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November 17, 2011

EDPL § 207 Trumps CPLR Article 78 Statute of Limitations

In a September 30, 2011 decision, the Appellate Division Fourth Department held that a Petitioner in a proceeding under Article 2 of the Eminent Domain Procedure Law timely challenged the Respondent agency's environmental determination despite the fact that more than four months had passed since the agency issued its negative declaration for the project under the State Environmental Quality Review Act ("SEQRA"). In H.H. Warner, LLC v. Rochester Genesee Regional Transportation Authority, Petitioner H.H. Warner commenced a proceeding under Article 2 of the Eminent Domain Procedure Law challenging RGRTA's Determination and Findings to condemn Petitioner's property for its proposed Renaissance Square Transit Center. H.H. Warner brought its challenge on the grounds that RGRTA failed to comply with SEQRA.

As set forth by the Court of Appeals in Stop-the-Barge v. Cahill, 1 N.Y.3d 218 (2003), the general rule is that the filing of a negative declaration by a lead agency constitutes a final determination by the agency and starts the limitations period for commencing a SEQRA challenge. Under Article 78 of the CPLR, a proceeding to challenge an agency's final determination must be commenced within four months of such determination. However, EDPL §207, as amended in 1991, allows a Petitioner in an eminent domain proceeding to challenge whether a condemnor's determination and findings were made in accordance with both EDPL Article 2 and Article 8 of the Environmental Conservation Law, commonly known as SEQRA.

In this case, RGRTA issued its negative declaration on June 8, 2010 but did not issue its Determination and Findings under EDPL Article 2 until May 12, 2011. Within the 30-day period required by EDPL §207(A), on June 10, 2011, H.H. Warner filed its petition seeking review and rejection of RGRTA's Determination and Findings on the grounds that RGRTA failed to comply with SEQRA. RGRTA unsuccessfully argued that H.H. Warner's June 2011 challenge was untimely because the 1991 EDPL amendment was merely technical in nature and, under CPLR article 78, any challenge to SEQRA should have been commenced within four months of its June 8, 2010 negative declaration.

In a holding separate from its decision on the merits of the EDPL challenge, the Court rejected RGRTA's contention that Petitioner's challenge to its SEQRA determination was untimely. The Court agreed with H.H. Warner's position that EDPL § 207(C)(3) was amended in 1991 explicitly to allow courts to review a SEQRA determination at the same time a proceeding is brought challenging a determination to condemn property. Acknowledging that the 1991 EDPL amendment was intended to permit a reviewing Court to pass on both the EDPL issues and the SEQRA issues in one proceeding, thereby facilitating prompt review and conserving judicial resources, the Appellate Court concluded that "the statute does not require that a separate CPLR article 78 proceeding must have been commenced in order to challenge an earlier SEQRA determination." 

If you require further information regarding the information presented in this Legal Alert and its impact on your organization, please contact any of the members in our Real Property Tax & Condemnation practice area.

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