Southern District Court - New York

CUPON Inc., and CUPON Greater Nanuet Agree To Dissolve To Settle Grace Baptist Church Lawsuit

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CUPONs Have Not Admitted to Any Wrongdoing Or Liability; Settlement Closes The Book On Years Of Litigation

By Tina Traster

The citizens’ activist groups CUPON Inc. and CUPON of Greater Nanuet, Inc. have both agreed to disband and to cease operations in a settlement reached this week with the yeshiva that wanted to buy the Grace Baptist Church at 20 Demarest Avenue several years ago in the Town of Clarkstown.

Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, the attorneys representing Ateres Bais Yaakov Academy of Rockland, said in a press release: “This case sends a clear message to everyone across New York and beyond that we will continue to root out and fight against discrimination.”

The settlement stems from a lawsuit filed by Ateres Bais Yaakov Academy of Rockland, which contracted with Grace Baptist Church to buy its property for $4.3 million and convert it to an orthodox Jewish girls’ school back in 2018. Instead, after denying the yeshiva necessary permits, the Town of Clarkstown’s Board authorized the town to purchase the Grace Baptist Church in Nanuet for $4.5 million for “general municipal purposes” in November of 2019. The transaction closed in early 2020.

Ateres brought a suit alleging the Town of Clarkstown violated its religious rights under RLUIPA (Religious Land Use And Institutionalized Persons Act). In a settlement last month, Clarkstown paid Ateres Bais Yaakov Academy of Rockland $200,000. Ateres had sued the town for $10 million for allegedly violating its religious rights. Additionally, as part of the Town’s settlement, town officials are required to undergo religious liberty land use training. The Town’s Board, the Town Zoning Board of Appeals, the Town’s Planning Board and the town’s building inspector will all be required to take the course.

The lawsuit also accused CUPON Inc. (Citizens United to Protect Our Neighborhoods) and CUPON of Greater Nanuet of interfering with the yeshiva’s contract to purchase the church in Nanuet and of violating the Academy’s religious rights.

The settlement between Ateres and both the parent CUPON, and the Nanuet chapter, requires both groups to submit documents with New York State to “dissolve and cease operations, except those necessary to fulfilling outstanding liabilities and resolving financial matters,” according to the terms of the settlement.

In exchange for dissolution, Ateres will release CUPON, CUPON of Greater Nanuet, Gordon Wren, and Michael Miller “from any and all actions, charges, complaints, demands, costs, losses, debts, expenses, causes of action, claims, damages, et al.”

“Neither Gorden Wren nor Michael Miller will reconstitute CUPON, under the same or a different name,” the agreement says.

Also, both CUPONs are required to delete their social media accounts.

In a statement issued by the Weil Gotshal, a spokeperson said: “In 2018, Ateres, an orthodox Jewish girls’ school, announced it had entered into an agreement to purchase the Grace Baptist Church in the Town of Clarkstown as a new campus. In response, a group called Citizens United to Protect our Neighborhoods (CUPON), and a local chapter called CUPON of Greater Nanuet (COGN), worked with Clarkstown officials to block the sale. CUPON and local CUPON chapters have frequently organized to oppose orthodox Jews’ efforts to purchase or build property in their communities.”

“This is what happens when people with money hire big law firms that run over individual citizens organizations,” said Miller, CUPON’s founder. “We believe the court would have found in favor of CUPON Inc., but we did not have the money to fight this. We did not have insurance.”

Anthony Green, Esq., of Winget, Spadafora and Schwartzberg, LLP, counsel for CUPON of Greater Nanuet said, “My client was sued to chill its members’ exercise of their constitutionally protected first amendment rights to speak and assemble freely. My clients were motivated by love for their community, not hatred, and we vehemently reject any suggestion otherwise.”

Miller said that while CUPON Inc. did not carry insurance; CUPON of Greater Nanuet was insured and the insurance company brokered the settlement. “The attorneys were looking for $25,000,” said Miller, who added that they agreed to a fraction of that amount. The settlement agreement did not refer to any monetary consideration.

CUPON Inc. is the parent organization of about 15 local chapters in Rockland.

“The lawyers tried to tie all the CUPONs together in this settlement and get us all dissolved, but we said ‘absolutely not,” Miller explained, adding the purpose of going after CUPON was to silence us.”

Miller said citizens in Nanuet approached the parent group in 2018, worried about the proposed sale of the Grace Baptist Church, as well as a plan for a Transit Oriented Development then in the works around Nanuet’s train station.

The CUPON founder said the purpose of the citizen groups is to fight “irresponsible development.” He added that the CUPON does not tolerate any discrimination against race or religion.

Ateres filed a lawsuit against CUPON, Inc. and CUPON of Greater Nanuet and alleged that members of CUPON and their counsel met with the town to concoct a plan to prevent Ateres’ purchase of the property. The suit charged, “In parallel to the manufactured public pressure from CUPON, the town denied Ateres’ building permit.”

The original suit also said CUPON of Greater Nanuet was established for “the express purpose of preventing Ateres from educating Jewish girls,” while CUPON Inc. is “an organization notorious for its antisemitic agenda to prevent Orthodox Jews from moving into communities through Rockland County under the façade of ‘overdevelopment’ and preserving the ‘character’ of the community.”

The suit alleged that the CUPON Nanuet Chapter was formed by a vocal minority of the town in direct opposition to Ateres’ contract to purchase and convert the property to an all-girls’ school.

In January 2019, CUPON held a meeting at a Nanuet Public School where its counsel Stephen Mogel told the crowd “if you can’t get that hate out of heart than please keep your mouth shut.” The lawsuit alleges the training was designed to teach the activists how to appear neutral, “to mask the organization’s underlying motives.”

The lawsuit cites various social media quotes referring to the purchase as a “hostile invasion; the town will be overcome by yeshivas; the Hasidim infiltrate our local governments and rape our school budgets.”

In response, CUPON defendants asserted their actions were protected by free speech, that they have the right to petition their government, and that their members were participating in the democratic process.”

Miller told Rockland County Business Journal that he will continue to function as an “advisor” to the other CUPONs.