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The anderson Group, LLC and Gail anderson v. City of Saratoga Springs; Michael Lenz; Saratoga Springs City Council

June 21, 2011

THE ANDERSON GROUP, LLC AND GAIL ANDERSON, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CITY OF SARATOGA SPRINGS; MICHAEL LENZ; SARATOGA SPRINGS CITY COUNCIL; THOMAS CURLEY; MATTHEW MCCABE; THOMAS MCTYGUE; STEPHEN TOWNE; SARATOGA SPRINGS PLANNING BOARD; LEWIS BENTON; ROBERT BRISTOL; ROBERT ISRAEL; WILLIAM MCTYGUE; NANCY OHLIN; AND LOU SCHNEIDER, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gary L. Sharpe District Court Judge

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

I. Introduction

Plaintiffs Gail Anderson and the Anderson Group, LLC commenced this action against defendant City of Saratoga Springs,*fn1 alleging claims under the Fair Housing Act (FHA)*fn2 for disparate treatment, disparate impact discrimination, and perpetuation of segregation.*fn3 Following a nine-day jury trial that began on June 21, 2010, the jury returned a verdict finding that (1) both plaintiffs failed to prove that Saratoga engaged in disparate treatment; (2) the Anderson Group proved that Saratoga engaged in disparate impact discrimination, and Saratoga failed to prove its conduct furthered a legitimate, bona fide governmental interest and that no alternative action would have served that interest with a less discriminatory impact; (3) Gail Anderson failed to prove that Saratoga engaged in disparate impact discrimination; (4) the Anderson Group proved that Saratoga engaged in the perpetuation of segregation against African Americans, but Saratoga proved that its conduct furthered a legitimate, bona fide governmental interest and that no alternative action would have served that interest with a less discriminatory impact; and (5) Gail Anderson failed to prove that Saratoga engaged in the perpetuation of segregation against African Americans. (See Verdict Form, Dkt. No. 237.) And having found Saratoga liable only under the Anderson Group's claims, the jury awarded the Anderson Group $1,000,000 in compensatory damages. (See id. at 7.) Pending is Saratoga's motion pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 50 and 59 for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, for a reduction of the verdict, or for a new trial. (See Dkt. No. 262.) For the reasons that follow, the court grants Saratoga's motion for a new trial and, in the alternative, grants a remittitur of the damages award, but otherwise denies Saratoga's motion.

II. Standard of Review

Under Rule 50, "[j]udgment as a matter of law is proper when 'a party has been fully heard on an issue and there is no legally sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to find for that party on that issue.'"

United States v. Space Hunters, Inc., 429 F.3d 416, 428 (2d Cir. 2005) (citing FED. R. CIV. P. 50(a)(1)). Rule 59(a)(1), however, permits a new trial when "in the opinion of the district court, the jury has reached a seriously erroneous result or ... the verdict is a miscarriage of justice." DLC Mgmt. Corp. v. Town of Hyde Park, 163 F.3d 124, 133 (2d Cir. 1998) (quotation marks and citation omitted). Rule 50 requires the court to "consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the party against whom the motion was made and ... give that party the benefit of all reasonable inferences that the jury might have drawn in his favor from the evidence." Space Hunters, Inc., 429 F.3d at 429 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see also Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000). "The court cannot assess the weight of conflicting evidence, pass on the credibility of the witnesses, or substitute its judgment for that of the jury." Space Hunters, Inc., 429 F.3d at 429 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Thus, a Rule 50 motion may be granted only if "the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the opposing party, is insufficient to permit a reasonable juror to find in her favor." Galdieri-Ambrosini v. Nat'l Realty & Dev. Corp., 136 F.3d 276, 289 (2d Cir. 1998). Under Rule 59, the court is free to weigh the evidence and grant a new trial if the jury's verdict is against the weight of that evidence. See DLC Mgmt. Corp., 163 F.3d at 133.

III. Discussion

A. Standing*fn4

Preliminarily, Saratoga reasserts its argument that the Anderson Group lacks standing to have brought and recover for a disparate impact claim. (See Def. Mem. of Law at 3-13, Dkt. No. 262:1.) While both parties agree that the only basis for the Anderson Group's injury could be economic losses, (see id. at 4; Pl. Resp. Mem. of Law at 4-5, Dkt. No. 267), Saratoga contends that the evidence adduced at trial demonstrates that the Anderson Group-separate and apart from Gail Anderson-had an insufficient interest in, i.e., no legally enforceable rights relating to, the Spring Run Village land, (see Def. Mem. of Law at 7-13, Dkt. No. 262:1).

The FHA confers standing upon "any person who ... claims to have been injured by a discriminatory housing practice." 42 U.S.C. §§ 3602(i)(1), 3613(a)(1)(A). FHA standing is construed as broadly as Article III of the United States Constitution permits, see Havens Realty Corp. v. Coleman, 455 U.S. 363, 375-76 (1982), and is therefore conferred as long as three elements of the "irreducible constitutional minimum" are met:

First, the plaintiff must have suffered an 'injury in fact'-an invasion of a legally protected interest which is ... concrete and particularized, and ... actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical. Second, there must be a causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of-the injury has to be fairly traceable to the challenged action of the defendant, and not the result of the independent action of some third party not before the court. Third, it must be likely, as opposed to merely speculative, that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision.

Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560-61 (1992) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted); see also Vill. of Arlington Heights v. Metro. Hous. Dev. Corp., 429 U.S. 252, 260-61 (1977) ("The essence of the standing question ... is whether the plaintiff has alleged such a personal stake in the outcome of the controversy as to warrant [its] invocation of federal-court jurisdiction and to justify exercise of the court's remedial powers on [its] behalf." (internal quotation marks and citation omitted)). Under this lenient standard, courts have granted standing to, among others, developers asserting challenges under the FHA against municipal decisions that present a barrier to developments. See, e.g., Lynn v. Vill. of Pomona, 373 F. Supp. 2d 418, 426-28 (S.D.N.Y. 2005) (finding that real estate developer has standing where it "suffered economic losses and other hardships as a result of defendant[ village's] allegedly discriminatory application of [a local zoning ordinance]"); cf., e.g., Reg'l Econ. Cmty. Action Program v. City of Middletown, 294 F.3d 35, 46 n.2 (2d Cir. 2002) (finding that not-for-profit corporation has standing where it "suffered an injury through the denial of its special-use permit application"); Support Ministries for Persons with AIDS, Inc. v. Vill. of Waterford, 799 F. Supp. 272, 278 (N.D.N.Y. 1992) (finding that state officials have standing to sue for denial of building permits based on, among other things, the state's economic interest in people with AIDS being placed in residential care facilities rather than medical facilities).

Here, notwithstanding the court's shared concern about whether the Anderson Group actually constitutes an intended beneficiary of the FHA's protections, the court-consistent with its prior rulings, (see Oct. 18, 2007 Hr'g Tr. at 12-14, Dkt. No. 128)-is satisfied that the evidence adduced at trial does not undermine, but rather reinforces, the Anderson Group's standing. The testimonial and documentary evidence offered at trial established that the Anderson Group expended time, money, and effort in developing the plans for Spring Run Village, soliciting and receiving professional services, and preparing and submitting its proposals and applications to Saratoga. (See Trial Tr. at 175-79, 187, 213-16, 264, 317, 352-55, 368, 565-67, 1284; Pls. Trial Exs. 92, 95, 204, Dkt. Nos. 267:7-9; see also Pls. Trial Exs. 14, 16, 18, 26, Special Use Permit Appls., Dkt. Nos. 267:3-6.) In addition, Willard Anderson offered testimony that the Anderson Group suffered some loss of potential profits, income, or fees as a result of Saratoga's actions. (See Trial Tr. at 296-301, 442.) Although the actual value of these losses is subject to considerable infirmities-which the court will address further below-the quality, or nature, of these losses is sufficient to give rise to an injury-in-fact under the FHA. These economic injuries are fairly traceable to Saratoga's zoning policies and practices. And insofar as the Anderson Group was seeking compensation for these economic injuries, such injuries were redressable by a favorable decision.

To the extent Saratoga now asserts, or continues to assert, that the Anderson Group was not authorized under the Saratoga Municipal Code to apply for a special use permit and, therefore, could not have suffered a legally cognizable injury, (see Def. Mem. of Law at 8-9 n.12, Dkt. No. 262:1), the court considers both halves of this assertion to be flawed. First, one could arguably infer from Gail Anderson, Willard Anderson, Susan Touhey, and Gregory Anderson's testimony, (see Trial Tr. at 114-15, 146-47, 165-66, 317-19, 1013, 1036-40), that Gail Anderson, a principal of the Anderson Group, entered into an oral or implicit agreement with the Anderson Group and its other principals regarding the ownership of, dominion over, or development of the Spring Run Village land. Thus, Gail Anderson and the Anderson Group's shared interest in and control over the Spring Run Village land may have qualified the Anderson Group to be an eligible applicant under the Municipal Code. Regardless, the Anderson Group correctly counters that its eligibility as an applicant "is not determinative of standing" since it "could, and did, establish its personal stake separate and apart from being the entity named on and submitting the special use applications." (Pls. Resp. Mem. of Law at 6-7 n.5, Dkt. No. 267.) Consequently, the court rejects Saratoga's argument that the Municipal Code operates to block the ...


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