Orthodox Jewish Coal. Ridge v. Vill. of Chestnut Ridge

CourtUnited States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
Docket NumberNo. 19-CV-443 (KMK),19-CV-443 (KMK)
Decision Date31 March 2021

CHESTNUT RIDGE, et al., Plaintiffs,

No. 19-CV-443 (KMK)


March 31, 2021



Donna Corby Sobel, Esq.
Joseph Allan Churgin, Esq.
Savad Churgin, Attorneys at Law
Nanuet, NY
Counsel for Plaintiffs

Robert Leo Greene, Esq.
Law Office of Robert L. Greene
New York, NY
Counsel for Plaintiffs

Donald J. Feerick, Jr. , Esq.
Mary Elizabeth Brady Marzolla, Esq.
Patrick Andrew Knowles, Esq.
Feerick Nugent MacCartney PLLC
South Nyack, NY
Counsel for Defendant

KENNETH M. KARAS, District Judge:

The Orthodox Jewish Coalition of Chestnut Ridge ("OJCCR"), Congregation Birchas Yitzchok ("CBY"), Congregation Dexter Park ("CDP"), Congregation Torah U'tfilla ("CTU"; together with CBY and CDP, the "Congregations"), Abraham Willner ("Willner"), and Tzvi Miller ("Miller"; together with Willner, "Individual Plaintiffs"; collectively "Plaintiffs") bring

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this Action against the Village of Chestnut Ridge, New York ("Defendant" or the "Village"). (See First Am. Compl. ("FAC") (Dkt. No. 29).) Plaintiffs allege that Defendant violated their rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000cc, et seq., and Article 3 of the New York Constitution through zoning requirements that effectively prevented Plaintiffs from operating and attending shuls in the Village. (Id.) Before the Court is Defendant's Motion To Dismiss pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) (the "Motion"). (Not. of Mot. to Dismiss ("Not. of Mot.") (Dkt. No. 59.) For the reasons that follow, the Motion is granted.

I. Background

A. Factual Background

The following facts are taken from Plaintiffs' FAC and materials of which the Court may take judicial notice. They are assumed true for purposes of adjudicating the instant Motion.

Plaintiffs are Orthodox Jews. (FAC ¶ 27.) Many Orthodox Jews have moved to the Village in the past decade. (Id. ¶ 28.) Plaintiffs' religious beliefs require them to attend shul for prayer during the week, for services on their Sabbath and other holy days, and for other religious activities. (Id. ¶ 31.) These beliefs require Plaintiffs to attend four prayer services on their Sabbath, including one after sundown on Friday and three more on Saturday morning, afternoon, and evening, respectively. (Id. ¶ 34.) Plaintiffs' religious beliefs require a ritual meal in the hour or so between Saturday afternoon and evening services. (Id. ¶¶ 35, 54.) Other religious community gatherings also involve shared meals. (Id. ¶ 52.) Plaintiffs often must walk to shul to fulfill these obligations, because they are religiously prohibited from driving or riding in motor vehicles during their Sabbath and on most holy days. (Id. ¶¶ 39-40.) Further, Plaintiffs

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may not carry anything on their Sabbath, including children, unless there is a religious boundary. (Id. ¶ 49.) Finally, Plaintiffs' religious beliefs require that women worship in separate areas. (Id. ¶ 55.)

Plaintiffs lack adequate physical facilities to satisfy their religious obligations. (Id. ¶¶ 36-37.) They do not have a location with adequate space for a room for shared meals. (Id. ¶ 53.) Further, it is contrary to Jewish law and impractical for Plaintiffs to walk long distances to shul. (Id. ¶¶ 41-45.) It is also dangerous, particularly in rain and snow, because two of the required trips often occur in the dark, and the Village has few sidewalks and few street lights. (Id. ¶¶ 46-48.) Given the lack of a large religious boundary, Plaintiffs and their members are unable to carry young children or bring elderly or disabled persons to services. (Id. ¶¶ 50-51.) And many women are prevented from attending services because Plaintiffs' locations of worship lack adequate separate areas. (Id. ¶ 55.)

The Village has only one legally permitted shul. (Id. ¶ 56.) None of the Congregations has a permanent location. Despite its efforts, CTU has been unable to find an adequate location that meets its members' needs. (Id. ¶¶ 57-58.) CTU currently meets for religious observance in a rented commercial space. (Id. ¶ 59.) This facility is expensive. (Id. ¶ 60.) CBY purchased property to build a shul, but has not yet submitted plans for development. (Id. ¶ 73.) As a result, CBY meets in the basement of a private home. (Id. ¶ 74.) CDP has likewise been unable to find a property to allow its members to fulfill their religious obligations, and currently worships in a great room in a home. (Id. ¶¶ 85-86.) The Congregations' facilities all lack adequate bathrooms. (Id. ¶¶ 63, 77, 87.) They have inadequate space for the Congregations' male and female members and their children to attend. (Id. ¶¶ 64-65, 78-79, 88-89.) Some members of each Congregation cannot walk to their current location. (Id. ¶¶ 66, 80, 90.) No Congregation

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has adequate space for ritual meals, forcing each to rent social halls. (Id. ¶¶ 70-71, 81, 83, 91, 95.) These restrictions have caused each Congregation to lose members and membership dues. (Id. ¶¶ 67, 82, 92.) They have also caused each Congregation to lose donations from individuals wary of a temporary shul who would have supported one with a permanent location. (Id. ¶¶ 72, 84, 96.) CTU currently meets under a certificate of use for a lecture hall, because it has been unable to obtain a certificate of use for a place of worship. (Id. ¶ 59.) CTU and CDP have incurred fines from the Village and have had to defend themselves itself against violations regarding their temporary synagogue locations. (Id. ¶¶ 68, 93.) Because it has been financially prohibitive to cure these violations, CTU and CBY have incurred substantial legal and other professional fees. (Id. ¶¶ 69, 94.) Willner is affiliated with CBY. (Id. ¶ 97.) Miller is affiliated with CDP. (Id. ¶ 98.) OJCCR is composed of member congregations that similarly lack a location where they can legally exercise their religion. (Id. ¶ 16.)

Plaintiffs' difficulty identifying an adequate location is due to the Village's former land use regulations (the "Old Law"). The Old Law subjected places of worship to various regulations. (See id. ¶ 121.) The most onerous of these required that places of worship be located on properties that are five acres or bigger. (Id. ¶ 103; see id. ¶ 121.) Only 1.8% of parcels in the Village meet this requirement. (Id. ¶ 104.) As of January 7, 2019, only one such parcel was for sale. (Id.) This left "virtually no properties in the Village" where "Plaintiffs could have located a place of worship." (Id. ¶ 107.) This is in part because a single, large shul would be inaccessible to Orthodox Jews residing in the Village's different neighborhoods. (Id. ¶ 105.) Even if Plaintiffs could identify suitable property, the cost to acquire a five-acre lot would be roughly $2,000,000 to $3,500,000, "prohibitively expensive" for congregations of fifty to one hundred families. (Id. ¶¶ 109-10, 112.) A Village Full Environmental Assessment Form

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("FEAF") is consistent with these claims. (Id. ¶¶ 104, 106, 109, 111.) The Old Law prohibited places of worship in non-residential zoning districts. (Id. ¶ 120.) It also required places of worship to secure a Special Permit from the Village Board. (Id. ¶ 118.) These Special Permits were provided only subject to the "boundless" and "unbridled" discretion of the Village Board. (Id. ¶¶ 132-34, 137.) The Village's FEAF concluded that "there are no specific criteria or standards required" to issue a Special Permit. (Id. ¶ 135; see also id. ¶ 136 (alleging that the Old Law had "no objective criteria" for issuing Special Permits).)

The Old Law treated non-religious uses less restrictively in at least three regards. (Id. ¶ 123.) First, non-religious uses had less onerous lot size requirements. Libraries, museums, art galleries, nursery schools, hotels, and motels required at most only two acres. (Id. ¶¶ 124, 126, 128.) Funeral chapels, medical and dental clinics, health service complexes, commercial recreation facilities, and outdoor recreation facilities could have even smaller lots. (Id. ¶¶ 125, 127.) Second, they were permitted in non-residential zones. Libraries, museums, art galleries, funeral chapels, medical and dental clinics, health service complexes, hotels, and motels were permitted by right in certain non-residential zones. (Id. ¶¶ 125, 127, 128.) Third, where a non-religious use was not permitted by right, it was a Conditional Use and did not require a Special Permit. This was the case for libraries, museums, art galleries, nursery schools, commercial recreation facilities, outdoor recreation facilities, hotels, and motels in certain zoning districts. (Id. ¶¶ 124, 126-28.) Conditional Uses do not require review by the Village Board. (Id. ¶ 141.) The Village's Zoning Law contains standards to determine whether a Conditional Use is appropriate. (Id. ¶¶ 142-43.) This reduces the Board's discretion. (Id. ¶ 144.)

On February 21, 2019, the Village Board approved a new House of Worship Law (the "New Law"), which "substantially eased its provisions regulating places of worship." (Id.

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¶ 146.) The New Law was adopted after Plaintiffs filed their Complaint on January 15, 2019, (see Dkt. No. 1), but before Defendant waived service of process on April 11, 2019, (see Dkt. No. 8). The New Law adopts the overall structure and various portions of a law proposed by OJCCR. (Compare Decl. of Mary E. Marzolla ("Marzolla Decl.") Ex. E ("OJCCR Letter") (Dkt. No. 60-5) with Marzolla Decl. Ex. G ("New Law") (Dkt. No. 60-7).)1 In their brief, Plaintiffs allow that the New Law "removed the violative provisions" of the Old Law. (Pls.' Mem. in Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. ("Pls.' Mem.") 3 (Dkt. No. 65).) In court filings, Individual Plaintiffs and agents of CTU and OJCCR conceded that "the 2019 Houses of Worship Law will permit us to legally...

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