not moving either action forward. However, plaintiffs fail to
indicate whether they've taken steps to dispose of either action.
For example, plaintiffs can move to dismiss the civil action for
want of prosecution. See N.Y. Civ.Prac.L. & R. § 3216 (McKinney
1970 & Supp. 1990). Moreover, the defendants' attorneys represent
that they have recently been substituted as attorneys for the
Town in the civil action, and that that action will now be
diligently prosecuted. Based on the record, the Court finds that
the state proceedings are "ongoing" for Younger purposes.
As for the second question, plaintiffs contend that the state
court actions do not involve important state interests because
the actions present no disputed or unsettled questions of state
law. However, for Younger purposes, these factors are by no means
dispositive in determining the importance of the state's
interest. Indeed, these factors are more significant in an
analysis of other abstention doctrines not raised here.
Plaintiffs further contend that the state's interest in
regulating nonconforming uses is not sufficiently important. The
Court does not agree. As discussed below, the right of a
municipality to regulate land use and enforce its regulations
through criminal and civil enforcement actions implicates
important state interests.
In determining the substantiality of the state's interest in
its proceedings, a court must "not look narrowly to [the state's]
interest in the outcome of the particular case," but rather, to
"the importance of the generic proceedings to the state." New
Orleans Pub. Serv., Inc. v. Council of New Orleans, ___ U.S.
___, 109 S.Ct. 2506, 2516, 105 L.Ed.2d 298 (1989) (emphasis in
original) (pointing out that "[i]n Younger, for example, we did
not consult California's interest in prohibiting John Harris from
distributing handbills, but rather its interest in `carrying out
the important and necessary task' of enforcing its criminal laws"
(quoting Younger, 401 U.S. at 51-52, 91 S.Ct. at 754)); Ohio
Civil Rights Comm'n v. Dayton Christian Schools, Inc.,
477 U.S. 619, 628, 106 S.Ct. 2718, 2723, 91 L.Ed.2d 512 (1986) (looking to
Ohio's general interest in preventing sex discrimination by
employers, not to Ohio's specific concern with Dayton Christian
School's firing of Linda Hoskinson). Consequently, this Court
must look to the state's interest in criminal and civil
proceedings to enforce the Town's zoning ordinances and land use
regulations. From this perspective, it is clear that the justice
court action implicates important state interests. Similarly, the
supreme court action brought by the Town to obtain compliance
with its zoning ordinance, implicates important state interests.
See, e.g., World Famous Drinking Emporium, Inc. v. City of Tempe,
820 F.2d 1079, 1082-83 (9th Cir. 1987).
In World Famous Drinking Emporium, the Ninth Circuit determined
that important state interests were implicated by a civil action
by the City of Tempe to enforce compliance with its public
nuisance ordinances. Significantly, after noting that the city
had the option of proceeding either by civil or criminal
enforcement of its municipal ordinance, the court held that "the
option of criminal enforcement demonstrates the importance of the
underlying state interest." World Famous Drinking Emporium, 820
F.2d at 1083. The court then concluded that "[s]uch an action, in
aid of and closely related to Tempe's zoning ordinance and akin
to a criminal prosecution, clearly involves an important state
interest." Id. On similar reasoning, it is clear that the civil
enforcement action — the supreme court action — brought by the
Town also implicates important state interests. Thus, the second
requirement for invoking Younger abstention is satisfied.
Finally, as for the third question, notwithstanding plaintiffs'
contention that they cannot both raise their claims in the
justice court action, where only Michael Sendlewski is a
defendant, they fail to allege that they cannot both do so in the
supreme court action, where both are defendants. See Northeast
Mines, Inc. v. Town of Smithtown, 584 F. Supp. 112, 114 (E.D.N Y
1984). Plaintiffs have apparently made no attempt to raise their
constitutional claims in the supreme court proceeding.
Accordingly, because the Court finds that plaintiffs have an
adequate opportunity to present their constitutional claims in
supreme court proceeding, the third requirement for Younger
abstention is satisfied.
Plaintiffs argue that even if Younger abstention is otherwise
appropriate, defendants' purported bad faith makes it
inappropriate. In Younger, the Supreme Court recognized that
federal relief can be granted in a case to which Younger
otherwise applies where there is a showing of bad faith or
harassment in bringing or conducting the state proceeding.
Younger, 401 U.S. at 50, 91 S.Ct. at 753; see also Middlesex, 457
U.S. at 435, 102 S.Ct. at 2523 (abstention would be inappropriate
upon showing of "bad faith, harassment, or some other
extraordinary circumstance"). Here, the state proceedings were
initiated based on the 1984 survey, which the Town construed as
showing that the nonconforming use was limited to the northern
two acres, and on the 1987 inspection showing that the
nonconforming use had been expanded. As noted above, the Town
apparently required the survey from plaintiffs' predecessor in
response to its concern that either the nonconforming use had
been abandoned or the nonconforming use did not encompass the
entire premises. The dispute between the parties concerns the
scope of plaintiffs' nonconforming use, as to which plaintiffs
have the burden of showing that the property had been used for
the nonconforming purpose at the time the ordinance became
effective. Greene v. Town of Blooming Grove, 879 F.2d 1061, 1065
(2d Cir. 1989). Based on the record, which includes deposition
testimony of certain Town officials, this Court finds that
plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate that the Town brought the
state actions in bad faith, i.e., without a reasonable
expectation of prevailing in the supreme court action or
obtaining a conviction in the justice court action. Kugler v.
Helfant, 421 U.S. 117, 95 S.Ct. 1524, 44 L.Ed.2d 15 (1975); see
also 32 Am Jur. 2d, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1805 (1982).
Furthermore, the appellate division's reversal of the preliminary
injunction granted by the supreme court, as noted above, does not
demonstrate the purported bad faith on the part of the Town and
its officials. Accordingly, the bad faith exception to Younger
abstention does not apply in this case.
For the reasons above, the Court refuses to exercise
jurisdiction on the basis of Younger and its progeny.
Accordingly, the action is dismissed and the Clerk of the Court
is directed to close the file in this case.