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Town of Ramapo v. Town of Clarkstown

United States District Court, S.D. New York

February 27, 2017

THE TOWN OF RAMOPO, NEW YORK; ELLEN STACK; SEAN STACK; PATRICIA HENDRICK; DAN DALY; and MENDEL TAUB, Plaintiffs,
v.
THE TOWN OF CLARKSTOWN by its Town Board; and JOHN DOES "1-5", Defendants.

          OPINION & ORDER

          NELSON S. ROMAN, United States District Judge

         Plaintiffs the Town of Ramopo, New York ("Ramopo"), Ellen Stack, Sean Stack, Patricia Hendrick, Dan Daly, and Mendel Taub (collectively "Plaintiffs") initiate this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1982, 1983, and 1985(3), the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3604(a) and § 3617 ("FHA"), the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, New York Civil Rights Law § 40-c ("NYCRL"), Section 291 of the New York State Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. Law § 291(2) ("NYSHRL"), and the New York State Constitution, against the Town of Clarkstown ("Clarkstown") and John Does 1-5 (collectively "Defendants"), alleging claims of interference with Plaintiffs federal right to interstate and intrastate travel, right to association, right to equal protection of the laws, right to assemble, and claims of religious discrimination and retaliation against Plaintiffs in the housing context. Defendants have moved to dismiss the complaint pursuant to either Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) or 12(b)(6) on various grounds, including that the action is procedurally barred by res judicata or that the causes of action alleged in the complaint are time-barred by the applicable statutes of limitations. For the following reasons Defendants' motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         The following facts are derived from the Amended Complaint unless otherwise noted, and are accepted as true for purposes of this motion.

         Since 1940, Ramopo has experienced greater population growth than Clarkstown. (Id. ¶¶ 34-40.) Within Ramopo, there is also a growing population of individuals practicing the Jewish faith, and a substantial increase in the population of Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish individuals, as compared with a relatively smaller growth of this subpopulation within Clarkstown. (Id. ¶ 41, 42.) In addition to a substantially more religiously diverse population, a larger population of more economically disadvantaged individuals also reside in Ramopo as compared to Clarkstown. (Id. ¶ 44.) Ramopo also differs from Clarkstown in that it has a larger number of areas where low income residents reside, and villages consisting almost entirely of Hasidic families. (Id. ¶ 46.)

         Defendants have undertaken numerous activities to prevent Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish individuals from moving from Ramopo to Clarkstown. (Id. ¶ 47.) Plaintiff alleges that these measures include the closing of Samuel Road, which connects Ramopo and Clarkstown. (Id. ¶ 49.) Plaintiff contends that a physical barricade was placed along the area where Samuel Road intersects Ramopo and Clarkstown, under the pretext that the closure was meant to address a concern that cars were exceeding the speeding limit. (Id. ¶ 50.) Clarkstown and other Defendants did not undertake road safety practices or provide for traffic enforcement activities before placing the barrier on Samuel Road. (Id. ¶ 51, 52.) The initial barrier was primarily composed of “plastic with a break-away chain locking device” which allowed for the passage of emergency vehicles. (Id. ¶55.) Later, the plastic barricades were replaced with cement “jersey barrier” barricades, which allowed for the passage of emergency vehicles from Clarkstown to Ramopo with delay caused by the need to remove the barrier. (Id. ¶ 56.)

         Defendants have also taken other measures to prevent Jewish individuals from traveling to or residing in Clarkstown, including by appearing at town meetings held in Ramopo, and objecting to the development of a multi-family residential facility on the border of Clarkstown, which would provide “affordable and less affluent housing that would attract Orthodox and Hasidic residents.” (Id. ¶¶ 73, 74.) Clarkstown also passed a moratorium on new construction after the closure of Samuel Road. (Id. ¶ 75.) In his November 2015 campaign for re-election as Town of Clarkstown Supervisor, the former Clarkstown Supervisor also emphasized that he was “keeping Clarkstown from Becoming Another Ramopo.” (Id. ¶ 78.) This slogan was placed in a brochure that publicized that Clarkstown had updated the Town Code and placed a moratorium on new residential construction. (Id. ¶ 79.) This literature also depicted a “multi-family housing unit with many children's toys and playground devices … intended to show areas typically found within … Ramopo where Hasidic families ….[live].” (Id. ¶ 80.)

         All of these efforts were part of a discriminatory purpose confirmed by the installation of the “permanent” barrier in 2016. (Id. ¶ 81.)

         Plaintiffs Ellen Stack, Sean Stack, Patrick Hendrick, and Dan Daly live on Samuel Road, which is located within Ramopo. (Compl. ¶ 25.) Samuel Road traverses both Ramopo and Clarkstown, and previously provided for public travel. (Id. ¶¶ 26, 27.) Ramopo borders the state of New Jersey, and Samuel Road previously served as a means for individual Plaintiffs to travel both intra-New York State within the Towns of Ramopo and Clarkstown, and interstate between New York and New Jersey. (Id. ¶¶ 28, 29.) Public access to Samuel Road also allowed for more expeditious access for emergency and other vehicles. (See Id. ¶ 32.)

         The County of Rockland and the Village of Chestnut Ridge previously brought litigation to remove the barrier. (Id. ¶ 57.) Throughout that litigation, Clarkstown and other Defendants asserted that the barrier provided for access by emergency vehicles that could enter Ramopo through Samuel Road by using a key to open a lock that kept the barrier closed. (Id. ¶¶ 58, 59.) After all New York State Court remedies were exhausted “for those wishing to remove the Barrier on Samuel Road, ” on March 11, 2016, Defendants placed permanent, new concrete barriers across Samuel Road, affixed to the road with metal stakes so that no emergency vehicles could traverse that portion of the road. (Id. ¶ 61.) At that time, a representative of the Defendants told Plaintiff Stack that they were making the closure of Samuel Road “permanent” because no more judicial remedies existed for those who oppose the barrier. (Id. ¶ 62.)

         The closure of Samuel Road has also had a direct impact upon the general health, safety, and welfare of Ramopo residents on and about Samuel Road; on one occasion, in 2013, an ambulance was unable to pass through Samuel Road to Ramopo due to the barrier and had to reroute, causing a delay in medical assistance to a Ramopo resident who had suffered a stroke. (Id. ¶¶ 64, 65.) Prior to the installation of the cement barriers, during the winter months a “pile up” of snow and ice prevented emergency vehicles from passing through the barrier, even if it were open. (Id. ¶ 66.) The barrier has also created a virtual dead end on Samuel Road, and has become a location where drugs can be used and sold, “since it is difficult for law enforcement to view such conduct.” (Id. ¶68.) With the closing of Samuel Road, Ramopo residents must also use an alternate route to enter a specific Clarkstown road called Newport Drive; the alternate route has a steep incline that is difficult to drive on during inclement weather. (Id. ¶¶ 69, 70.)

         Ambulance access to Ramopo through Samuel Road provides for the quickest response time. (Id. ¶ 71.) Due to the barrier, an ambulance that intends to traverse Samuel Road must reroute and take a longer route, which increases response time to Ramopo residents. (Id. ¶ 72.)

         STANDARD ON A MOTION TO DISMISS

         Under Rule 12(b)(6), the inquiry is whether the complaint “contain[s] sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)); accord Hayden v. Paterson, 594 F.3d 150, 160 (2d Cir. 2010). “While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations.” Id. at 679. To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must supply “factual allegations sufficient ‘to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.'” ATSI Commc'ns, Inc. v. Shaar Fund, Ltd., 493 F.3d 87, 98 (2d Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). The Court must take all material factual allegations as true and draw reasonable inferences in the non-moving party's favor, but the Court is “‘not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation, '” or to credit “mere conclusory statements” or “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). In determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief, a district court must consider the context and “draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id. at 662. A claim is facially plausible when the factual content pleaded allows a court “to draw a reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. at 678.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Timeliness of ...


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