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New York City Envtl. Justice Alliance v. Giuliani

Citation: 30 ELR 20703
No. No. 99-7713, 214 F.3d 65/(2d Cir., 05/31/2000)

The court holds that environmental groups did not show that New York City's plan to sell or bulldoze lots containing community gardens would have an impermissible adverse impact on minority communities. The groups opposed the city's plan claiming that it would violate U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations promulgated to implement Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race or national origin. The groups also claimed that the city's plan would violate the Housing and Community Development Act (HCDA) under which the city received federal funding to assist residents in creating and maintaining gardens on the lots. The court first holds that the groups failed to allege a causal connection between a facially neutral policy and a disproportionate and adverse impact on minorities necessary to establish a prima facie case of adverse disparate impact. Much of the groups' proof either concerned the sale of lots that were removed from the auction block during the course of litigation, or consisted of broad conclusory statements rather than evidence of causation. The court next holds that the groups failed to show, using an appropriate measure, that specific actions of the city's plan would cause a disparate effect on similarly situated people to the detriment of a protected group. The court further holds that the "appropriate measure" used by the groups for assessing disparate impact was inadequate to ascribe significance to any alleged disparate impact of the city's actions. Showing that most community gardens are in minority neighborhoods and that downsizing the community gardens program would therefore entail closing a substantial number of community gardens in minority neighborhoods is simply not enough to demonstrate an adequately measured disparate impact. The groups also failed to show that the diminishment of open space in minority communities determines the impacts of the city's actions on those communities compared with the impact of those actions on non-minority communities.

The court additionally holds that there existed a substantial legitimate justification for the allegedly discriminatory practice. The city had claimed repeatedly that it planned to sell community gardens in order to build new housing and foster urban renewal. Conclusory statements about the assumed availability of other buildable city-owned lots in the vicinity of particular gardens does not suffice to establish a likelihood that the groups will meet their burden of showing that a less discriminatory option is available to achieve the city's legitimate government goals. The court finally holds that the groups did not show a likelihood of success on the merits of their claim under the HCDA. The court declined to decide whether a private right of action exists under Title VI.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Foster S. Maer
Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc.
99 Hudson St., Rm. 14-R, New York NY 10013
(212) 219-3360

Counsel for Defendants
Susan E. Amron, Ass't Corporation Counsel
Office of Corporation Counsel
100 Church St., New York NY 10007
(212) 788-0303

Before Walker and Leval, JJ.