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The Second Department’s recent decision in Stengel v. Town of Poughkeepsie Planning Board, et al., 2018 WL 6519207 (2d Dept. Dec. 12, 2018), unfortunately seems to confirm that the best advice when it comes to statutes of limitations for determinations issued under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) may simply be to sue “early and often.” See also Ward, “SEQRA Challenges and the Statute of Limitations: Sue ‘Early and Often,’” 6 Albany L. Envtl. Outlook J. 89, 94 (2002). Conflicting case law has created confusion regarding when SEQRA determinations that conclude the environmental review process—i.e., negative declarations or findings statements—become ripe for judicial review. It shouldn’t have to be this way. SEQRA practitioners, their clients, and agencies involved in SEQRA disputes all deserve a clear rule establishing when challenges to such SEQRA determinations ripen in order to avoid unnecessary litigation and motion practice. Legislative action may be required to resolve this issue.

Stengel concerned a challenge to a Planning Board’s issuance of a determination under SEQRA not to require an environmental impact statement (i.e., a negative declaration). The negative declaration in Stengel preceded by several months the Planning Board’s issuance of site plan approval for a gas station project. The Stengel court held that “the statute of limitations began to run with the issuance of the negative declaration … as this constituted the Planning Board’s final act under SEQRA.” Stengel, 2018 WL 6519207, at *1. The Stengel court made no attempt to harmonize its decision with the Second Department’s previous holding in Patel v. Board of Trustees of Muttontown, 115 A.D.3d 862, 864 (2d Dept. 2014). In Patel, the Second Department held that “the issuance of a SEQRA findings statement did not inflict injury in the absence of an actual determination of the subject applications for a special use permit and site-plan approval and, thus, the challenge to the adoption of the findings statement is not ripe for adjudication.” Thus, while Patel seemed to stand for the proposition that a SEQRA determination that concludes the environmental process is not, standing alone, ripe for adjudication, Stengel indicates that such a SEQRA determination is.

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