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Media Alerts - Montesa, et al. v. Schwartz, et al. - Second Circuit
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September 13, 2016
  Montesa, et al. v. Schwartz, et al. - Second Circuit
Headline: Second Circuit Rejects Students' Claim Under the First Amendment's Establishment Clause Against East Ramapo School Board

Area of Law:
Constitutional Law, First Amendment, Establishment Clause

Issue(s) Presented: Whether East Ramapo public school students have standing to challenge the district's use of funds that benefit Hasidic children and institutions.

Brief Summary: Current students in Rockland County's East Ramapo School District sued the school board and the board's lawyer under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment for an alleged unconstitutional use of public district funds to benefit Hasidic students and institutions. Plaintiff-appellees claim that the re-apportioning of funds from the public school to benefit private religious schools and students deprived them of educational opportunities causing them direct damage. They sought an injunction, monetary damages, and attorneys' fees. The Second Circuit held that plaintiff-appellees lacked standing in the case because they did not demonstrate a concrete, specific injury.

To read the full opinion, please visit:
http://www.ca2.uscourts.gov/de...ede8fa0c01/1/hilite/

Extended Summary:
Students in the East Ramapo School District, both current and former, along with district taxpayers, brought the current action in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York against East Ramapo school board members and board lawyer, Albert D'Agostino. Plaintiffs-appellees alleged violations of state and federal law, as well as the United States Constitution, stemming from defendants-appellants' alleged unconstitutional use of funds that supported Hasidic children and institutions in the school district. Plaintiff-appellees specifically alleged that defendant-appellants manipulated the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) settlement process to take children who were eligible for IEPs out of the public school and paid for their placement in private Hasidic schools, despite the public school's ability to accommodate the children's needs. Plaintiff-appellees also described other instances where defendant-appellants allegedly gave preferential treatment to the Hasidic community when they attempted to sell district property and purchased religious books for use by Hasidic children in the district with public money. Plaintiff-appellees claimed a causal link between the defendant-appellants' acts and a loss of educational services at the public school and asserted they were directly affected by these actions and that public students' test scores decreased.

At the outset, the district court dismissed all claims except the claim brought under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The lower court also dismissed the former students for lack of standing and found the taxpayers could not seek damages (that appeal is now pending separately in district court), leaving current students as the only remaining plaintiffs in this case. The district court then held that the current students had standing to proceed with their claim under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 and found defendant-appellants were not protected by qualified immunity. Defendant-appellants then petitioned for an interlocutory appeal to address whether the current students had standing in the case and whether they were entitled to immunity. The Second Circuit reversed the district court, holding the current students lacked standing to proceed on their claim and, accordingly did not need to reach the issue of immunity.

The Second Circuit began its de novo review by outlining the requirements for standing as a concrete and actual injury, causation, and a likelihood of redress. The Court then narrowed its scope, outlining that standing for purposes of an Establishment Clause claim may exist only for: (a) taxpayers; (b) a direct harm; or (c) a denial of benefits. Finding that the plaintiff-appellees proceeded under a theory of direct hard, a "novel theory of liability," given the facts in this case, the court held that plaintiffs-appellees needed to demonstrate a concrete injury stemming from a religious message or a causal link between the alleged IDEA scheme and their injuries. The Court reasoned that the allegations that defendant-appellants' shifted funds from the public school to Hasidic children and institutions caused only indirect, incidental effects on the plaintiff-appellees' education. According to the Second Circuit majority, such allegations of academic harm resulting from funneling public funds to religious children and institutions in this way, without more, did not demonstrate a direct injury by religious expression. Thus, the Second Circuit reversed and remanded the lower court's decision, holding that plaintiff-appellees lacked standing to bring this Establishment Clause First Amendment claim against defendant-appellants.

In the dissent, Judge Reiss argued that the majority viewed the plaintiff-appellees' claim through too narrow a lens, and that an Establishment Clause claim is broader than the direct exposure theory asserted by the court. Judge Reiss contended that plaintiff-appellees' allegations should be held to withstand the pleading requirement because plaintiff-appellees alleged a causal link between the lack of funding to their school and their decreased test scores, which Judge Reiss viewed as a specific injury.

To read the full opinion, please visit:
http://www.ca2.uscourts.gov/de...ede8fa0c01/1/hilite/

Panel: Circuit Judges Hall and Lohier; District Judge Reiss

Argument Date:
11/02/2015

Date of Issued Opinion:
09/12/2016

Docket Number:
14-3721-cv(L)

Decided:
Reversed and Remanded

Case Alert Author: Samantha Hazen

Counsel:
Laura D. Barbieri, Arthur Zachary Schwartz, Advocates for Justice Legal Foundation, New York, NY for Plaintiffs-Appellees; David J. Butler, Bryan M. Killian, Randall M. Levine, David B. Salmons, Stephanie Schuster, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, LLP, Washington, DC for Defendants-Appellants Daniel Schwartz, Yehuda Weissmandl, Moses Friedman, Moshe Hopstein, Eliyahu Solomon, Aron Wieder, Morris Kohn, Richard Stone, Joel Klein, and Eliezer Wizman; Mark D. Harris, Adam W. Deitch, Jessica Zietz, Proskauer Rose LLP, New York, NY for Defendant-Appellant Nathan Rothschild; Meredith D. Belkin, Marian C. Rice, L'Abbate, Balk, Colavita & Contini, LLP, Garden City, NY for Defendant-Appellant Albert D'Agostino

Author of Opinion: Judge Hall (majority); Judge Reiss (dissent)

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor:
Professor Elyse Diamond

    Posted By: Elyse Diamond @ 09/13/2016 08:34 AM     2nd Circuit  

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