945 F.3d 83 (2nd Cir. 2019), 18-0869-cv(L), Congregation Rabbinical College of Tartikov, Inc. v. Village of Pomona, NY

Docket Nº:18-0869-cv(L), 18-1062-cv(XAP)
Citation:945 F.3d 83
Opinion Judge:Kaplan, District Judge
Party Name:CONGREGATION RABBINICAL COLLEGE OF TARTIKOV, INC., Rabbi Mordechai Babad, Rabbi Wolf Brief, Rabbi Herman Kahana, Rabbi Meir Margulis, Rabbi Meilech Menczer, Rabbi Jacob Hershkowitz, Rabbi Chaim Rosenberg, Rabbi David A. Menczer, Plaintiffs-Appellees-Cross-Appellants, Rabbi Gergely Neuman, Rabbi Kolel Belz, of Monsey, Rabbi Aryeh Royde, Rabbi ...
Attorney:Thomas J. Donlon, Robinson & Cole LLP, Stamford, CT (John F. X. Peloso Jr., Robinson & Cole LLP, Stamford, CT; Marci A. Hamilton, Washington Crossing, PA, on the brief), for Defendants-Appellants-Cross-Appellees. Roman Storzer, Washington, DC (Joseph A. Churgin, Donna C. Sobel, Savad Churgin, Nan...
Judge Panel:Before: Wesley and Chin, Circuit Judges; and Kaplan, District Judge.
Case Date:December 20, 2019
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
 
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945 F.3d 83 (2nd Cir. 2019)

CONGREGATION RABBINICAL COLLEGE OF TARTIKOV, INC., Rabbi Mordechai Babad, Rabbi Wolf Brief, Rabbi Herman Kahana, Rabbi Meir Margulis, Rabbi Meilech Menczer, Rabbi Jacob Hershkowitz, Rabbi Chaim Rosenberg, Rabbi David A. Menczer, Plaintiffs-Appellees-Cross-Appellants, Rabbi Gergely Neuman, Rabbi Kolel Belz, of Monsey, Rabbi Aryeh Royde, Rabbi Akiva Pollack, Plaintiffs,

v.

VILLAGE OF POMONA, NY, Board of Trustees of the Village of Pomona, NY, Nicholas L. Sanderson, as Mayor, Ian Banks, as Trustee and in his official capacity, Alma Sanders-Roman, as Trustee and in her official capacity, Rita Louie, as Trustee and in her official capacity, Brett Yagel, as Trustee and in his official capacity, Defendants-Appellants-Cross-Appellees.

Nos. 18-0869-cv(L), 18-1062-cv(XAP)

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

December 20, 2019

Argued: April 18, 2019

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Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Karas, J. )

Thomas J. Donlon, Robinson & Cole LLP, Stamford, CT (John F. X. Peloso Jr., Robinson & Cole LLP, Stamford, CT; Marci A. Hamilton, Washington Crossing, PA, on the brief), for Defendants-Appellants-Cross-Appellees.

Roman Storzer, Washington, DC (Joseph A. Churgin, Donna C. Sobel, Savad Churgin, Nanuet, NY; John G. Stepanovich, Stepanovich Law, PLC, Virginia Beach, VA, on the brief), for Plaintiffs-Appellees-Cross-Appellants.

Before: Wesley and Chin, Circuit Judges; and Kaplan, District Judge.[*]

OPINION

Kaplan, District Judge

This case poses difficult and in some respects subtle questions. Educational and religious institutions, as owners and users of real estate, are generally subject to local land use regulation. But they play unique roles in our society. Hence, our laws afford them some special treatment with respect to such regulation. Moreover, religious institutions enjoy the protection of the First and Fourteenth Amendments and federal legislation, each of which, in appropriate circumstances, trumps local land use law.

Given the importance in our free society of education, religion, and the usually legitimate desires of communities to regulate the manner in which the land within their boundaries is developed and used, conflicts arise when these interests come into tension. In resolving such conflicts, courts must differentiate among opposition to proposed land uses based on (1) legitimate development concerns like traffic volume, density, and sufficiency of municipal infrastructure, (2) bias against the religious faith or practices of the developer or of likely residents of new development, whether overt or hidden by legitimate-seeming pretext, and (3) mixed motives. These appeals reflect one such conflict.

In 2004, Congregation Rabbinical College of Tartikov, Inc. ("TRC") purchased about 100 acres of land in the Village of Pomona, New York ("Pomona" or the "Village"), a small suburban village of about 3,200 people. As its name indicates, TRC hoped to use the property to build a school to educate rabbinical judges. But TRC submitted no concrete development proposals nor sought any zoning or construction approvals in the ensuing years.

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In January 2007, a local group published an article purporting to reveal that TRC’s plan was to build nine large apartment buildings to house 1,000 students and their families - a total of as many as 4,500 people - as well as a school building. This provoked local opposition. Soon after, the Village board enacted two amendments to its land use laws limiting or outright prohibiting whatever development TRC ultimately might seek to build.

TRC and future students and faculty (collectively, "Tartikov") filed this action against the Village and its board of trustees seeking to declare unconstitutional the two amendments enacted after its plans became known. In addition, it challenged two other amendments that had been passed earlier. After a bench trial, the district court found that all four zoning law amendments were tainted by religious animus, enjoined their enforcement, and entered a broad injunction sweeping away or modifying for these plaintiffs New York State and local laws that otherwise would apply. The Village challenges the decision below. Its central contention is that the findings of religious animus were clearly erroneous. Tartikov cross appeals from a number of pretrial rulings that limited the scope of its claims.

After careful consideration of the extensive record, we decline to overturn the district court’s findings that religious animus motivated the two zoning amendments passed after the plaintiffs’ wishes became known and thus affirm the injunction barring their enforcement. But we respectfully conclude that there was insufficient evidence to support such a finding as to either of the two earlier zoning amendments and therefore reverse that portion of the judgment. We conclude also that the injunctive relief went further than was appropriate and modify those aspects of the judgment as well. We affirm as to the cross-appeal.

FACTS

The governmental and legal context in which the amendments to the Pomona zoning law ordinance were enacted is important to a full understanding of this case. We therefore begin by sketching that framework.

I. The Context

A. Local Government in New York

New York State is home to over 1,600 local governments.1 The entire state is divided among 62 counties, each of which has its own local government.2 Each of the 57 counties outside New York City is divided into towns and in some instances one or more cities, each of which also has its own local government.3 There are, in addition, hundreds of villages throughout the state, some coextensive with towns but most within larger towns. As is now a familiar motif, each has its own government.4 Unlike counties, cities, and towns, New York’s villages "exist at the discretion of [their] residents"; they "can be created or dissolved by local initiative."5 According to New York’s Department of State’s Division of Local Government Services, one reason town residents might create a village is "a difference in development philosophies of citizens and town officials."6

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Village governments draw their authority to enact and enforce zoning regulations from numerous sources, including the Statute of Local Governments,7 the Municipal Home Rule Law,8 and the Village Law.[9] A village exercises that authority, as well as the authority to enact other legislation, through a board of trustees,[10] which typically consists of an elected mayor and four elected trustees.11 The Village Law gives a board of trustees the authority to regulate various aspects of land use within its domain.12 When a board of trustees regulates land use, it is obliged to follow a "comprehensive plan."13 A comprehensive plan identifies the goals, policies, and instruments for the short and long term growth and development of the village.14

B. Local Zoning Ordinances and Other Land Use Controls

Village and other local governments in New York exercise their land use authority through land use controls, the most common type of which is a zoning ordinance.15 Zoning typically entails dividing a municipality’s entire territory into districts and imposing land use restrictions within them.16 Zoning ordinances can achieve many goals related to community planning, among the most common of which are prescribing minimum lot and maximum building sizes that control the density of development and permitting or proscribing the use of land in each zoning district for specific purposes such as agricultural, commercial, or residential.17

Numerous federal and state laws limit the exercise of land use control powers.18 One important limitation is the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act ("SEQRA").19 SEQRA requires state agencies, including municipalities, "to incorporate the consideration of environmental factors into the ... planning, review[,] and decision-making processes."[20] It requires that a municipality considering a significant land use control ordinarily must prepare or request an environmental impact statement ("EIS") early in the planning process.21 An EIS is a document that weighs the "social, economic[,] and environmental factors" of a municipality’s proposed decision or regulation, which includes

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considering alternative actions and mitigating factors.22 After completing an EIS, each agency involved in the planning process must issue a findings statement that provides a rationale for its decision in light of the EIS.23

C. Municipal Regulation of Land Used for Religious and Educational Purposes

Land use...

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