Decision in Pomona

Finding zoning rules were discriminatory against a dorm school, a decision in Manhattan Federal Court yesterday (112 page opinion embedded below)  dealt a major blow against the Village of Pomona and their legal team (including lead attorney Marci Hamilton, who is also Of Counsel for Upper Saddle River in their Eruv litigation).

via, the battle cost Pomona more than $3 million as of 2016 (they had budgeted $800,000) and is still ongoing.  They may be required to pay an additional $4 million in legal fees for Plaintiffs as well.

In addition to legal fees, the village was ordered to pay an additional $43,000 last year because the Mayor and former Trustee were found to have destroyed evidence by removing Facebook posts that were derogatory towards the Plaintiffs.  “[Judge] Karas had called Louie’s deletion a “rare case where bad faith and a clear intent to deprive Plaintiffs of the evidence… is sufficiently clear” in a 145-page decision released in September 2015. ”

As per yesterday’s opinion:

“[Judge] Karas found “Plaintiffs established that Pomona’s zoning scheme is impermissible pursuant to New York law because its exclusionary scheme was enacted for an improper, discriminatory purpose and, consequently, is invalid.” (page 110)

Similar to the allegations against the Townships of Upper Saddle River, Mahwah and Montvale regarding zoning ordinances created with animus and Township claims that municipal ordinance restricts the installation of lechis, Judge Karas said:

“The [Pomona] defendants construct an interesting theory, for that is all that it is.  They have no evidence to back it up. In any event, none this theorizing changes in any way the overwhelming evidence of discriminatory animus, or (the) fact this law served no compelling interest.” (page 54)

The Court questioned whether the reasons for a law burdening a religious practice could support such an action of government:

“As Plaintiffs have carried their burden of showing that the Challenged Laws were passed to infringe on religious practices because of their religious motivation, the burden shifts to Defendants to show that the laws are “narrowly tailored” to “further a compelling state interest.” Pyke II, 567 F.3d at 77. Defendants have not done so, as discussed at length earlier. Accordingly, Plaintiffs have proven a violation of the Free Exercise Clause.” (page 93)

In discussing whether or not the stated interests and justifications for the challenged laws are capable of withstanding a Constitutional challenge, the court held:

“Defendants fall short of the mark because their stated interests and justifications for the Challenged Laws do not hold up to scrutiny. Moreover, Defendants can achieve many of their goals through other avenues, such as imposing size restrictions on the issuance of a special permit.” (page 108)

Will this be a harbinger of things to come in Bergen County?  We will keep monitoring the actions and updated the various litigation pages.


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