Sunday, March 29, 2015

Ramapo Villages Officials Cleared of Discrimination Claims Growing Out of Zoning Fight

In Bernstein v. Village of Wesley Hills, (SD NY, March 27, 2015), a New York federal district court rejected religious discrimination claims growing out of a chapter in the long battle between Hasidic residents and others in parts of Rockland County, New York. As recounted by the court:
Plaintiffs are religious corporations and individuals affiliated with the Chofetz Chaim sect of Orthodox Judaism, and they allege an interest in the operation of Kiryas Radin, a religious educational institution and center for religious activity and prayer, located on 4.7 acres of unincorporated land in the Town of Ramapo....
The heart of Plaintiffs’ case is their allegation that Defendants [village officials] colluded to file the Chestnut Ridge Action—which claimed, in relevant part, that Ramapo’s environmental review of Kiryas Radin prior to its approval was insufficient under state law—for discriminatory reasons. Plaintiffs allege that Defendants, “[h]iding behind a false fa├žade as protectors of the environment . . . utilized municipal government authority to advance their campaign against the spread of Orthodox Jewery in the Town of Ramapo.” ...
By Plaintiffs’ own admission, their claims at this stage of the litigation are dependent on their allegation that Defendants did not bring legal challenges against development projects that were, other than not being run by members of the Hasidic community, similar to Kiryas Radin in all material respects.
The court however concluded that the non-Hasidic development projects which were not challenged were not similar to Kiryas Radin. It also concluded that plaintiffs had not shown discriminatory intent on the part of the defendants:
Having lived and worked with residents and officials from the Villages during these many years, Plaintiffs firmly believe that they have been targeted because of their religious beliefs, even if they cannot point to discriminatory statements by Defendants. The Court is sympathetic: who would know better than the Parties in this case whether the current dispute is a product of the decades-long tension between the Hasidic community and the Villages of Ramapo? However ... [b]ecause Plaintiffs have offered almost no evidence in support of their claims, and certainly not enough to raise a contested issue of material fact, the Court must grant summary judgment in favor of Defendants.