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RAMAPO HOMEOWNERS' v. OFFICE OF MENTAL RETARD.

January 16, 2002

THE RAMAPO HOMEOWNERS' ASSOCIATION, AN UNINCORPORATED ASSOCIATION OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK, PLAINTIFF,
V.
NEW YORK STATE OFFICE OF MENTAL RETARDATION AND DEVELOPMENTAL DISABILITIES, THOMAS G. MAUL, NEW YORK STATE COMMISSIONER OF THE OFFICE OF MENTAL RETARDATION AND DEVELOPMENTAL DISABILITIES, AND PROVIDER HAMASPIK OF ROCKLAND COUNTY, INC., DEFENDANTS.



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

    OPINION

An association of homeowners in the town of Ramapo, New York, has brought this action against a New York State agency, its commissioner, and a not-for-profit corporation that operates community residences for developmentally disabled persons. The homeowners allege that a broad array of their federal constitutional rights have been impermissibly impaired by virtue of defendants' decision to locate a community residence for the disabled in Ramapo. Defendants have moved pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b) to dismiss the complaint on the grounds that (1) the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits suit against a New York State agency and (2) the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Because the Eleventh Amendment does preclude the suit against the state agency and because the homeowners have failed to set forth any cognizable violations of their federal rights, defendants' motion is granted and the complaint must be dismissed.

BACKGROUND

I. The Padavan Law

The State of New York has a policy favoring the placement of mentally and developmentally disabled persons in small community residences which are operated by the New York State Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities or by private sponsoring agencies under that agency's aegis. See Jennings v. New York State Office of Mental Health, 90 N.Y.2d 227, 233-34, 682 N.E.2d 953, 660 N.Y.S.2d 352 (1997); Crane Neck Ass'n v. New York City/Long Island County Servs. Group, 61 N.Y.2d 154, 160-61, 460 N.E.2d 1336, 472 N.Y.S.2d 901 (1984). That policy is implemented, in part, by N.Y. Mental Hygiene Law § 41.34, which is known as the Padavan Law. See Crane Neck, 61 N.Y.2d at 162, 472 N.Y.S.2d 901, 460 N.E.2d 1336. The Padavan Law establishes the procedures used to determine where community residential facilities, in which up to fourteen disabled persons, including children and youth, can live and receive treatment, are to be located. See id. The law's provisions were designed "to provide for a fair distribution of community residences and to bring municipalities into the process of site selection, thereby minimizing resistance and avoiding legal battles that had impeded the community residence [policy]." Id. at 163, 472 N.Y.S.2d 901, 460 N.E.2d 1336. As this action as well as others suggest, "this goal has not always been met." De Jesus-Keolamphu v. Village of Pelham Manor, 999 F. Supp. 556, 560 (S.D.N.Y.), aff'd, 166 F.3d 1199 (2d Cir. 1998).

Pursuant to the Padavan Law, a sponsoring agency that intends to establish a community residence at a specific site must notify the chief executive officer of the municipality within whose borders the site lies. See N.Y. Mental Hygiene Law § 41.34(c)(1). The municipality then has forty days to either approve the recommended site, suggest other suitable sites within its jurisdiction, or object to the establishment of the facility on the ground that the municipality is already saturated with similar facilities. See N.Y. Mental Hygiene Law § 41.34(c)(1)(A)-(C); see also Jennings, 90 N.Y.2d at 240, 660 N.Y.S.2d 352, 682 N.E.2d 953. The municipality is authorized to hold a public hearing prior to making its decision. See N.Y. Mental Hygiene Law § 41.34(c)(2).

If the sponsoring agency and the municipality do not agree on a suitable site, either party can request an immediate hearing before the Commissioner of the New York State Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities to resolve the dispute. See N.Y. Mental Hygiene Law § 41.34(c)(5); see also Jennings, 90 N.Y.2d at 240, 660 N.Y.S.2d 352, 682 N.E.2d 953. The Commissioner, after considering "the need for such facilities in the municipality" and the "existing concentration" of similar facilities "in the municipality or in the area in proximity to the site selected," "shall sustain [a municipality's] objection if he determines that the nature and character of the area in which the facility is to be based would be substantially altered as a result of the establishment of the facility." N.Y. Mental Hygiene Law § 41.34(c)(5); see also Jennings, 90 N.Y.2d at 240-41, 660 N.Y.S.2d 352, 682 N.E.2d 953. A disappointed party — including a neighboring landowner — may seek review of the Commissioner's determination in a proceeding brought in New York State court pursuant to Article 78 of the N.Y. C.P.L.R. See N.Y. Mental Hygiene Law § 41.34(d); Talisman Drive Civic Ass'n v. Webb, 138 A.D.2d 610, 610, 526 N.Y.S.2d 193 (2d Dep't 1988) (citing Grasmere Homeowners' Ass'n v. Introne, 84 A.D.2d 778, 778, 443 N.Y.S.2d 956 (2d Dep't 1981)).

II. Selection of the 68 East Concord Drive Site

In September 2000, defendant Provider Hamaspik of Rockland County, Inc., a not-for-profit agency that operates community residences for the disabled, notified the Town of Ramapo that it intended to establish a community residence for eight developmentally disabled adults at 68 East Concord Drive in that town. (Compl. ¶ 9, Ex. A.) Ramapo's site selection committee then mailed notices to those residents who lived near the site and, after holding a hearing on Hamaspik's proposal, recommended to the Ramapo Town Board that it approve it. (Compl. ¶¶ 11-12, Exs.D, E.) Plaintiff, the Ramapo Homeowners' Association, a group of homeowners living near 68 East Concord Drive, urged the Town Board to reject the Hamaspik proposal or, at a minimum, consider alternative sites for the home. (Compl. ¶ 13, Ex. E.) At a meeting held on November 13, 2000, the Town Board voted to reject the Hamaspik proposal. (Compl. ¶ 14.)

Hamaspik then requested an immediate hearing before the Commissioner, defendant Thomas G. Maul, to resolve its dispute with the Town, as it was permitted to do pursuant to the Padavan Law. (Compl. ¶ 15.) Before the hearing took place, the Commissioner denied the Homeowners' Association's attempt to intervene at the hearing, stating that the Padavan Law did not recognize any party to the proceeding other than the Town and the proposed site sponsor. (Compl. ¶¶ 16-17, Exs.F, G.)

At the start of the Commissioner's hearing, which was held at the Ramapo Town Hall on December 11, 2000, the Town objected to the Commissioner's decision to deny intervention by the Homeowners' Association, arguing that the Padavan Law's scheme was fundamentally unfair and unconstitutional. (Compl. ¶ 18, Ex. H. at 21-23.) The hearing officer, Nicholas Pagano, Jr., told the Town attorney that although the Homeowners' Association could not intervene, Pagano would allow him to delegate any of his authority at the hearing to the Homeowners' Association's attorney. (Compl. Ex. H. at 24.) Pagano then took testimony and evidence from Hamaspik and the Town concerning the need for the proposed facility and the impact that it would have on the community. (Compl.Ex. H, ¶ 29.)

Approximately two months later, the Commissioner determined that he could not sustain the Town's objection to Hamaspik's proposal to build a residential facility at 68 East Concord Drive. (Compl. Ex. J.) Rather than file an Article 78 petition to contest the Commissioner's determination, the Homeowners' Association then commenced this litigation.

III. The Complaint

The Homeowners' Association brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on the ground that its members' constitutional rights have been violated. Specifically, plaintiff claims that the Commissioner's enforcement of the Padavan Law denies the "associational and economic liberties" of its members. (Compl. ¶ 1.) In addition, because the law itself is "arbitrary" and "unreasonable," and because it has been enforced in an "arbitrary" and "unreasonable" manner, Association members have allegedly been denied "Due Process and Equal Protection of the Laws" and the "privileges and immunities of citizenship." (Compl. ¶ 2.) More specifically, the complaint claims that the law provides no standard, and that no standard has been established by regulation, that defines the meaning of the terms "undue concentration," "the nature and character of the area," "area," "neighborhood," "need," "over-concentration," or "substantial alteration." (Compl. ¶¶ 28(d), 31.) As a ...


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