Congregation Rabbinical College of Tartikov v. Village of Pomona, N.Y.
01/05/2018: Commentary on Congregation Rabbinical College of Tartikov federal trial decision
I recently came across a federal District Court decision which gives an excellent primer on the analytical framework for a facial attack on a set of local land use regulations under RLUIPA, as well as the U.S. Constitution. Facial attacks on land use regulations are among the most difficult to prove, . . . .
This case is an excellent example of . . . how to try a RLUIPA case, . . . .
Commentary, "Tartikov v. Pomona and RLUIPA," Lexology Newsfeed (Jan. 5. 2018)
12/07/2017: Congregation Rabbinical College of Tartikov successful at trial, winning RLUIPA, Fair Housing Act and constitutional claims against Village of Pomona, N.Y.
Trial Decision: S&A client Congregation Rabbinical College of Tartikov wins challenge to targeted zoning ordinances prohibiting student family housing and otherwise regulating educational uses:
[The court] found the village defense of its laws lacking, and that Tartikov's attorneys showed certain aspects of the zoning were "enacted for an improper, discriminatory purpose" and therefore invalid. "The defendants construct an interesting theory, for that is all that it is," Karas said. "They have no evidence to back it up. In any event, none this theorizing changes in any way the overwhelming evidence of discriminatory animus, or (the) fact this law served no compelling interest."
S. Lieberman, "Judge says Pomona zoning is discriminatory for dorm school," LoHud.com (Dec. 7, 2017)
The court held that the ordinances violate multiple provisions of RLUIPA, the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause, the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause, the New York Constitution's protections of religious freedom and equal protection, the Fair Housing Act, and freedom of association principles. S&A joined co-counsel Savad Churgin and John Stepanovich in representing the Rabbinical College. In its decision, the court held:
The flaw in Defendants’ reasoning is that Local Law No. 5 of 2004 was not adopted in a vacuum; other events that occurred around the time of adoption undercut Defendants’ position. For example, the same Board that voted in favor of Local Law No. 5 and disclaimed a discriminatory purpose also voted to challenge Ramapo’s ASHL because it was allegedly passed “to secure for one religious community a unique and significant zoning benefit.” . . . That religious community was Orthodox/Hasidic Jews. It is unsurprising, then, that Local Law No. 5 was designed to prohibit the exact same type of multi-family housing permitted under the Ramapo ASHL. . . . In any event, none of this theorizing changes in any way the overwhelming evidence of discriminatory animus, or the fact that this law served no compelling interests. . . . In light of Defendants’ failure to provide any credible justification for the passage of the Wetlands Law, or even explain what purpose it serves, the Court is left to conclude that the law was enacted to thwart Tartikov’s proposed rabbinical college.
The discriminatory nature of the Challenged Laws bolsters Plaintiffs’ substantial burden claim. See Fortress Bible II, 694 F.3d at 219 (“[W]hen the town’s actions are arbitrary, capricious, unlawful, or taken in bad faith, a substantial burden may be imposed because it appears that the applicant may have been discriminated against on the basis of its status as a religious institution.”); WDS II, 504 F.3d at 350 (“The arbitrary application of laws to religious organizations may reflect bias or discrimination against religion.”); id. at 351 (“Where the arbitrary, capricious, or unlawful nature of a defendant’s challenged action suggests that a religious institution received less than even-handed treatment, the application of RLUIPA’s substantial burden provision usefully backstops the explicit prohibition of religious discrimination in the later section of the Act.” (internal quotation marks omitted)); see also Sts. Constantine & Helen, 396 F.3d at 900 (“If a land-use decision . . . imposes a substantial burden on religious exercise . . . and the decision maker cannot justify it, the inference arises that hostility to religion, or more likely a particular sect, influenced the decision.”). As discussed above, Defendants have failed to offer a credible justification for the Challenged Laws, suggesting that their only purpose was to single out Tartikov and other Orthodox/Hasidic land uses.
The decision is available here: Congregation Rabbinical College of Tartikov v. Village of Pomona, Civ. No. 07-6304 (Dec. 7, 2017)
"Rabbinical College Wins Challenge To Zoning and Environmental Laws," Religion Clause (Dec. 8, 2017)
05/14/2017: Tartikov's challenge to Pomona, N.Y.'s targeted ordinances heads to trial
The village of Pomona's legal fight against the Congregation Rabbinical College of Tartikov over plans to build a dormitory school goes to court Monday. In a bench trial before U.S. District Judge Kenneth Karas in the federal courthouse in White Plains,Tartikov's lawyers will press their claim that the village's laws are discriminatory and unconstitutional.
R. Brum, "Pomona's fight against religious school goes to trial," LoHud (May 14, 2017)
06/01/2016: Federal court rules that "community character" does not satisfy RLUIPA's compelling interest standard, also awards attorneys fees to plaintiff for spoliation
In rejecting the Village of Pomona, N.Y.'s argument that "community character" was a compelling interest sufficient to survive strict scrutiny review under the Free Exercise Clause and RLUIPA in Congregation Rabbinical College of Tartikov's challenge to various laws passed by the Village, the court noted that:
Defendants cite not a single case providing a definition of "community character" that incorporates the elements outlined by Defendants, let alone any decision from the Supreme Court or the Second Circuit holding that such "community character" is a compelling interest sufficient to survive strict scrutiny. . . . Indeed, the amorphous nature of "community character" leaves open the argument that this alleged interest could be "a pretext for racial discrimination; more subtly, a community's self-definition may be influenced by social or economic stereotypes . . . ."
Congregation Rabbinical Coll. of Tartikov, Inc. v. Vill. of Pomona, No. 07-CV-6304, slip op. (S.D.N.Y. May 25, 2016)
In another decision issued on the same day, the court also awarded attorneys' fees to the plaintiffs:
The village must fork over $43,040 in legal fees to Congregation Rabbinical College of Tartikov as part of a 12-year-old unresolved legal fight over the yeshiva's plans to build a dormitory school in the community. [The court] recently penalized the village after finding Mayor Brett Yagel and former Trustee Rita Louie had destroyed evidence in the lawsuit.
S. Lieberman, "Judge: Pomona must pay Tartikov $43K in legal fees for erased evidence," The Journal News (June 1, 2016)
J. Stashenko, "Village Directed to Pay $42,940 for Spoliation," New York Law Journal (June 2, 2016)
Congregation Rabbinical Coll. of Tartikov, Inc. v. Vill. of Pomona, No. 07-CV-6304, 2016 WL 3030253 (S.D.N.Y. May 25, 2016)
10/05/2015: Coverage of Congregation Rabbinical College of Tartikov v. Village of Pomona decision
"Most of Rabbinical College's Challenges To Land Use Restrictions Are To Proceed To Trial," Religion Clause (Oct. 2, 2015)
U.S. District Judge Kenneth Karas issued the sanctions on Sept. 29. In his 145-page opinion, Karas called it the "rare case where bad faith and a clear intent to deprive Plaintiffs of the evidence... is sufficiently clear."
A. Taylor, "Judge sanctions Pomona in rabbinical college fight," The Journal News (Oct. 5, 2015)
09/30/2015: Rabbinical College lawsuit headed to trial
On September 29, 2015, the federal district court for the Southern District of New York issued its decision and order denying summary judgment on most claims in the Congregation Rabbinical College of Tartikov litigation, holding that "[t]here is ample evidence in the record to make the question of discriminatory purpose a disputed fact" and that "'the building of rabbinical college,' of which student housing would be a part, 'falls squarely within [the] definition of ‘religious exercise,’' and that 'the multi-family dormitories that [Plaintiffs] seek to build are intended to facilitate religious exercise.'" The opinion is available here.
04/23/2015: U.S. Department of Justice files amicus brief supporting constitutionality of RLUIPA in Congregation Rabbinical College of Tartikov's lawsuit against Pomona, N.Y.
In response to the Village of Pomona's arguments that RLUIPA is unconstitutional on its face and as applied in the Congregation's lawsuit challenging the Village's enactment of various laws preventing the Congregation from using its 100-acre property to train rabbinical judges, the United States Department of Justice intervened to defend the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000. The Congregation is represented by S&G, together with co-counsel Savad Churgin of Nanuet, New York, and Stepanovich Law, P.L.C. of Chesapeake, Va.
The defendants in Westchester Day School also challenged RLUIPA’s land use provisions as unconstitutional. The Second Circuit held that RLUIPA was a valid exercise of Congress’s authority under the Commerce Clause, and that the project at issue in that case—substantial renovations to a Jewish religious school, with projected construction costs of about $9 million—fell within RLUIPA’s protections. In addition, the Court held that RLUIPA’s land use provisions do not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. And the Westchester Day School Court also held that RLUIPA’s land use provisions do not exceed the limitations that federalism places on otherwise valid congressional power. Here, the defendants challenge the application of RLUIPA to the proposed construction of a religious school and raise similar arguments. This case is indistinguishable from Westchester Day School, and defendants’ constitutional attacks on RLUIPA are meritless under that controlling authority. Finally, to the extent the defendants here raise constitutional attacks on RLUIPA not addressed by Westchester Day School, these arguments are also without merit.
Read the Department of Justice's brief here.
05/17/2014: "Communities pay a high price when religious groups invoke land-use law"
With a population of about 3,000, Pomona had spent at least $1.5 million in legal fees as of March to fend off Tartikov's challenge. Those bills have required Pomona to bolster its finances with a property-tax hike of 70 percent implemented in 2008-09. Another double-digit tax increase is expected for 2014-15 to help keep up with payments.
The expanding Orthodox Jewish population has brought the specter of RLUIPA to many proposed developments in the Ramapo area. The conflict between accommodating those needs and upholding local zoning codes has played out in courts and neighborhoods across the town and its villages.
G. Shillinglaw & A. Matsuda, "Communities pay a high price when religious groups invoke land-use law," Journal News (May 17, 2014). Congregation Rabbinical College of Tartikov is represented by S&G together with Savad Churgin and Stepanovich Law, PLC.
01/24/2013: The Advocate reports on Congregation Rabbinical College of Tartikov
According to Storzer, . . . this is an extreme case; "One that brings to mind the civil rights conflicts of the 1960s. We need to stop the Village of Pomona, and municipalities across the country, from using their zoning power as a tool to control unpopular religious groups. RLUIPA supersedes local zoning codes in cases such as this by allowing municipalities to consider plans for the development of religious uses that may otherwise be prohibited outright, like this Yeshiva. By denying the Rabbinical College the right to even apply for the necessary permits, while secular colleges or colleges of other religious traditions would be permitted, and even refusing to meet with Congregation representatives, the village has violated the letter and the spirit of the First Amendment and RLUIPA."
A. Moeller, "Pomona Yeshiva Case Moves Forward in Court," The Advocate (Jan. 24, 2013).
01/04/2013: Federal court denies Village of Pomona's motion to dismiss Congregation Rabbinical College of Tartikov's facial challenges to zoning code.
Among other holdings in its 102-page decision, the court wrote that the "Plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged that the multi-family dormitories that they seek to build are intended to facilitate religious exercise, thus bringing this accessory use within RLUIPA’s protections."
Read the decision here.
M. Hamblett, "Parties say ruling clarifies issues under religious land use law," New York Law Journal (Jan. 11, 2013).
A. Matsuda, "Group's rabbinical college lawsuit can proceed, but Pomona claims 'win," The Journal News (Jan. 10, 2013).
08/31/2010: New York Court of Appeals will hear Rabbinical College tax exemption case
The Court of Appeals will consider an Appellate Division ruling in May that Congregation Rabbinical College of Tartikov remains tax exempt for its camp amid 130 acres off Routes 203 and 306. The Appellate Division panel overruled a state Supreme Court justice who sided with Ramapo's decision to tax the congregation.
NY’s highest court to decide if Ramapo can tax a religious day camp, Steve Lieberman, Journal News.
05/20/2009: Rabbinical College lawsuit against Village of Pomona argument heard in federal court
Attorneys representing Pomona village and a developer of a planned rabbinical college had their first face-off yesterday afternoon before a U.S. District Court judge. Congregation Rabbinical College of Tartikov sued the village in July 2007, arguing that Pomona's land-use regulation and conduct prohibited it from building and operating the college and housing for students on a 130-acre site off routes 202 and 306. . . . Roman P. Storzer, attorney for the developer, told the judge that the village's actions have been discriminatory against Hasidic Jewish students, who simply wish to enjoy their rights to study.
“Pomona, Tartikov developer clash before federal judge,” Page 2 Journal-News (May 21, 2009).
03/10/2009: Mr. Storzer, together with co-counsel Paul Savad and John Stepanovich, will defend the Congregation Rabbinical College of Tartikov's lawsuit against the Village of Pomona, New York
The College's Complaint states:
The history described [in the complaint], including the targeted laws, actions and conduct, and the statements made by public officials including the newly elected Mayor Sanderson, demonstrate the entrenched hostility to the Plaintiffs' use of the Subject Property as a Rabbinical College.
The hearing before the Honorable Judge Kenneth M. Karas in the Southern District of New York was postponed from February 10.
"Tartikov Yeshiva Dispute Returns To Court Next Week," Yeshiva World News (Feb. 1, 2009).
"Pomona, NY - Tartikov Town Dispute Back in Court," Voz Iz Neias (Feb. 1, 2009).
06/01/2008: "Municipalities wrangle with religion over zoning laws"
This case presents a really clear set of circumstances," said Roman Storzer, a Washington, D.C., lawyer who is co-counsel for the rabbinical college involved. "It shows a substantial burden being placed on a particular faith group and is a perfect case for the equal-terms provision of [RLUIPA]. It is an emblematic case of why Congress passed the statute." . . . "This represents a boiling-over point for Rockland County," said Storzer. "There has been a large influx of “[Hasidic Jews]” into the county, who have a very different lifestyle, form of worship, and form of education. The backlash began in the '90s and the discrimination has continued."
Municipalities wrangle with religion over zoning laws, Carmel Sileo, Trial.
01/26/2008: Congregation opposes Village of Pomona's motion to dismiss lawsuit
The congregation's response, filed last week, says that the village's motion to dismiss is an effort to direct the court's attention away from its complaint, ignoring "the true undercurrent of what is happening in Pomona, where a new administration was elected on a platform ofkeeping the plaintiffs out of the 'close knit community.'"
One of the village's arguments in asking the judge to dismiss the case was that the congregation rushed into court to file the lawsuit without tryingto use available avenues under the village's zoning law.
In the opposition filing, the congregation disagreed with the argument, saying the village is telling Tartikov to "apply for administrative relief that doesn't exist." "This case is about the plaintiff's right to live in a community free from discriminatory, burdensome, and unreasonableregulations, and free to engage in their constitutionally protected religious speech, worship, and education," the document stated.
Rabbinical college asks judge to keep suit against Pomona alive, Akiko Matsuda, The Journal News (Jan. 26, 2008).
07/13/2007: Rabbinical College files suit against discriminatory zoning laws in Pomona, N.Y
"We need to stop the Village of Pomona, and municipalities across the country, from using their zoning power as a tool to control unpopular religious groups," Storzer said."
Journal News story here
Brooklyn Daily Eagle story here.
02/02/2007: "A yeshiva? Not in our village"
"The college chose Pomona in part because it is close to Monsey, another haredi outpost, where students and their families will have access to facilities such as kosher supermarkets and yeshivas for their children."
"Before the Holocaust, each Orthodox community had its own beit din religious court that handled issues such as marriage, divorce and financial disputes. Since then, the number of courts has dwindled drastically, and so has the number of rabbis qualified to sit on them..."
". . . Once there will be more rabbinical courts and judges, in the community, I'm sure there will be more Jewish people, even not religious, who will start going to rabbinical courts to be judged according to the Halacha."
"The college is gearing up for what it expects will be a heated fight for the right to develop the land. It has hired Roman Storzer, an expert on the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), which states that municipal regulations cannot impose a substantial burden on religious practices. It also hired John Stepanovich, who has worked on similar cases in Airmont, New York."
Michal Lando, Jerusalem Post, reporting on the Rabbinical College matter in Rockland County, New York. Read the story here
01/21/2007: New York Times reports on Tartikov case
“I believe a church should not be treated the same as a Wal-Mart or a gas station,” said Roman Storzer, one of the lawyers best known nationwide for pursuing Rluipa claims, who is working with the developers. “It’s in our Constitutional tradition to put a thumb on the scale in favor of religious institutions, and for good reason.”
P. Applebome, "Where Religion Meets Real Estate, a Developer and a Town Face Off," New York Times (Jan. 21, 2007)