The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has affirmed a series of decisions by the district court that dismantled a suit that included RICO claims against the city of Buffalo and its mayor, Byron Brown, for allegedly improperly stymieing an affordable housing project because the developer wouldn’t hire a politically connected contractor.
On appeal, the NRP Group challenged the final judgment by U.S. District Judge William Skretny of the Western District of New York in favor of Brown, his deputy mayor, the city, the Buffalo Urban Renewal League and others.
The panel struck a sympathetic note for the circumstances that led to the suit, stating that it was troubled by the implications of the actions it claimed city officials took against it.
“That evidence suggests that defendants’ motives for scuttling the project—a development that, it appears, might have benefited low‐income individuals and families in Buffalo—stemmed from either caprice or a form of political engagement whose ethical valence seems dubious,” the panel stated. “Nonetheless, as a matter of law, we conclude that NRP’s damages claims fail.”
The panel, composed of Circuit Judges Robert Sack, Barrington Parker and Susan Carney, agreed with the district court that NRP’s civil Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act claim is barred by legislative immunity protecting the legislative decision-making process of Brown and other city officials.
Likewise, NRP’s claim for a “class of one” equal protection violation failed, the panel said. The company failed to sufficiently allege the existence of other developers and projects that were approved where it was not.
The company’s breach of contract claim was unviable, the panel ruled, because NRP failed to show that either the city or the urban renewal authority had a contract in place, while also failing to meet the “stringent standard” of “manifest injustice” for claims for promissory estoppel under New York law.
Webster Szanyi partner Nelson Perel represented NRP Group on appeal. Brown and the other city officials were represented by Hagerty & Brady name attorney Michael Brady. Neither responded to a request for comment.
A spokesman for Brown’s office likewise did not respond to a request for comment.