December 08, 2023
Following an appeal filed in November 2022, a team of Weil attorneys have successfully secured a major victory for pro bono client Ateres Bais Yaakov Academy of Rockland, a Jewish all-girls school located in Rockland County, New York. The ruling overturns a previous federal district court decision and affirms that the school is entitled to pursue its claims of religious discrimination, violation of civil rights, tortious interference and other claims against Clarkstown, New York, the town’s supervisor, George Hoehmann, and other defendants. The Academy previously sought to purchase Grace Baptist Church – a 30,000 feet building with approximately 50 classrooms – in 2018. Since then, town administrators continuously delayed the zoning review process, and added unreasonable additional requirements to avoid issuing a decision on the sale.
In early 2020, the Academy filed a lawsuit in federal district court alleging a violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, tortious interference with a contract, and other claims. The district court dismissed all claims for lack of standing.
On December 8, 2023, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision, holding that the Academy had “plausibly allege[d]” that the defendants “took steps to frustrate its planned acquisition of the Grace Church property—steps that predictably prevented the Academy from securing the regulatory approvals necessary to acquire the property, cut off the Academy’s access to public and private financing, and led to Grace Church’s termination of the contract.”
The Second Circuit decision affirms what Weil attorneys have known to be true: that the Ateres Bais Yaakov Academy of Rockland had a right to operate in Clarkstown and individuals’ attempts to prevent their operation were unlawful and discriminatory. This decision sends a clear message to municipalities across New York and beyond that discrimination will not be tolerated.
The Weil team was led by partner Yehudah Buchweitz. In response to this morning’s decision, he said, “We are very pleased with the decision from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reversing the dismissal of the case we brought on behalf of Ateres Bais Yaakov of Rockland. This case is unfortunately one of many instances where a municipality abuses its powers to try to keep religious minorities from moving in or practicing their religion freely. This is America and people should be permitted to live, worship and go to school wherever they choose, regardless of their religious affiliation. This is the latest in a decades long battle against anti-Semitism, and in particular against Orthodox Jews, and we will not stop in our efforts to try to stop religious discrimination.”
The Weil team also includes retired partner and senior pro bono counsel Robert Sugarman and associates Kevin Simmons, Shai Berman, Ben Apfel, Adena Kleiner, Daniel Lifton, Mark Pinkert, Liora Schiff, Sarah Schnorrenberg, Yonatan Shefa, Avi Snider (Not Yet Admitted in NY), Blake Steinberg and Josef Trachtenberg. The Anti-Defamation League and Agudath Israel of America filed amicus briefs in support of Ateres Bais Yaakov Academy of Rockland.