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Fair Housing in Hunting Committee v. Town of Huntington

July 8, 2010

FAIR HOUSING IN HUNTINGTON COMMITTEE, HUNTINGTON BRANCH, NAACP, BERNARD PEYTON, ATHENA HAWKINS, LYNDA JOHN, AND IAN JOHN, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
TOWN OF HUNTINGTON, NEW YORK, TOWN BOARD OF THE TOWN OF HUNTINGTON, AND TOWN OF HUNTINGTON PLANNING BOARD, DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiffs Fair Housing in Huntington Committee ("FHHC"), Huntington Branch, NAACP, Bernard Peyton, Athena Hawkins, Lynda John, and Ian John (collectively, "Plaintiffs") bring this action against defendants Town of Huntington, New York (the "Town" or "Huntington"), Town Board of the Town of Huntington (the "Town Board"), and Town of Huntington Planning Board (the "Planning Board") (collectively, "Defendants") challenging two housing developments in the Town that allegedly perpetuate and exacerbate race and national origin discrimination in housing in violation of various federal laws. Defendants move to dismiss the Amended Complaint pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(7) and 12(c). For the reasons that follow, Defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.

BACKGROUND

The background of this case is set forth in this Court's prior decisions dated March 23, 2005 and November 29, 2005, as well as the Second Circuit's decision in Fair Housing in Huntington Comm. Inc. v. Town of Huntington, New York, 316 F.3d 357 (2d Cir. 2003), familiarity with which is assumed. Thus, the Court will only state the facts necessary for disposition of the instant motion.

The Original Complaint and Plaintiffs' Request for a Preliminary Injunction

On May 8, 2002, plaintiffs FHHC, Senaye Green, Bernard Peyton, and Robert Ralph filed the initial Complaint in this action against the Town, the Town Board, the Planning Board, and S.B.J. Associates LLC ("SBJ") alleging, inter alia, that the development by SBJ of a 382-acre parcel of land located in the Town would have a disparate impact on minorities with regard to housing. At the time the Complaint was filed, this parcel of land -- formerly known as Long Island Development Center ("LIDC") and presently known as The Greens at Half Hollow (the "Greens") -- comprised the single largest remaining tract of undeveloped, residentially-zoned property in Huntington's overwhelmingly white neighborhoods. Citing the Second Circuit's decision in Huntington Branch, NAACP v. Town of Huntington, 844 F.2d 926 (2d Cir. 1988), Plaintiffs alleged that the Town "ha[d] an extended and well documented history of concentrating Minority Families in the least desirable areas of Huntington in violation of the Fair Housing Act." (Compl. ¶ 3.) Nevertheless, "on September 12, 2000, the Planning Board resolved to grant SBJ's request for a density bonus [i.e., an allowance for more homes per acre that existing zoning ordinarily permits], without any provision whatsoever for affordable family housing." (Id. ¶ 51.) Instead, the density bonus granted by the Town permitted SBJ to build 1,375 housing units -- 1,250 more than the 125 units permitted by the Greens' previous zoning -- with all affordable units restricted to seniors. (Id. ¶ 52.) Plaintiffs alleged that by facilitating SBJ's development of age-restricted homes at the Greens, the Town was further perpetuating Huntington's history of segregation in that senior housing generally results in a disproportionately low occupancy by minorities. The Complaint sought to enjoin the Town from proceeding with development of the Greens and also sought damages.

Soon after filing the Complaint, Plaintiffs sought a preliminary injunction directing the Town to revoke all then current permits allowing development of the Greens, enjoining the Town from issuing any further permits necessary for the development, and halting construction of the Greens by SBJ. By bench decision dated June 26, 2002, the Court denied Plaintiffs' motion, finding that Plaintiffs had failed to establish a likelihood of success on the merits of their claims against the governmental actors. With regard to SBJ, which was a defendant in the original action, the Court found that Plaintiffs had failed to meet the less rigorous standard of establishing a sufficiently serious question going to the merits and that even if they had, the balance of hardships tipped in Defendants' favor. (June 26, 2002 Tr. at 81-88.) This decision was affirmed by the Second Circuit on January 17, 2003. See Fair Housing in Huntington Comm., 316 F.3d 357.

The Amended Complaint and the Parties' Attempted Settlement

On April 8, 2004, Plaintiffs filed the Amended Complaint which is the subject of the instant motion. The Amended Complaint differs from the original Complaint in several ways. First, the parties are different. Two plaintiffs have been dropped (Senaye Green and Robert Ralph) and four plaintiffs have been added (Huntington Branch NAACP, Athena Hawkins, Lynda John, and Ian John). In addition, the Amended Complaint no longer names SBJ as a defendant.

Next, although the Amended Complaint continues to seek redress based upon the Greens project and the allegedly discriminatory effect of its senior housing, Plaintiffs have added a new claim concerning a separate housing development known as "Sanctuary" at Ruland Road. According to the Amended Complaint, SBJ, the developer of the Greens, also "owned certain property rights for Sanctuary." (Am. Compl. ¶ 9.) The Amended Complaint alleges that in July 1999, SBJ submitted its original proposal for the Greens to the Town. (Id. ¶ 42.) This proposal "included a development plan for Sanctuary comprising two- and three- bedroom homes that would at least partially ameliorate the discriminatory impact that the Greens development would have on Minority Families." (Id.) The proposal "was effectively rejected when the Town failed to even vote on the plan for more than a year." (Id. ¶ 9.) After the proposal was revised, however, on September 11, 2000, "so that the only affordable units planned for Sanctuary were one-bedroom and studio apartments, the Town acted the very next day to recommend the housing plan's approval, passing Resolution No. 2000-684." (Id.) Plaintiffs allege that Defendants acted in a discriminatory fashion because they knew or should have known that the multi-bedroom units would increase the minority population while the one-bedroom and studio units were far less likely to attract minorities. (Id. ¶ 11.) Thus, the Amended Complaint seeks redress based upon the senior housing at the Greens as alleged in the original Complaint, plus the now targeted small apartments proposed for Sanctuary, both of which, Plaintiffs proffer, discriminate against minority families.

The Amended Complaint asserts five causes of action: (1) violation of the Fair Housing Act ("FHA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601 et seq.; (2) violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1982; (3) violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (4) violation of 42 U.S.C. § 2000d et seq.; and (5) violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. On March 23, 2005, the Court granted Defendants' motion to dismiss the Amended Complaint and this case was dismissed in its entirety. Thereafter, however, on November 29, 2005, the Court granted Plaintiffs' motion for reconsideration. Upon reconsideration, the Court denied Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' first, second, third, and fifth causes of action. The fourth cause of action remains dismissed.

In May 2006, Defendants filed another motion to dismiss. However, in January 2007, the parties reached a settlement before Magistrate Judge William D. Wall and Defendants' motion was marked off the calender. By Order dated February 13, 2007, Judge Wall directed the parties to file a stipulation of discontinuance once the Town Board resolution was adopted. After several conferences before Judge Wall, Plaintiffs filed a motion seeking enforcement of the parties' settlement agreement. By decision dated March 31, 2008, Judge Wall denied Plaintiffs' motion. Plaintiffs thereafter moved for reconsideration. This motion was denied by Judge Wall on March 11, 2009.

Plaintiffs appealed Judge Wall's decisions on March 25, 2009, but later withdrew their objections. (See docket no. 154.) Accordingly, and finding no clear error in Judge Wall's Orders, which the Court treated as Reports and Recommendations, by Order dated April 2, 2010, the Court adopted Judge Wall's recommendations and denied Plaintiffs' motion to enforce the settlement.

The Present Motion to Dismiss

Presently pending before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss the Amended Complaint, initially filed in May 2006 and later reinstated to the calendar after the parties' settlement fell apart. Defendants argue that all claims asserted in the Amended Complaint are barred by the applicable statute of limitations and/or laches and that this action cannot go forward absent several necessary and/or indispensable parties. Plaintiffs counter that their claims are not time barred and that Defendants have failed to establish the absence of indispensable parties. For the reasons that follow, the Court finds that Plaintiffs' new claims concerning Sanctuary are time-barred and are therefore dismissed. The remainder of Defendants' motion is denied.

DISCUSSION

I. Statute of Limitations

The parties agree that Plaintiffs' FHA claims are governed by the two-year statute of limitations period in 42 U.S.C. § 3613(a)(1)(A) and that Plaintiffs' civil rights claims are governed by the three-year statute of limitations period "borrowed" from analogous New York state law. Defendants contend, however, that all of Plaintiffs' claims are time-barred. For the reasons that follow, the Court finds that the claims asserted in the original Complaint are timely but that the claims added by the Amended Complaint are untimely in that they do not relate back to the original pleading.

A. The Timeliness of the Original Complaint

Defendants' first argument is that Plaintiffs' claims concerning the Greens, which claims were asserted in the original Complaint, are time-barred. Defendants' argument is without merit.

The original Complaint -- which specifically challenged the exclusion of minorities from the Greens -- was filed in May 2002. It alleged that the State of New York sold the former LIDC site to SBJ in 1999 and that the Town issued a resolution in favor of the development of the Greens at that site in September 2000. That resolution also granted SBJ's request for a density bonus permitting SBJ to build 1,375 housing units -- 1,250 more than the 125 units permitted by the Greens' previous zoning -- for senior housing. Defendants maintain that the limitations period accrued prior to the Town's issuance of the resolution, arguing that Plaintiffs "knew, or should have known, the intentions of the Town regarding the development of the LIDC site for senior citizen housing." (Defs.' Mem. of Law in Supp. at 14.) Defendants point to, inter alia, a Task Force report concerning the Greens issued in 1995 by the LIDC Task Force, non-party SBJ's purchase of the LIDC property in 1999, and LIDC's application to the Town in 1999 for a zoning change. Defendants do not explain, however, how the Town's mere deliberations somehow started the limitations clock for challenges to subsequent Town zoning decisions. Similarly, Defendants cite no legal authority for their suggestion that preliminary activity by a developer would trigger the limitations period in this action against the Town for its allegedly discriminatory action. Accordingly, the Court finds that the original Complaint, which was filed less than two years after the Town's September 2000 resolution granting SBJ's zoning request, was timely filed.

B. The Relation Back of the Amended Complaint

The timeliness of the original Complaint does not resolve the statute of limitations question with respect to the Sanctuary development, which was not mentioned in the original Complaint. Because the Sanctuary rezoning was enacted by resolution on November 21, 2000, and the Amended Complaint was not filed until April 8, 2004, more than three years later, the Amended Complaint is timely with regard to these claims only if they relate back to the original Complaint. For the reasons discussed below, the Court finds that they do not.

1. The Relation Back Doctrine

Relation back is governed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c) which provides that "[a]n amendment to a pleading relates back to the date of the original pleading when . . . the amendment asserts a claim or defense that arose out of the conduct, transaction, or occurrence set out--or attempted to be set out--in the original pleading." Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(c)(1)(B). "Under Rule 15, the central inquiry is whether adequate notice of the matters raised in the amended pleading has been given to the opposing party within the statute of limitations by the general fact situation alleged in the original pleading." Slayton v. Am. Express Co., 460 F.3d 215, 228 (2d Cir. 2006) (internal quotation marks and citation ...


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