504 F.3d 338 (2nd Cir. 2007), 06-1464, Westchester Day Sch. v. Village of Mamaroneck

Docket Nº:06-1464-cv.
Citation:504 F.3d 338
Party Name:WESTCHESTER DAY SCHOOL, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. VILLAGE OF MAMARONECK, The Board of Appeals of the Village of Mamaroneck, Mauro Gabriele, In his official capacity as member of the Board of Appeals of the Village of Mamaroneck, George Mgrditchian, In his official capacity as member of the Board of Appeals of the Village of Mamaroneck, Peter Jackson,
Case Date:October 17, 2007
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
 
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504 F.3d 338 (2nd Cir. 2007)

WESTCHESTER DAY SCHOOL, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

VILLAGE OF MAMARONECK, The Board of Appeals of the Village of Mamaroneck, Mauro Gabriele, In his official capacity as member of the Board of Appeals of the Village of Mamaroneck, George Mgrditchian, In his official capacity as member of the Board of Appeals of the Village of Mamaroneck, Peter Jackson, In his official capacity as member of the Board of Appeals of the Village of Mamaroneck, Barry Weprin, In his official capacity as member of the Board of Appeals of the Village of Mamaroneck, Clark Neuringer, In his official capacity as member of the Board of Appeals of the Village of Mamaroneck and Antonio Vozza, In his official capacity as a former member of the Board of Appeals of the Village of Mamaroneck, Defendants-Appellants,

United States of America, Intervenor-Defendant.

No. 06-1464-cv.

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit.

October 17, 2007

Argued December 1, 2006.

Defendant Village of Mamaroneck appeals from a judgment of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Conner, J.) entered March 3, 2006, ruling that the Village violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act by denying Westchester Day School a special permit to expand its facilities.

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JOEL C. HAIMS, Morrison & Foerster LLP, New York, New York (Jack C. Auspitz, Morrison & Foerster LLP, New York, New York; Stanley D. Bernstein, Berstein Liebhard & Lifshitz, LLP, New York, New York, of counsel), for Plaintiff-Appellee.

KEVIN J. PLUNKETT, White Plains, New York (Robert Hermann, Darius P. Chafizadeh, Thacher Proffitt & Wood LLP, White Plains, New York; Joseph C. Messina, Lisa M. Fantino, Law Office of Joseph C. Messina, Mamaroneck, New York, of counsel), for Defendants-Appellants.

SARAH E. LIGHT, Assistant United States Attorney, New York, New York (Michael J. Garcia, United States Attorney, Sara L. Shudofsky, Assistant United States Attorney, Southern District of New York, New York, New York; Wan J. Kim, Assistant Attorney General, David K. Flynn, Eric W. Treene, Sarah E. Harrington, U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Appellate Section, Washington, D.C., of counsel), for Intervenor-Defendant and Amicus Curiae the United States of America.

Derek L. Gaubatz, Washington, D.C. (Anthony R. Picarello, Jr., Lori E. Halstead, The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Washington, D.C., of counsel), filed a brief on behalf of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the Association of Christian Schools International, and the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities as Amici Curiae.

Before: CARDAMONE, and RAGGI, Circuit Judges, and BERMAN, District Judge[*].

CARDAMONE, Circuit Judge :

The appeal before us is from a judgment entered March 3, 2006 in the United States

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District Court for the Southern District of New York (Conner, J.) that ordered the defendant Village of Mamaroneck to issue a permit to plaintiff Westchester Day School to proceed with the expansion of its facilities. For nearly 60 years Westchester Day School (plaintiff, WDS, day school, or school) has been operating an Orthodox Jewish co-educational day school with classes from pre-school to eighth grade. Believing it needed to expand, the school submitted construction plans to the Village of Mamaroneck and an application for the required special permit. When the village zoning board turned the application down, the present litigation ensued.

In the district court the school argued that the zoning board in denying its application for a permit violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA or Act), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc et seq., by substantially burdening its religious exercise without a compelling government interest to justify its action. Following a bench trial, the district court ordered the zoning board to approve the school's application, agreeing that RLUIPA had been violated.

BACKGROUND

A. Westchester Day School's Property

Westchester Day School is located in the Orienta Point neighborhood of the Village of Mamaroneck, Westchester County, New York. Its facilities are situated on 25.75 acres of largely undeveloped land (property) owned by Westchester Religious Institute. Westchester Religious Institute allows the school and other entities to use the property.

The school's buildings are far from typical. The original structures were built in the late nineteenth century, one as a summer home and another as a stable. The day school, which opened in 1948, renovated the summer home and the stable to create classrooms. The school constructed Wolfson Hall in the 1960s and in 1979 Westchester Hebrew High School, a separate entity from WDS, built a two-story high school building on the property. Thus, currently there are four principal buildings on the property: the summer home (Estate House or Castle), the stable (Carriage House), Wolfson Hall, and the high school building.

The Mamaroneck Village Code permits private schools to operate in "R-20 Districts" if the Zoning Board of Appeals of the Village of Mamaroneck (ZBA or zoning board) grants them a special permit. The property is in an R-20 district and WDS operates subject to obtaining such a permit which must be renewed every three years. Most recently the day school's permit was unanimously renewed on November 2, 2000, before the dispute giving rise to this litigation began. Several other schools are located in the vicinity of Orienta Point, including the Liberty Montessori School and Mamaroneck High School. Numerous large properties border the school property, including the Orienta Beach Club, the Beach Point Club, the Hampshire Country Club, and several boat yards.

B. Westchester Day School's Aims

As a Jewish private school, Westchester Day School provides its students with a dual curriculum in Judaic and general studies. Even general studies classes are taught so that religious and Judaic concepts are reinforced. In the nursery and kindergarten classes no distinction exists between Judaic and general studies; the dual curriculum is wholly integrated. In grades first through eighth, students spend roughly half their day on general subjects such as mathematics and social studies and half on Judaic studies that

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include the Bible, the Talmud, and Jewish history.

In an effort to provide the kind of synthesis between the Judaic and general studies for which the school aims, the curriculum of virtually all secular studies classes is permeated with religious aspects, and the general studies faculty actively collaborates with the Judaic studies faculty in arranging such a Jewish-themed curriculum. For example, the General Studies Curriculum Guide describes how social studies is taught in grades 6, 7, and 8, explaining that WDS tries "to develop an understanding of humanistic, philosophical thought, the nature of cause and effect in history, and the application of ethical Judaic principles to history and daily life" (emphasis added). The Guide further notes that "[s]tudying the history of Eretz Yisrael [the land of Israel] has become an increasingly prominent feature of assemblies and social studies lessons." And, the Guide's Science Curriculum Map notes that in science class first graders are taught about "the world around them [and] the seasonal changes and connections to the Jewish holidays" (emphasis added).

The school's physical education teachers confer daily with the administration to ensure that during physical education classes Jewish values are being inculcated in the students. This kind of integration of Jewish and general culture is made possible when a school actively and consciously designs integrated curricular and extracurricular activities on behalf of its student body. See Jack Bieler, Integration of Judaic and General Studies in the Modern Orthodox Day School, 54:4 Jewish Education 15 (1986), available at http://www.lookstein.org/ integration/bieler.htm. Thus, the school strives to have every classroom used at times for religious purposes, whether or not the class is officially labeled Judaic. A Jewish day school like WDS exists, at least in part, because Orthodox Jews believe it is the parents' duty to teach the Torah to their children. Since most Orthodox parents lack the time to fulfill this obligation fully, they seek out a school like WDS.

C. The Expansion Project

By 1998 WDS believed its current facilities inadequate to satisfy the school's needs. The district court's extensive findings reveal the day school's existing facilities are deficient and that its effectiveness in providing the education Orthodox Judaism mandates has been significantly hindered as a consequence. The school's enrollment has declined since 2001, a trend the district court attributed in part to the zoning board's actions. As a result of the deficiencies in its current facilities the school engaged professional architects, land planners, engineers, and an environmental consulting firm to determine what new facilities were required. Based on these professionals' recommendations, WDS decided to renovate Wolfson Hall and the Castle and to construct a new building, Gordon Hall, specifically designed to serve the existing student population. The renovations would add 12 new classrooms; a learning center; small-group instructional rooms; a multi-purpose room; therapy, counseling, art and music rooms; and computer and science labs. All of them were to be used from time to time for religious education and practice.

In October 2001 the day school submitted to the zoning board an application for modification of its special permit to enable it to proceed with this $12 million expansion project. On February 7, 2002...

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