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Yonkers Racing Corp. v. City of Yonkers

decided: September 22, 1988.

YONKERS RACING CORPORATION AND ST. JOSEPH'S SEMINARY AND COLLEGE, PETITIONERS-APPELLANTS,
v.
CITY OF YONKERS, RESPONDENTS-APPELLEE, AND UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AND YONKERS BRANCH, NAACP, ET AL., INTERVENORS-APPELLEES



Appeals from an order denying petitioners-appellants' motions to remand to state court, following removal, Article 78 proceedings commenced in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, Westchester County and from an order denying and dismissing on the merits petitions for relief pursuant to Article 78, entered in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Leonard B. Sand, Judge). Affirmed in part, vacated and remanded in part. Judge Mahoney dissents in a separate opinion.

Altimari and Mahoney, Circuit Judges, and Korman, District Judge.*fn*

Author: Altimari

ALTIMARI, Circuit Judge:

These two separate appeals, which we have consolidated for purposes of this opinion, follow from the housing remedy portions of a prior judgment, entered in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Sand, J.), finding the City of Yonkers (the "City" or "Yonkers") liable for a pattern and practice over a span of forty years of deliberately concentrating federally subsidized low income housing in the southwest quadrant of Yonkers in order to maintain racial segregation, and ordering Yonkers, inter alia, to provide sites for 200 units of public housing in nonminority areas of the city. United States v. Yonkers Bd. of Educ., 624 F. Supp. 1276 (S.D.N.Y. 1985), and Housing Remedy Order, 635 F. Supp. 1577 (S.D.N.Y. 1986), aff'd, 837 F.2d 1181 (2d Cir. 1987), cert. denied, 486 U.S. 1055, 108 S. Ct. 2821, 100 L. Ed. 2d 922 (1988).

This case concerns the consent decree ("Consent Decree") reached between the City of Yonkers, the United States and the Yonkers chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) designating 7 public housing sites for 200 units of housing east of the Saw Mill River Parkway. Two of these sites currently are owned by petitioners-appellants Yonkers Racing Corporation (the "Raceway") and St. Joseph's Seminary and College (the "Seminary"), respectively. Pursuant to the terms of the Consent Decree approved by the Yonkers city council (the "City Council") and entered by the district court on January 28, 1988, the City initiated, under pain of contempt, condemnation proceedings in state court against the Raceway and Seminary sites. Thereafter, the Raceway and the Seminary filed separate petitions against the City in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, Westchester County, pursuant to Article 78 of the New York Civil Practice Law and Rules (CPLR), seeking to enjoin the condemnation of their respective properties. On May 27, 1988, Judge Sand ordered the City of Yonkers to remove the Article 78 proceedings to the district court.

The Raceway and the Seminary appeal from an order denying their motions to remand the Article 78 proceedings back to state court and from an order dismissing their Article 78 petitions on the merits. The district court held that removal was authorized under the federal removal statutes, 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441, 1443, and the All Writs Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1651. In addition, the court determined that the extraordinary nature of the proceedings warranted application of statutory exemptions from the notice, hearing and review requirements of the New York Eminent Domain Procedure Law (EDPL) and from the provisions of the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA). The district court also found that, even if such exemptions did not apply, there was such substantial compliance with the notice, hearing and review provisions of state law that petitioners' statutory rights were not violated. Finally, the district court considered the Seminary's first and fourteenth amendment free exercise challenge to the taking of its property and held that, since the inclusion of the Seminary's property was an integral part of the Consent Decree and thus essential to efforts designed to remedy racial segregation in housing, no valid claim for a violation of the first amendment had been advanced.

On appeal, the Raceway and the Seminary principally contend that removal was improper under the federal removal statutes and the All Writs Act since only a defendant is permitted to remove and the City of Yonkers was a plaintiff, not a defendant, in the underlying condemnation proceedings. Petitioners further contend that not only are the exemptions to the EDPL and SEQRA inapplicable but that full compliance with the notice, hearing and review provisions of the statutes is required. The Seminary separately argues that the district court erred in rejecting its free exercise defense to the condemnation of its property without the benefit of a hearing to determine whether other reasonable alternatives exist to the taking of religiously owned and used property.

For the reasons that follow, we affirm the district court's order denying petitioners' motions to remand for lack of federal removal jurisdiction, but solely on the authority of the All Writs Act. We also affirm the court's order dismissing the Article 78 petitions in all respects except with regard to the Seminary's first amendment challenge to the taking of its property which is remanded to the district court for further consideration.

BACKGROUND

The underlying facts of the Yonkers litigation are set forth in exhaustive fashion in Judge Kearse's recent opinion affirming the district court's finding of liability against the City under both Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (the "Fair Housing Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 3601 et seq., and the equal protection clause of the fourteenth amendment, and therefore need not be restated here. For our purposes, it suffices simply to emphasize that this court concluded, as did Judge Sand, that "'the extreme concentration of subsidized housing that exists in Southwest Yonkers today is the result of a pattern and practice of racial discrimination by City officials, pursued in response to constituent pressures[,] to select or support only sites that would preserve existing patterns of racial segregation, and to reject or oppose sites that would threaten existing patterns of segregation.'" 837 F.2d at 1194 (quoting 624 F. Supp. at 1373).

To remedy the statutory and constitutional violations, the district court in part ordered the City to fulfill its preexisting commitment with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to provide sites for 200 units of public housing east of the Saw Mill River Parkway funded by HUD's Community Development Block Grant program. 635 F. Supp. at 1580. Following this court's affirmance of the housing remedy order, the City, in January 1988, entered into extensive negotiations with the Department of Justice and the NAACP concerning compliance by the City with its obligation under the Housing Remedy Order to designate public housing sites. Under threat of contempt sanctions by the district court for noncompliance with the Housing Remedy Order, the City eventually reached an agreement with the Department of Justice and the NAACP designating 7 sites on which to build a total of 200 units of public housing. The agreement was incorporated into the Consent Decree which required the City to initiate eminent domain proceedings, if necessary, to acquire these sites within 60 days. As part of the Consent Decree, HUD was to review and approve the housing sites while the City was in the process of acquiring title to the 4 designated properties which were privately owned. Within 80 days of the entry of the decree, final HUD approval was to have been obtained and the City was to have solicited proposals from developers for construction of the housing.

Two of the privately owned properties included the Raceway site, a 1.2-acre parcel now used as a parking lot and currently slated for 24 units of housing, and the Seminary site, a 2-acre parcel on the border of the Seminary's 44-acre property and also currently slated for 24 units of housing. On January 25, 1988--the date that the City reached agreement with the United States on the Consent Decree--the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York on behalf of the Seminary issued a statement concerning the designation of the Seminary site:

The Archdiocese of New York has been informed that there has been a recent decision to build units of affordable housing upon property now belonging to the Archdiocesan Major Seminary, Saint Joseph's, in the Dunwoodie section of Yonkers. Since it has been decided to proceed with these plans, the Archdiocese will do everything possible to promote the success of the effort. . . .

Advised of the Cardinal's intent to facilitate the construction of public housing on the Seminary site, Judge Sand welcomed the Church's participation and support. A month later, the City of Yonkers, pursuant to the terms of the Consent Decree, made offers of purchase to the owners of each privately owned site; the Archdiocese rejected the City's offer on March 18, 1988. On March 21, John Cardinal O'Connor wrote to Judge Sand stating that while the Archdiocese supported the addition of public housing in Yonkers, it believed there were "serious problems in the current plan." Cardinal O'Connor expressed concern that four of the seven housing sites would be located in one parish in southeast Yonkers. The Cardinal also objected to the public perception that he had "volunteer[ed]" the Seminary site. His Eminence explained that he had decided in January to "'yield graciously'" to the City, apparently believing (albeit erroneously, as it later became apparent) that the Seminary site would be condemned with or without his consent.

The district court responded by suggesting that the City and the Archdiocese consider substituting an alternate site in place of the Seminary property. In the interim, the court ordered the City of Yonkers to initiate eminent domain proceedings against the Seminary as well as against the Raceway, which also had rejected the City's offer to purchase its property. On April 24, 1988, two days after the City filed condemnation petitions in state court, the Cardinal declared that the Consent Decree was "fatally flawed." In addition, he said he was "deeply resentful" of the process which led to the condemnation action and which put the Archdiocese in the "humiliating position" of being perceived as "so resistant to making the property available that the court had to require the city to condemn the property."

The City of Yonkers then attempted to vacate the Consent Decree on the basis of a "mutual mistake" between the City Council and the Archdiocese. In support of its motion to vacate under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b) dated May 2, 1988, the City argued that the Cardinal's endorsement of the Consent Decree and his willingness to sell the Seminary site had been essential to the City's approval of the decree--the support of the Catholic Church being critical in order to achieve acceptance of the housing plan by the City's residents, a substantial proportion of whom are Catholic. At oral argument on the motion to vacate, the district court determined that while the Cardinal's support for the Consent Decree had been a "welcome occurrence," it had not been so crucial that his subsequent withdrawal of support was sufficient to invalidate the decree. In any event, the court noted that, even assuming there had been a mistake, the proper course of action for the City was simply to propose a modification of the Consent Decree designating an alternative to the Seminary site. Judge Sand thereupon directed the City to meet with the Archdiocese to see if some accommodation could be reached.

Meanwhile, the Seminary and the Raceway filed answers with affirmative defenses to the condemnation petitions, and on May 11, 1988, instituted Article 78 proceedings against the City claiming that the proposed condemnations were "null and void." The parties also sought injunctive relief preventing the City from acquiring the two sites. By the end of May, once it became clear that the City and the Archdiocese had failed to reach any agreement regarding the designation of an alternate housing site and that the City Council would not propose any modification of the Consent Decree, the United States filed an order to show cause in the district court seeking removal of the Article 78 proceedings from state court. On May 27, 1988, the district court granted the order directing the City to remove the Article 78 proceedings to federal court and permitted the United States and the NAACP, plaintiffs in the underlying civil rights litigation, to intervene as respondents.

In ordering removal of the Article 78 proceedings, the district court explained:

During the informal discussions which preceded entry of the consent decree, the question was raised whether [the] condemnation proceedings should be commenced in [the district] court or in state court. It was then the understanding of the parties that the sole issue which would be present in the condemnation proceedings related to value, that is, the amount to be paid to the property owner whose land was condemned by the City of Yonkers in implementation of the housing remedy order. It was with that understanding and intention that the consent decree did not contain a provision requiring that the condemnation proceedings go forward in [the district] court. . . .

Judge Sand also found a "significant risk" if removal were not ordered that the City of Yonkers "[would] be confronted with inconsistent orders from two courts [--] . . . an order of [the district] court to proceed with the condemnation of the two properties, and an order of [the] state court either not to proceed with that condemnation or to proceed pursuant to [procedures] and a timetable . . . inconsistent with [that] established by [the district] court." While the All Writs Act was, according to Judge Sand, to be invoked only as a "last resort," the court determined that, rather than allow the parties to go forward in state court knowing full well that there would be resort to the district court for injunctive relief against the implementation of any state court order inconsistent with the Consent Decree, the "more appropriate procedure" was for the district court to exercise removal jurisdiction over the Article 78 proceedings in the first instance. In sum, the court characterized the Article 78 proceedings as a "classic case" for invocation of the All Writs Act to effectuate removal.

Following removal, petitioners filed motions to remand the Article 78 proceedings to state court. On June 8, 1988, the district court heard argument from counsel on the motions to remand, the merits of the Article 78 proceedings and the City's motion to vacate the Consent Decree. With regard to the motions to remand, the court held that removal was authorized under the general federal removal statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1441, the civil rights removal statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1443, and the All Writs Act. The court further stated that removal was appropriate because the petitioners' defenses to the condemnations were best litigated in federal court with the benefit of an existing record, that removal would not deprive petitioner of their right to be heard on the merits of their Article 78 petitions, and that removal would eliminate the possibility of inconsistent orders from two courts.

On the merits of the Article 78 petitions, the district court concluded that the "emergency situation" provision of section 206(D) of the EDPL applied in the instant case to exempt the City of Yonkers from compliance with the notice, hearing and review requirements of the statute, and that the proposed condemnations were exempt from SEQRA pursuant to the court order provisions of SEQRA's implementing regulations. 6 NYCRR § 617.2(q). Moreover, according to the district court, the process by which the public housing sites were designated and reviewed constituted substantial compliance with the purposes of the notice, hearing and review requirements of state law.

As for the Seminary's free exercise challenge, the district court indicated that aside from the issue of the validity of the Seminary's claim of a protectible religious purpose for the two-acre site under the first amendment, the alleged interference with the pastoral contemplative atmosphere of the only seminary in the Archdiocese had to be balanced against the need to vindicate the federal constitutional rights of those citizens of Yonkers who have been denied fair housing. In striking the balance in favor of vindication of fair housing rights, the court found the inclusion of the Seminary site in the Consent Decree to be essential.

Accordingly, the district court denied petitioners' motions to remand and the City's motion to vacate the Consent Decree,*fn1 dismissed the Article 78 petitions, and ordered the Seminary and the Raceway to "present to [the state c]ourt a proposed order stating that, insofar as all substantive grounds for objection to the proceedings in question have been . . . resolved in [federal c]ourt, . . . the eminent domain proceedings shall go forward in accordance with State law . . . to determine the sole remaining issue of valuation of [the] properties."

Discussion

I. JURISDICTION

A. The Removal Statutes

Section 1441(a) of Title 28 provides in pertinent part that "any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction, may be removed by the defendant. . ., to the district court . . . for the district . . . where such action is pending" (emphasis added). The civil rights removal statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1443(2), provides in pertinent part that any civil action commenced in state court "[f]or any act under color of authority derived from any law providing for equal rights, or for refusing to do any act on the ground that it would be inconsistent with such law" may be removed "by the defendant to the district court . . . for the district . . . embracing the place wherein it is pending" (emphasis added).

The initial question to be considered on this appeal is whether the City of Yonkers was correctly deemed by the district court to be a defendant for removal purposes under either statute. Appellants argue that Yonkers was not a proper party to petition the state court to remove the Article 78 proceedings since it was the plaintiff in the underlying condemnation proceedings, and the Article 78 proceedings were merely state law procedural vehicles for raising defenses to the condemnation petitions. See Matter of Piotrowski v. Town of Glenville, 101 A.D.2d 654, 475 N.Y.S.2d 511, 512 (3d Dep't 1984) (defenses to condemnation action are properly brought via an Article 78 proceeding); but cf. Town of Coxsackie v. Dernier, 105 A.D.2d 966, 482 N.Y.S.2d 106, 107 (3d Dep't 1984) (challenge to condemnation may be made by way of an answer in that proceeding). In this regard, appellants cite two Supreme Court decisions, Mason City & Fort Dodge R.R. v. Boynton, 204 U.S. 570, 579-80, 51 L. Ed. 629, 27 S. Ct. 321 (1907) and Chicago, Rock Island & Pac. R.R. v. Stude, 346 U.S. 574, 580, 98 L. Ed. 317, 74 S. Ct. 290 (1954), for the proposition that, regardless of the state's procedural provisions, where a party seeks to remove a condemnation proceeding to federal court, the condemnor is the plaintiff and the condemnee is the defendant.

The United States and the NAACP,*fn2 intervenors herein, respond by pointing out that the actions removed from state court were the Article 78 proceedings, not the underlying condemnation proceedings. Indeed, the condemnation actions are still pending in state court. In the Article 78 proceedings, the City of Yonkers clearly was the defendant. Intervenors argue that the Article 78 actions were separate proceedings from the condemnation actions and that the Mason City and Chicago, Rock Island decisions are distinguishable.

Both Supreme Court decisions cited by appellants involved Iowa eminent domain statutes under which the condemnee was required to initiate a proceeding contesting the assessment of the condemned property's value arrived at by a sheriff's jury. In that separate proceeding, the condemnee was the plaintiff under state law. In each case, the Supreme Court held that in construing the removal statute, federal law determined who was the plaintiff and who was the defendant, Chicago, Rock Island, 346 U.S. at 580; Mason City, 204 U.S. at 579; see Shamrock Oil & Gas Corp. v. Sheets, 313 U.S. 100, 104, 85 L. Ed. 1214, 61 S. Ct. 868 (1941) ...


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