Yonkers Wins Below: Appeal Pending

by Robinson+Cole RLUIPA Defense

The Islamic Community Center for Mid Westchester (“ICCMW”) has appealed the decision of the Southern District of New York that held ICCMW’s claims were not yet ripe for review and ICCMW did not have the right to supplement its complaint to add an additional cause of action. ICCMW’s pre-argument statement to the Second Circuit, including the District Court decision, is available here.

Case Background: ICCMW sued the City of Yonkers, New York (“Yonkers”) in September, 2016 after the Yonkers Landmark Preservation Board (“Preservation Board”) and the Yonkers City Council designated a property owned by ICCMW (the “Property”) as a landmark pursuant to the City’s Historic and Landmark Preservation Law.  ICCMW had purchased the Property, which contains a large, 100+ year home, in order to establish a mosque and Islamic community center in the region. We previously posted about the cases here.

According to ICCMW, the landmark designation was motivated solely by community members’ prejudice against the Islamic faith. It specifically alleged that the Colonial Heights Association of Tax Payers (“CHAT”) submitted three applications to the Preservation Board regarding the Property to thwart ICCMW’s plans, without regard to the Property’s purported historic value.

Motion to Supplement: ICCMW sought to file a supplemental complaint with one additional cause of action—a First Amendment retaliation claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 based on the alleged actions of the Yonker’s Board of Assessment Review (“BAR”). According to ICCMW, although BAR ultimately sustained the Property’s tax exempt status, BAR requested supplemental application material from ICCMW and delayed ICCMW’s tax appeal to BAR in a retaliatory manner. The Court did not reach the merits of the allegation, finding that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction to consider alleged violations of ICCMW’s rights through the implementation of state taxes. The federal Tax Injunction Act bars federal district courts from enjoining, suspending or restraining the assessment of tax under state law.

Ripeness: Next, the Court considered Yonker’s motion to dismiss on ripeness grounds. As an initial matter, it rejected ICCMW’s assertion that it raised both facial and as applied challenges. “Even a cursory review of the complaint,” the Court reasoned, “reveals that the plaintiffs are challenging the application of the Landmark Law to them.”  Concluding that ICCMW only raised as applied challenges, it determined that the claims must satisfy the final decision requirement of Williamson County to ensure the case is ripe for adjudication.

Since ICCMW did not even apply to receive a “certificate of appropriateness” or a certificate of economic hardship to alter its property, the Court concluded that the claims were not ripe for review. Additionally, the Court rejected that argument that a futility exception should apply to the ripeness analysis because the exception requires at least one meaningful application.

ICCMW’s appeal is currently pending before the Second Circuit, and ICCMW is due to file a brief in support of its arguments on November 6, 2017.

Original photo by kool_skatkat, some rights reserved.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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