 (2d Cir.1995) ("LeBlanc-Sternberg I "), cert. denied, 518 U.S. 1017, 116 S.Ct. 2546, 135 L.Ed.2d 1067 (1996), which reversed the district court's ruling that there was no possible basis for the jury's verdict against the Village. Vertullo contends principally that the denial of fees was an abuse of discretion because the litigation against him was unreasonable and groundless. Finding no merit in his contentions, we affirm.
This matter, an action by plaintiffs Yitzchok LeBlanc-Sternberg, the rabbi of plaintiff Park Avenue Synagogue, Inc., et al., returns to us following appeals in which we, inter alia, reinstated a jury verdict in favor of plaintiffs against the Village for discrimination, and conspiracy to discriminate, against plaintiffs on the basis of their Orthodox Jewish religion, see LeBlanc-Sternberg I, 67 F.3d 412, reversed the district court's entry of judgment in favor of the Village in a parallel action brought by the United States, see id., and upheld, following proceedings on remand, the district court's granting of injunctive relief prohibiting the Village from engaging in further discrimination on the basis of religion and directing that certain amendments be made to the Village's zoning code, see LeBlanc-Sternberg v. Fletcher, 104 F.3d 355, 1996 WL 699648 (2d Cir. Dec.6, 1996) (unpublished disposition) ("LeBlanc-Sternberg II "), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 117 S.Ct. 2431, 138 L.Ed.2d 193 (1997). The factual background of the litigation and the liability rulings is set forth in detail in LeBlanc-Sternberg I, and in the opinion we issue today in a companion appeal, LeBlanc-Sternberg v. Fletcher, No. 96-6287, 1998 WL 248641 (2d Cir.1998) ("LeBlanc-Sternberg III "). Familiarity with LeBlanc-Sternberg I and LeBlanc-Sternberg III is assumed.
The Events Leading to the Present Action
The evidence at trial included the following. In the mid-1980s, some residents of Airmont, then an unincorporated area within the Town of Ramapo, New York (the "Town"), objected to Town zoning provisions accommodating the Town's then-increasing population of Orthodox and Hasidic Jews. The Town's zoning code, inter alia, allowed rabbis, with some restrictions, to use their homes as congregational places of worship ("home synagogues") in order to permit Orthodox and Hasidic Jews to adhere to certain requirements of their religion. Some of the objecting Airmont residents formed defendant Airmont Civic Association, Inc. ("ACA"), which pushed for Airmont's incorporation as a village in order to permit Airmont to adopt its own zoning code designed to exclude Orthodox and Hasidic Jews. See, e.g., LeBlanc-Sternberg I, 67 F.3d at 418 (" 'everybody knows ... why [ACA] was formed. What does [ACA] and the proposed village plan to do to keep these Hasid[i]m out?' " (quoting trial testimony describing a 1986 meeting of ACA)).
Defendant Robert Fletcher was ACA's president. Vertullo was a member of ACA and was a close friend and "political ally" of Fletcher. Id. at 419. Vertullo became a member of the ACA board following the resignations of several board members who opposed ACA's discriminatory agenda. He was appointed to the board principally because of his view, in "general agreement" with the remaining board members (Trial Transcript at 3534), that home synagogues should be prohibited (see id. at 3528-30). While Vertullo was an ACA board member, ACA financed proceedings in state court to block LeBlanc-Sternberg's application to the Town for permission to maintain a home synagogue. At a public hearing before the Town's planning board on another Orthodox Jewish rabbi's application for a zoning variance, Vertullo read a statement, written by Fletcher and concurred in by Vertullo, in opposition to the variance.
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