Both Sides Claim Victory After Appeals Court Ruling Involving Rabbinical College and Village of Pomona

By: Joel Grossbarth

The lawsuit of the Congregation Rabbinical College of Tartikov, Inc. v. Village of Pomona has deeply divided the community in Rockland along religious lines while at the same time redefining legal principles of local land use laws versus Federal constitutional rights and laws. This week, a Federal Appeals Court in Manhattan may have had the final say in the matter in connection with the development of the proposed religious educational facility to be constructed in the Village of Pomona.

By way of background, the Congregation Rabbinical College of Tartikov purchased approximately 100 acres of land with hopes of building a school to educate rabbinical judges. For three years, no plans were submitted to the Village of Pomona for any land-use approvals. In January, 2007, a local group published an article purporting to reveal that Tartikov’s plan was to build nine large apartment buildings to house over 1,000 students and their families for a total of as many of 4,500 people residing on the property. Soon thereafter, the Village of Pomona Board of Trustees enacted two amendments to its zoning laws effectively prohibiting the development Tartikov was planning. Tartikov then filed a lawsuit seeking to invalidate and declare unconstitutional the amendments adopted by Pomona to prevent the rumored development.

Following years of legal wrangling in Court, in March, 2018, a Federal Court Judge conducted a trial and found that the Village intentionally violated Tartikov’s Federal Constitutional rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments and under the Federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (commonly known by the acronym RLUIPA). The Federal Judge found by enacting the zoning amendments, the Village did so with “religious animus” and enjoined the Village from enforcing the zoning amendments and further ordered the Village to accept and process the plans to be submitted by Tartikov.

The Federal Court of Appeals affirmed the trial Judge’s ruling finding that the Village acted in violation of Tartikov’s rights. However, the Appeals Court reversed the findings that the Village violated and interfered with Tartikov’s religious freedoms, free speech and free association claims. The Appeals Court found that since Tartikov never actually submitted an application for development of the property or the project, the Village could not have effectively violated the claimed liberties. Specifically, the appeals Court dismissed the claims sounding in RLUIPA and Fair Housing claims.

Following the trial Judge’s ruling, Tartikov planned on submitting a claim for an award of attorneys’ fees in excess of $5.2 million. That application is still pending. It is unclear how the Appeals Court ruling would affect the claims for attorney’s fees since the Appeals Court did find religious discrimination, but also reversed some of the trial Judge’s holdings. It is highly unlikely that this case will proceed any further. If it did, the issues would be decided by the United States Supreme Court

As a result of the Court of Appeals ruling, it is likely that Rabbinical College of Tartikov, Inc. (or some other entity) will in fact be able to build a religious, educational facility with dormitory style housing on the parcel located at the intersection of Routes 306 and 202 in Pomona. However, it is unlikely the Village will be liable for the requested attorney