Former Hempstead Village Mayor Wayne J. Hall Sr. is among plaintiffs...

Former Hempstead Village Mayor Wayne J. Hall Sr. is among plaintiffs in a lawsuit that claims Nassau County shifted more than $1.7 billion in property taxes from white communities to lower income, nonwhite communities. Hall is pictured here at meeting in 2016.  Credit: Chuck Fadely

Hempstead property owners who sued Nassau County for allegedly instituting a discriminatory property tax scheme over the prior decade have appealed a federal judge's dismissal of the case.

Former Hempstead Village Mayor Wayne Hall Sr. filed the lawsuit in 2019 on behalf of property owners in minority communities, saying they were affected by widespread tax disparities as Nassau kept assessments frozen for nearly 10 years. Hempstead homeowners Reina Hernandez and Floridalma Portillo joined Hall as co-plaintiffs.

The lawsuit said Nassau created a system in which homes in wealthier, white areas appreciated more rapidly than homes in communities of mostly minority residents.

U.S. Eastern District Judge LaShann DeArcy Hall dismissed the case in its "entirety" on March 23 and questioned whether federal court was the proper venue, records show.

In her 11-page decision, DeArcy Hall said the matter was for state courts to decide.

DeArcy Hall noted the plaintiffs had sought an outcome similar to one state courts gave in 2000 over similar allegations.

In that case, Coleman v. Seldin, the courts ordered Nassau to adopt a new assessment roll that was “nondiscriminatory, scientific, equitable and based on fair market value.”

"Plaintiffs ask this Court to reinstate the Consent Decree, enacted by a New York state court, that Plaintiffs contend largely remedied the complained-of conduct in this suit — all while simultaneously complaining that New York courts are not equipped to hear Plaintiffs’ claims," DeArcy Hall wrote.

David Bishop, the plaintiffs' attorney, said in an email: "We believe that the County’s abandonment of the assessment reforms that followed the Coleman case puts homeowners in minority neighborhoods in the same unfair position that they were in decades ago and is illegal. Our clients have encouraged us to continue the fight against Nassau County and we are evaluating their litigation options."

The freeze referenced in the 2019 lawsuit was implemented during the administration of former County Executive Edward Mangano in 2010, and the values were not updated until the 2020-21 tax year. 

At the same time, the county granted massive numbers of settlement reductions. The policies had the effect of deflating property values and shifting the tax burden from those who won assessment reductions onto those who did not.

The lawsuit alleged that Nassau had, "imposed irrational and discriminatory policies and procedures in their property tax system that have shifted more than $1.7 billion in property taxes from wealthier, white communities in Nassau County to lower income, nonwhite communities."

Former Nassau County Executive Laura Curran ordered the tax rolls unfrozen for the 2020-21 tax year, but the plaintiffs argued that her reassessment did "nothing to compensate for 'grossly disproportionate taxes' that Defendants imposed in prior years,'" according to court filings.

 The freezes have been reinstated for the past three years, including one announced this year by current County Executive Bruce Blakeman.

Andrew McNeela, also an attorney for the plaintiffs, wrote in a March court filing: "Despite defendant Nassau County’s contention that it is purporting to institute a non-discriminatory property tax assessment regime, it has continued its yearslong effort to forestall any such reforms, thereby continuing the exact harm underlying this action."

Nassau paid $189,000 to law firms that employed Regina Calcaterra, the attorney who tried the case as Nassau's outside counsel, county comptroller records show. 

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