For the second time, a court has rejected Tara Circle’s claims that its civil rights were violated by Briarcliff Manor’s board of trustees during Tara’s unsuccessful attempt to acquire the King’s College campus in the village.
In a summary order issued last week, the United States court of appeals for the second circuit, sitting at Foley Square in Manhattan, stated that Tara’s claims were "far too speculative," and that Tara "offered no evidence, apart from its own speculation" that Briarcliff Manor’s "alleged hostility" affected Tara’s fund-raising ability in its unsuccessful effort to acquire King’s College in the village.
The appeals court’s three judges concluded that they found "no substantive violation of Tara’s constitutional rights."
The latest decision was the result of Tara’s appeal of a U.S. district court decision in the summer of 1997 that rejected the bulk of Tara’s claims in its $250 million civil rights lawsuit against the Village of Briarcliff Manor.
The court of appeals has now affirmed that district court’s decision.
As expected, Tara has tried to put the best possible face on the judgment. In an intriguing interpretation, Tara’s president Jim Rice said: "The court does not state that it finds no violation of the civil rights. It does not state that there was no discrimination. It did not rule on whether or not there were any civil rights violated by the village."
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Rice, a lawyer himself, said the decision is almost as interesting for what it did not say as for what it did say. "First, the decision is based upon the circuit court’s finding that no direct action impeded Tara’s ability to acquire the property," Rice said. "In effect the court says that Tara must prove a direct connection between the village’s actions and Tara’s damages."
The appeals court, however, points out, in essence, that Tara failed to show evidence of that direct connection — beyond its own speculation.
The board of Tara Circle must now decide whether to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear an appeal of the case. Tara’s civil rights lawyer, Dennis Lynch of the Nyack, N.Y., law firm of Dorfman, Lynch & Knoebel, said he will recommend an appeal to the supreme court.
However, the lawyer for Briarcliff, Michael Miranda of the Manhattan firm Miranda & Sokoloff, said the case was now "over for all intents and purposes," unless Tara decides to appeal to the supreme court. "It’s unlikely they would throw good money after bad to do that," Miranda said, adding that the supreme court rarely hears such appeals in any case.
Tara could theoretically be sued for the village’s legal fees, according to Miranda, but he said that was "something I have to take up with my clients. "My sense is that the case is over," he said.
Lynch, who acts pro bono for Tara, said that the appellate court did not award costs to the village. He added that the village’s costs were covered by insurance.
Repeating what he said after the federal court decision in 1997, Lynch pointed out that in what is probably the most famous civil rights litigation in the U.S., Brown vs. the Board of Education, the plaintiffs lost every decision until finally prevailing in the U.S. supreme court.
According to the appeals court three-page judgment, Tara, in 1992, entered into a purchase agreement with King’s College. Tara’s plan was to seek to raise the funds necessary to consummate the acquisition of the property, including, if necessary, the purchase of any existing mortgages. To that end, Tara occupied the property under a contract with King’s College shortly after entering into the purchase agreement.
On March 1, 1994, a notice of pendency was filed concerning a foreclosure action filed against the property by a first mortgage holder, ALI. Tara attempted unsuccessfully to buy the first mortgage but ALI won a final foreclosure judgment on Sept. 30, 1996. Only the second mortgagee appealed this judgment. However, King’s College filed for bankruptcy on Nov. 21, 1996, thereby staying the foreclosure sale of the property.
The appeals court judgment points out that Tara’s complaint alleged various actions and statements by Briarcliff politicians intended to prevent Tara from buying and using the property. The desire to prevent Tara’s purchase and use of the property was allegedly based on an anti-Irish animus.
The appeals court added that the district court identified seven discrete events upon which Tara’s action was predicated. These events, the appeals court judgment stated, can be generally grouped into three categories: