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RANKO BRASHICH v. PORT AUTH. OF NEW YORK & NEW JER

December 20, 1979

DEYAN RANKO BRASHICH, Plaintiff,
v.
THE PORT AUTHORITY OF NEW YORK AND NEW JERSEY, ALAN SAGNER, JOHN DOE #1 THROUGH 10, INCLUSIVE, NAMES BEING FICTITIOUS BUT TO BE SUPPLIED AT COMPLETION OF DISCOVERY, ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH OF OUR LADY OF THE SKIES, THE COUNCIL OF CHURCHES OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK, INC., and THE INTERNATIONAL SYNAGOGUE AND JEWISH CENTER, INC., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: PIERCE

OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff sues for declaratory and injunctive relief, claiming violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. He sues pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3) and (4). Plaintiff asserts that governmental leasing of land to religious groups for the erection of religious chapels, and the presence of three religious chapels at John F. Kennedy ("JFK") Airport, is a violation of the Establishment Clause. *fn1" This action was tried to the Court, and in accordance with Rule 52(a) Fed.R.Civ.P., the following shall constitute the Court's findings of fact and conclusions of law.

 THE FACTS

 Plaintiff, Deyan Ranko Brashich, is a citizen of the United States; he has been a resident of New York State for eight years; and he is a user of JFK's facilities (Tr. 24). *fn2" Defendant Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is a public entity which was created in 1921 by a congressionally-approved compact between the states of New York and New Jersey; the Chairman of the Port Authority is defendant Alan Sagner. Among other things, the Port Authority operates the public facility known as JFK Airport it does so under color of state law (Tr. 17). *fn3" The City of New York (not a party to this action) is the owner in fee of the land on which the Airport is located 4,620 acres and which it leased to the Port Authority for an indefinite period of years. *fn4" The Port Authority, as an independent autonomous entity, raises its own revenue and relies upon its own resources without dependence upon state tax revenues. It lacks the power to levy taxes and, without legislative approval, the power to pledge the credit of either the State of New York or the State of New Jersey (N.Y.Unconsol.Laws § 6408) (McKinney). The Port Authority finances its projects primarily through the sale of bonds to the investing public.

 The Central Terminal Area of JFK some 900 acres is city-like in nature and is located approximately at the center of the Airport. There are a variety of facilities in the area, including: nine airline terminals, a control tower, banks, barber shops, a beauty salon, book and stationery stores, a cutlery store, and gift shops; there is a 24-hour medical service, a dental service, a pharmacy, vehicle parking and automobile service stations, a central heating and refrigeration plant, and there is a chapel plaza with three chapels. More than 40,000 employees work at JFK Airport. In 1978, the Airport accommodated approximately 22 million passengers. The distance from the terminal area to the perimeter of the Airport is approximately two miles.

 The three chapels in controversy are located on a plaza in the middle of the Central Terminal Area on the north side of a lagoon; it is separated from the terminals and passenger services by a principal roadway. By reason of this separation, the chapels do not interfere with the operation and functioning of the Airport. *fn5"

 Prior to 1952, under the auspices of an organization known as the Catholic Guild of New York International Airport, religious services were conducted on Sundays in the terminal building at the Airport. In 1952, a group of Airport employees sought to lease land accessible to this terminal building for the purpose of erecting a chapel to provide Catholic religious services to Airport employees and the travelling public. On November 6, 1952, the Port Authority authorized the issuance of a permit to the Roman Catholic Church of Christ the King (hereinafter "Catholic") for the construction of a chapel. *fn6" At the same time, the Port Authority announced that it would enter into similar arrangements with any other religious groups that might be interested in constructing a chapel at the Airport. *fn7"

 On March 26, 1953, the Port Authority issued a one year space permit (a form of lease) to Catholic pursuant to the November 6, 1952 authorization. As in all of its leases, the permit did not reserve title in the permittee to any improvements made on the land. This was in accord with the Port Authority's lease with the City of New York, which provides that title to any and all buildings, structures, and additions to the JFK Airport land is to vest in the City of New York immediately upon annexation to the land (Tr. 36). The original permit arrangement contemplated a chapel of a temporary and moveable nature; Catholic estimated the cost of constructing such a chapel at $ 25,000.

 On March 12, 1954 the permit was extended indefinitely and, later that month, the Port Authority approved the erection by Catholic of a structure of a more permanent nature, namely, a one-story steel and masonry structure with brick walls. Construction of this chapel was completed in 1955. It was built on one quarter acre of land which was leased at a rental rate of $ 325 per annum based upon a rate of $ 1,300 per acre per annum. *fn8" The permit provided that the permittee was to pay the costs of construction and maintenance no limit was imposed on the cost of construction. The Port Authority agreed to pay the cost of bringing utilities to the site.

 On June 6, 1957, and March 5, 1959, respectively, the Port Authority granted the applications of defendants International Synagogue and Jewish Center, Inc. (hereinafter "Jewish") and the Council of Churches of the City of New York, Inc. (hereinafter "Protestant") *fn9" to lease land at JFK. The lease agreements were similar to the earlier leasing arrangements which had been made with Catholic. These new leases were to each cover approximately one acre of land at the rental rate of $ 1,300 per acre per annum, and were to provide for twenty year terms. It was anticipated by the Port Authority's Committee on Operations that the then existing space permit with Catholic would be terminated and replaced by a similar long term lease. *fn10"

 On December 22, 1958, a lease was signed with the defendant Jewish. At about the same time, a lease was drafted pursuant to negotiations undertaken with defendant Protestant, although it was not signed at that time.

 In May, 1960, after the plans and specifications of the Jewish and Protestant chapels had been completed and approved, the Port Authority, as a result of a growing need for additional airline passenger terminals and increased vehicular parking areas, redesigned its master plan for JFK Airport. In the new master plan, the area which previously had been leased for the chapels was redesignated for other purposes and the three religious groups were assigned to the present site. Since this necessitated relocation solely for the benefit of the Port Authority, and since the three religious groups had incurred certain costs of construction or planning for chapels at the original site, the Port Authority decided to reimburse them accordingly. The chapel of defendant Catholic at the old site had to be demolished under the new master plan. Consequently, the payment of $ 260,000 for the old chapel was authorized by the Port Authority as full compensation for reconstruction costs. After negotiations with Protestant and Jewish, each of which had incurred certain planning costs but had not yet actually commenced construction, an agreement was reached for the payment of $ 25,000 to each for planning costs which had been incurred.

 On March 29, 1963, the current leases between the Port Authority and the three religious groups for the new sites were formally executed. The terms of the new leases were almost identical to those negotiated with respect to the earlier ones. The new leases provided for approximately one acre of land for each religious group for a term of twenty years to commence at the point of completion of the chapels. The lease rate was again set at the rate of $ 1,300 per acre per annum. The lessees were required to pay their own construction and utility service costs, although the Port Authority paid the costs of providing paving and utilities to the new site (Tr. 120-26), and reimbursed the groups for costs incurred for the central heating plant connections (Tr. 128). The new chapels are located on the north side of the lagoon in the Central Terminal Area and access to them is much less favorable than it had been at the old site since, for safety reasons, there is no direct access from the high-speed roadway to the chapel area. The new chapel plaza site was originally designated by the Port Authority for aesthetic use (Tr. 232). The old site is currently being used for a passenger terminal (Tr. 235).

 Since the final construction of the chapels, the Port Authority, pursuant to its policy as a landlord of attending affairs given by its tenants (Tr. 139-42), has on occasion, bought tickets to various social/fund-raising events sponsored by the religious groups. *fn11" The Port Authority, at its expense, has provided directional and parking signs at the Airport giving instructions to persons interested in visiting the chapels, pursuant to a Port Authority policy of paying for all airport directional ...


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