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CITY OF NEW ROCHELLE v. TOWN OF MAMARONECK

August 24, 2000

THE CITY OF NEW ROCHELLE, PLAINTIFF,
V.
THE TOWN OF MAMARONECK AND THE TOWN BOARD OF THE TOWN OF MAMARONECK, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: McMAHON, District Judge.

   
AMENDED MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS AND GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO REMAND THE STATE LAW CLAIMS TO NEW YORK SUPREME COURT

I. SUMMARY AND BACKGROUND

For some months, two shore communities in lower Westchester County have been embroiled in debate over a proposal to build an IKEA, the Swedish home furnishings superstore, on a 16.4-acre area on the eastern border of the City of New Rochelle, New York. Within New Rochelle, the matter has generated an extraordinary amount of dissension. City officials view the proposal as vital to urban redevelopment, while residents of the stable working-class neighborhood that would be destroyed if the City acquired the property needed for construction of the store oppose the project. But the highly publicized debate is not confined to the City's borders. Fearing that the store would create serious traffic congestion on its nearby streets, the adjacent Town of Mamaroneck has actively opposed the IKEA project.*fn1 When it became clear that New Rochelle intended to proceed with condemnation of the property, Mamaroneck's Town Board passed an ordinance, known as the Local Impact Review Law ("Local Law"), which requires that its Town Board review the impact of certain major development projects in an area outside of, but adjacent to, Mamaroneck. The Law provides that a permit must be granted upon a showing that the impact of the development on the Town will be mitigated.*fn2

New Rochelle commenced an action in the New York State Supreme Court for declaratory and injunctive relief and damages as a result of the passage of the Local Law. It asserts several constitutional and statutory claims under both Federal and State law. Defendants timely removed the action to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b), on the ground that this Court has original jurisdiction over the federal claims in suit. Defendants now move to dismiss the complaint on various substantive grounds, including lack of standing, lack of ripeness and failure to state a federal claim. Plaintiff opposes that motion and has cross-moved to remand the action to state court.

For the reasons stated below, Defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part. The state law claims are remanded to New York State Supreme Court. Plaintiff's remaining federal claim is stayed pending resolution of the issues of New York statutory and constitutional law that are paramount in this very local matter.

II. MAMARONECK'S MOTION TO DISMISS

New Rochelle commenced this case as a combined action and special proceeding in the Supreme Court of the State of New York in the County of Westchester. The notice of petition, summons and complaint asserted eight claims: (1) violation of the New York State Constitution; (2) violation of the Municipal Home Rule Law, art. 2, § 10; (3) preemption of the Local Law by the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act ("SEQRA"); (4) violation of the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution; (5) violation of the Due Process Clause; (6) violation of the Equal Protection Clause; (7) damages and attorney's feels pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and § 1988; and (8) violation of SEQRA. Defendant Mamaroneck removed the case to this Court by notice of removal on May 23, 2000 on the ground that this Court would have had original jurisdiction over the federal claims asserted in the complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and § 1343 on the basis that Plaintiff alleged violations of its federal civil rights. Because all of the state-law-based claims arise out of the same transaction and common nucleus of operative facts and circumstances, this Court has discretionary authority to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over those claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a). (See discussion at Section III, A., infra.)

Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure prior to serving their answer. They asserted three grounds: (1) Plaintiff lacks standing to raise the claims asserted in complaint; (2) the claims asserted in the complaint are not ripe for judicial review; and (3) Plaintiff fails to state any federal claims on which relief can be granted.

A. Standard

In reviewing a motion to dismiss, a court must accept the factual allegations set forth in the complaint as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. See Bernheim v. Litt, 79 F.3d 318, 321 (2d Cir. 1996). A complaint may not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it "appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Id. (citation omitted). Moreover, the court may only consider facts alleged in the complaint or in documents attached to the complaint or exhibits incorporated therein by reference. See Black Radio Network, Inc. v. NYNEX Corp., 44 F. Supp.2d 565, 573 (S.D.N.Y. 1999).

I address Defendants' justiciability arguments only to the extent they relate to the federal claims in the case.*fn3

B. Standing

1. Article III Standing

New Rochelle has standing to bring this suit.

"Whether a claimant has standing is `the threshold question in every federal case, determining the power of the court to entertain the suit.'" In re Gucci, 126 F.3d 380, 387-88 (2d Cir. 1997) (quoting Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 498, 95 S.Ct. 2197, 45 L.Ed.2d 343 (1975)), cert. denied, 520 U.S. 1196, 117 S.Ct. 1552, 137 L.Ed.2d 701 (1997). To establish standing to bring a complaint, a plaintiff must allege a personal stake in the outcome of the case and a "distinct and palpable" injury by way of "specific, concrete facts." Duke Power Co. v. Carolina Environmental Study Group, Inc., 438 U.S. 59, 72, 98 S.Ct. 2620, 57 L.Ed.2d 595 (1978). Mamaroneck argues that, because the Local Law imposes an environmental review requirement on "developers" and "development," but imposes no obligation on any municipal entities, including New Rochelle, New Rochelle lacks standing to challenge the law. Mamaroneck is wrong.

Contrary to Mamaroneck's contention, the Local Law does not limit its provisions to "developers" or "development," but rather applies to any "project" that is "undertaken" that "abuts, adjoins or is adjacent to a Town street." (Local Law at §§ 130-2, 130-3.) Nothing in the plain language of the statute limits its applicability to "developers." Nor does the Local Law explicitly exclude municipalities or municipally-sponsored projects from the permit requirements. It is thus reasonable to conclude that New Rochelle's current undertaking of a major urban renewal project within the Fifth Avenue Redevelopment Area involving the "physical alteration of 10 acres or more" would fall well within the Defendants' new Local Law. (Complaint ¶¶ 13-19.) I therefore find that New Rochelle has sufficiently alleged an "injury in fact" or such a personal stake in the outcome of the litigation as to warrant invocation of the Court's jurisdiction. See United States v. Cambio Exacto, 166 F.3d 522, 526 (2d Cir. 1999).

New Rochelle shares a 3.5 mile border with Mamaroneck. The proposed Fifth Avenue Urban Renewal Area abuts Mamaroneck. (Complaint ¶ 3). New Rochelle is in the midst of a comprehensive environmental review and other deliberations involving the Urban Renewal Area and the adoption of an Urban Renewal Plan. (Id. ¶¶ 113-33.) Indeed, Defendants have on several occasions conceded that the passage of the Local Law and its timing was directed at forcing New Rochelle to abandon its redevelopment efforts in the Fifth Avenue Area, specifically, the assemblage of property necessary for the development of the IKEA site. (Id. ¶¶ 3-4, 21-22, 33-34, 95-96.) For example, the Local Law was adopted after New Rochelle rejected Mamaroneck's request that Mamaroneck be granted "equal approver" status over the project under SEQRA. (Id. ¶¶ 32-35.) New Rochelle clearly has a sufficient legal interest and direct stake in being able to undertake redevelopment projects within its own borders without subjecting itself to the independent jurisdiction of the Town of Mamaroneck. And as Mamaroneck's efforts were specifically aimed at stalling New Rochelle's redevelopment plans, it is disingenuous, at best, for Mamaroneck to claim that New Rochelle is "attempting to assert the rights that actually belong, if at all, to the developer or owner of property that may be subject to the Local Law." (Def's Mem. at 7.)

Aside from the Urban Renewal Plan, New Rochelle also alleges that it owns roads and other properties within the area affected by the Local Law. Even if the law were not aimed specifically at the IKEA project (which it clearly is), New Rochelle would have sufficient allegations of injury to its own real property to confer standing upon it in this matter.

Because I have held that New Rochelle has standing under Article III to bring suit, I need not address whether it would also have third-party standing to represent the interests of developers and builders not party to this suit. See Singleton v. Wulff, 428 U.S. 106, 113, 96 S.Ct. 2868, 49 L.Ed.2d 826 (1976) (discussing the circumstances under which plaintiff's standing might be predicated on the rights of others).

2. Ripeness

Defendants further contend that, even if Plaintiff has standing to challenge the Local Law, New Rochelle's claims are speculative and premature because neither New Rochelle nor any developer has made an application under the Local Law. New Rochelle alleges that it suffered impairment of its state and federal rights at the moment the law was passed. To the extent that Count V of the complaint can be read to allege a taking of New Rochelle's real property in violation of the Due Process Clause, Defendants are correct; that claim is not ripe for review. All other claims, however, are ripe.

The doctrines of ripeness and standing are closely related. See Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 499 n. 10, 95 S.Ct. 2197, 45 L.Ed.2d 343 (1975). Ripeness requires that, in addition to the existence of a case or controversy between the parties, the "immediacy and reality" of the dispute support judicial intervention. Marchi v. Board of Cooperative Educational Services of Albany, 173 F.3d 469 (2d Cir. 1999). A court is precluded from entertaining claims based on "contingent future events" that may not occur as anticipated or at all. See Thomas v. City of New York, 143 F.3d 31 (2d Cir. 1998); Honess 52 Corp. v. Town of Fishkill, 1 West Page 360 F. Supp.2d 294 (S.D.N.Y. 1998). But a plaintiff need not "await the consummation of threatened injury to obtain preventative relief." Valmonte v. Bane, 18 F.3d 992, 999 (2d Cir. 1994). If the "perceived threat due to the putatively illegal conduct of the [defendants] is sufficiently real and immediate to constitute an existing controversy", the claim is ripe. Id. (citing Blum v. Yaretsky, 457 U.S. 991, 1000, 102 S.Ct. 2777, 73 L.Ed.2d 534 (1982)).

In determining ripeness, the court must balance the readiness of the issues for judicial resolution against the hardships that would result from withholding consideration. See Abbott Laboratories, Inc. v. Gardner, 387 U.S. 136, 149, 87 S.Ct. 1507, 18 L.Ed.2d 681 (1967). The readiness or fitness inquiry "addresses essentially prudential concerns regarding the propriety of judicial intervention before a fuller factual record has been developed." Blue Sky Entertainment, Inc. v. Town of Gardiner, 711 F. Supp. 678, 687 (N.D.N.Y. 1989) (internal quotation omitted).

New Rochelle alleges under Counts I and II that Defendants cannot enforce the Local Law because it impinges on New Rochelle's authority to regulate land use within its borders, as guaranteed in the New York State Constitution and the New York State Municipal Home Rule Law. (Complaint, ¶¶ 44-57.) In Count III, Plaintiff alleges that the Local Law is preempted by the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act ("SEQRA"). These claims represent a facial challenge to the Local Law and Mamaroneck's authority to assert jurisdiction over development in New Rochelle. They are pure questions of law and are ripe for adjudication.

In Count IV, New Rochelle alleges that adoption of the Local Law itself was a "final action" that had the effect of impeding business and development in the town in violation of the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution, (Complaint ¶ 80), and that the Local Law "imposes regulation that either bars businesses and developments from locating outside the Town of Mamaroneck and/or imposes an extra level of regulation with fees and costs upon such projects, [the Local Law] acts as a disincentive against those projects desiring to located [sic] within the City of New Rochelle." (Complaint ¶ 81.) Because this claim addresses the law on its face, and not the law as applied, this claim is also ripe.

Plaintiff alleges in Count V that the adoption of the Local Law violates the Due Process Clause by depriving "New Rochelle and its residents of their property rights and interests without a full and fair opportunity to be heard and without payment of just compensation," and also that the Law allows Mamaroneck to "acquire [New Rochelle's] property without due process of law or payment of just compensation." (Complaint ¶ 87.) Defendants argue that this claim is premature because Mamaroneck has not yet issued a decision under the Local Law, and that therefore any takings claim is unripe. (Indeed, no party has yet to make an application for approval under the Local Law.)

To the extent that Count V embraces such a claim, Defendants are correct. A federal court may review a land use decision by a municipal agency only if that agency has reached a "final decision" under the applicable ordinance. See Southview Assocs. v. Bongartz, 980 F.2d 84, 95-97 (2d Cir. 1992). This finality requirement can only be excused if the plaintiff demonstrates that pursuing the municipal procedures would be futile. Id. at 98-99 n. 8. Thus, to the extent Count V alleges a taking of New Rochelle's real property, Plaintiff's claim is not yet ripe for adjudication.

However, Count V includes a novel allegation under the Due Process Clause: Plaintiff alleges that the law — on its face — deprives New Rochelle of an alleged "property interest" in its municipal power to grant or deny development permits within its own municipal borders. Count V also includes the allegation that the law is "impermissibly and unconstitutionally vague." Because these claims present a facial challenge to the validity of the statute, I find them ripe for review. (Complaint ¶ 88.)

Count VI alleges an Equal Protection Clause violation on the grounds that the Local Law inhibits new construction in the City of New Rochelle, shifting development away from New Rochelle and also creates benefits for businesses in Mamaroneck by stifling competition. (Complaint ¶ 91.) As a result of the deprivation of these rights, New Rochelle alleges that it suffers or risks suffering ongoing economic damages. This claim alleges that the law is discriminatory on its face. It therefore meets the ripeness requirements.

I further find that withholding judicial determination at this time will cause significant hardship to the Plaintiff by delaying — perhaps indefinitely — Plaintiff's ability to proceed with the Urban Redevelopment Plan. This constitutes sufficient harm that further delay of adjudication would impair New Rochelle's rights to judicial redress. See Blue Sky Entertainment, 711 F. Supp. at 687.

I now turn to the merits of Plaintiff's ...


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