Brooklyn Property Owners and Tenants File Federal Eminent Domain Lawsuit: Develop don't destroy Brooklyn, 10/26/06

Press release

A group of ten plaintiffs – property owners and tenants from the site targeted for Forest City Ratner’s (FCR) proposed Atlantic Yards project in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn – filed a Federal lawsuit, in the Eastern District, to stop the State of New York from taking their properties for the developer’s private benefit through an abuse of its eminent domain powers. The suit says that the defendants’ use of eminent domain for the “Atlantic Yards” project is unconstitutional.

Governor George Pataki, FCR’s President Bruce Ratner, Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) Chairman Charles Gargano, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff, Forest City Ratner Companies and its parent Forest City Enterprises, amongst others, are named as defendants.

Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB) has organized the legal team/ Lead counsel is Matthew D. Brinckerhoff of the constitutional law firm Emery, Celli, Brinckerhoff & Abady (ECBA); counsel for tenant-plaintiffs is Jennifer Levy of South Brooklyn Legal Services; co-counsel is DDDB attorney Jeffrey S. Baker of Young, Sommer, Ward, Ritzenberg, Baker & Moore; and a team of dedicated volunteer attorneys.

“This lawsuit presents a textbook example of what the Fifth Amendment expressly prohibits: the taking of one citizen’s property in order to benefit a powerful and influential private citizen. Our case is strong–the sham process employed by defendants to justify the taking of plaintiffs’ property for Bruce Ratner’s ‘Atlantic Yards’ is precisely what was forbidden by the majority in last year’s controversial Supreme Court Case - Kelo v. New London,” lead attorney Matthew Brinckerhoff said. “The ‘Atlantic Yards’ proposal is premised upon the abuse of eminent domain. Plaintiffs will not stand idly by while their properties are seized by the State and given to Bruce Ratner to maximize his enrichment. We seek a court order prohibiting the State from abusing its eminent domain power in violation of the Fifth Amendment.”

Property owners and tenants in the proposed development have the right to keep their homes and properties. New York State has no legal right to take those properties for a private, favored developer when there is no comprehensive development planning process, no bidding process for the condemned land, a phony “blight” finding and when that project is wholly conceived and driven by that private developer for that private developer’s benefit. This is the case with Forest City Ratner’s “Atlantic Yards” proposal.

Tenant attorney Jennifer Levy said, “I represent low-income renters and most of my clients in this case are rent-stabilized tenants who will be removed from their long-term homes, distanced from their families, and removed from their communities, if this Project is permitted to proceed. This case represents an unjustifiable use of the State’s eminent domain powers, which only permit the use of eminent domain where there is a resulting public use. It is not permissible to use eminent domain for the benefit of a private developer displacing vulnerable populations.

“We are calling on the Public Authorities Control Board – Silver, Bruno and the Governor – to postpone any vote on the proposed 'Atlantic Yards' project until the courts have ruled on eminent domain,” said DDDB attorney Jeffrey Baker. "There is much that is illegal with the Ratner ‘Atlantic Yards’ proposal and its process. Its abuse of eminent domain, which we will show with this case, is at the very foundation of the project’s numerous violations of the law."

“We want to stay in our homes, keep our businesses, and keep our properties. Our case, at its core, is very simple: Bruce Ratner does not have the right to ask Governor Pataki to take my home and give it to Bruce Ratner, and the Governor does not have the right to oblige Mr. Ratner. We are sure that most people agree with us on that,” said plaintiff and DDDB spokesman Daniel Goldstein. “With our suit here in Brooklyn we are standing up for millions of people across the United States who understand that the abuse of eminent domain can impact anyone and has gone too far. We are excited that our case may rein in eminent domain abuse here in New York City and across the country.”

Lead DDDB legal volunteer Candace Carponter said, “We fully support, congratulate, and deeply respect the courage of these owners and tenants in defending their fundamental constitutional rights. As the Ohio Supreme court said in its ruling for owners in the City of Norwood eminent domain case, 'although the judiciary and the legislature define the limits of state powers, such as eminent domain, the ultimate guardian of the people's rights...are the people themselves.’”

The 8.8 million square foot, $4.2 billion “Atlantic Yards” project was first conceived by Forest City Ratner and unveiled in December, 2003, at which time it was made clear that private property (homes and businesses) would be condemned, seized and transferred to the developer to construct his project and bring enormous profits to the development corporation. The City of New York and the State of New York never had any plan for the proposed project site, and thus, “Atlantic Yards” and its dependence on eminent domain abuse is entirely driven by the developer, and the private goals of the Forest City Ratner corporation. The Supreme Court’s Kelo decision in the summer of 2005 forbade this kind of favoritism in takings.

A copy of the complaint is online at:

Develop Don't destroy Brooklyn: www.dddb.net

Daniel Goldstein: 917-701-3056, press@dddb.net