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WESTCHESTER DAY SCHOOL v. VILLAGE OF MAMARONECK

September 5, 2003

WESTCHESTER DAY SCHOOL, PLAINTIFF AGAINST VILLAGE OF MAMARONECK, THE BOARD OF APPEALS OF THE VILLAGE OF MAMARONECK, MAURO GABRIELE, GEORGE MGRDITCHIAN, PETER JACKSON, BARRY WEPRIN AND CLARK NEURINGER, IN THEIR OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS MEMBERS OF THE BOARD OF APPEALS OF THE VILLAGE OF MAMARONECK, AND ANTONIO VOZZA, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS A FORMER MEMBERS OF THE BOARD OF APPEALS OF THE VILLAGE OF MAMARONECK, DEFENDANTS


The opinion of the court was delivered by: William Conner, Senior District Judge

OPINION AND ORDER
Conner, Senior D.J.:

Plaintiff Westchester Day School ("WDS" or "plaintiff"), brings this action against defendants Village of Mamaroneck, the Zoning Board of Appeals of the Village of Mamaroneck ("ZBA"), Mauro Gabriele, Peter Jackson, James Gaita, George Mgrditchian, Barry Weprin and Clark Neuringer, in their official capacity as members of the ZBA.*fn1 Plaintiff has moved for partial summary judgment under FED. R. Civ. P. 56 on Counts I and II of their Amended Complaint. Count I alleges that by not allowing WDS to undertake the construction and renovations outlined in their special permit application ("Application"), defendants have imposed a substantial burden on the free exercise of religion by WDS, without any compelling government interest to do so, in violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc et seq. ("TILUIPA"). Count II of the Amended Complaint alleges that the decision to deny the Application was arbitrary and capricious and was not supported by evidence in the record and seeks relief under the All Writs Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1651. For the reasons discussed below, plaintiffs motion for partial summary judgment is granted.

BACKGROUND

The facts concerning this action are set forth in the Court's Opinion and Order of December 4, 2002 (the "Order"), Westchester Day School v. Village of Mamaroneck, 236 F. Supp.2d 349 (S.D.N.Y. 2002), and familiarity with that decision is presumed. The facts pertinent to the instant motion are as follows. The Court's prior Order held that the negative declaration (a determination by the ZBA that no significant adverse environmental impacts will result and that no Environmental Impact Statement process is required) was not properly rescinded and is still in full force and effect. Additional public hearings on the Application were then held in December 2002 and January, February and March 2003. On January 10, 2003. a conference was held before this Court, during which the Court directed the ZBA to give WDS a list of outstanding issues that were of concern to the ZBA and that might impede the issuance of the special permit modification to WDS. The ZBA provided WDS with its issues list on Page 2 January 17, 2003 and WDS responded to each issue on January 30, 2003. (Hammerman Aff., Ex. B; Hammerman Aff. ¶ 17.)

At the public hearing on February 6, 2003, the ZBA indicated that they wanted to hold a special meeting to "wrap up" the Application and that it wanted to address only two remaining issues at that special meeting — one, the possibility of moving the new building (Gordon Hall) slightly further from the property line and, two, the overall square footage of Gordon Hall. (PI. Mem. Supp. Summ. J. at 7.) The ZBA also asked to see a rear visual of Gordon Hall from Skibo Lane. At the hearing on March 13, 2003, after a few hours of discussion and public comment, the ZBA closed the public hearing and began its deliberations. (Id. at 8.) Just prior to the close of the public hearing, WDS asked the ZBA if there was anything else the ZBA wanted WDS to address, and the ZBA responded no. (Hammerman Aff. ¶ 19.)

The ZBA continued to deliberate over the next two months, including publicly on April 3, 2003, May 1, 2003 and May 13, 2003. On May 13, 2003, the ZBA voted 3-2 to adopt a resolution denying the Application in its entirety (the "Resolution"). (Hammerman Aff, Ex. E.)

DISCUSSION

I. Summary Judgment Standard

Plaintiff moves for partial summary judgment pursuant to FED. R. Civ. P. 56. Summary judgment may be granted "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The burden rests on the moving party to demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Ticali v. Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, 41 F. Supp.2d 249, 254 (E.D.N.Y. 1999). A genuine factual issue exists if there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmovant for a reasonable jury to return a verdict in his favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986); Ticali, 41 F. Supp.2d at 254. In deciding whether summary judgment is appropriate, the court resolves all ambiguities and draws all permissible factual inferences against the Page 3 movant. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. Summary judgment is warranted when the nonmovant has no evidentiary support for an essential element on which it bears the burden of proof. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23; Silver v. City Univ. of N.Y., 947 F.2d 1021, 1022 (2d Cir. 1991).

II. Constitutionality of RLUIPA

Initially, we are mindful of the general proscription that federal courts should not become zoning boards of appeal to review land use determinations. See Zahra v. Town of Southold, 48 F.3d 674, 679-80 (2d Cir. 1995) (quoting Sullivan v. Town of Salem, 805 F.2d 81, 82 (2d Cir. 1986)). However, "federal courts may exercise jurisdiction in zoning matters when local zoning decisions, such as here, infringe national interests protected by statute or by the constitution." Innovative Health Sys., Inc. v. City of White Plains, 931 F. Supp. 222, 234 (S.D.N.Y. 1996). Defendants argue that plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgement should be denied on the grounds that RLUIPA is unconstitutional. We disagree.

A. Background of RLUIPA

On September 22, 2000, President Clinton signed RLUIPA into law. There is little dispute that it was adopted in response to the Supreme Court's partial invalidation in 1997 of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 ("RFRA"), 107 Stat. 1488, 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb-2000bb-4, in City of Boerne v. Flores, 521 U.S. 507 (1997). Freedom Baptist Church of Delaware County v. Township of Middletown, 204 F. Supp.2d 857, 861 (E.D. Pa. 2002). In 1990, the Supreme Court decided Employment Div. v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990), which held that rights under the Free Exercise Clause do not "relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a `valid and neutral law of general applicability on the ground that the law proscribes (or prescribes) conduct that his religion prescribes (or proscribes).'" Id. at 879. The Court refused to apply the balancing test employed in Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398 (1963), which held that government actions that substantially burden a religious practice must be justified by a compelling governmental interest. Smith, 494 U.S. at 883-84. The Court concluded that Sherbert has been largely confined to the context in which it was decided — denial of Page 4 unemployment compensation — and that, in any case, its rule does not apply to neutral laws of general applicability. Id. at 879.

In direct response to Smith, Congress in 1993 enacted RFRA. The statute purported to codify the Sherbert test and to apply it to all government acts that "substantially burden" religious exercise, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability. 42 U.S.C. ยง 2000bb-1, 2000bb(b). Four years later, the Supreme Court struck down RFRA, at least as it relates to state and local governments, in City of Boerne. Although Congress may enforce constitutional rights pursuant to Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment, the ...


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