• Urban Law Bulletin

The Urban Law Bulletin: April 29, 2019

The Urban Law Bulletin is a bi-weekly e-newsletter highlighting significant news and legal developments in the field of urban law.


Transportation and Infrastructure #transportation

Law Professor Says Suing MTA For Bad Service Unlikely To Improve Commutes

Searching for answers to fix their subway system during delayed commutes, many New Yorkers have apparently asked “can I sue the MTA?” According to the Professor Nestor Davidson, the Albert A. Walsh Chair in Real Estate, Land Use, and Property Law at Fordham Law School and Faculty Director of the Urban Law Center, the answer to that question is complicated. Generally, he explains, “when you're dealing with any public entity that is providing services—whether it's the subway or it's police or fire or education—[issues regarding service] are deeply political questions.” Therefore, a court can’t adjudicate why the MTA didn’t allocate more resources to a particular problem, versus having those funds allocated elsewhere throughout the budget. That said, Davidson expressed cause for optimism, pointing out, “we're now beginning a process of institutional reform, of rethinking oversight and rethinking the structure of the MTA and who it's accountable to...”

(Stephen Nessen / Gothamist / WNYC)


Transportation and Infrastructure #transportation

Cambridge’s New Bike Lane Law is ‘Bikelash’-Proof

On April 8, Cambridge, MA passed an ordinance mandating that the city install protected cycling lanes with vertical barriers if the street is part of the city’s Cambridge Bicycle Plan, which includes a “proposed 20-mile network of separated lanes.” Passing legislation protecting cyclists is a “politically strategic armor” that shields transportation goals from its naysayers and critics. The ordinance may also protect cyclists’ interests from business owners and residents who attempt to hold back new cycling infrastructure. Sixty percent of residents in Cambridge are in favor of increased protection on bicycle lanes, which can yield several safety and business benefits.

Cambridge has shielded itself politically from every cyclist’s foe: the bikelash crowd. Lisa Poole/AP


City Administration and Urban Governance #administration

Cities and Pension Funds Are Suing Big Banks (Again)

Baltimore recently filed two antitrust lawsuits, one on March 25 and another on April 1 respectively, against the nation’s big banks alleging that they participated in price-fixing schemes on separate occasions that cost the local government and taxpayers billions. At the center of both lawsuits are municipal bonds that are traded through a network of broker-dealers. The city alleges that the informal network of broker-dealers, rather than on a public exchange, is poorly regulated and can lead to bank defrauding and harming investors.

Baltimore is suing Bank of America and nine other banks, alleging they manipulated interest rates. (Shutterstock)


Environment and Sustainability #sustainability

Big Buildings Hurt the Climate. New York City Hopes to Change That.

An omnibus of a half dozen bills, known as the Climate Mobilization Act, aimed at reducing greenhouse emissions by 40 percent by 2030, was approved by New York City Council on April 18th. As part of the legislation, thousands of large buildings such as the Empire State Building and Trump Tower would have to meet certain emission caps (varying by building type) or pay a fine. For some, the upgrades needed to meet these caps are expected to cost $4 billion, whereas other owners have already received exemptions.

Buildings like the Freedom Tower and the Empire State Building could face fines of up to millions of dollars per year if they do not significantly reduce emissions by 2030. Credit Credit Karsten Moran for The New York Times


Environment and Sustainability #sustainability

Legal Liability Could Catalyze Action on Climate Change

Climate change litigation is witnessing a new trend in which public and private decision makers are held accountable for “failing to adapt to foreseeable climate risks.” The new legal approach is proving more successful than previous lawsuits that have sought to directly address oil and gas companies for contributing to the harms of climate change. Now, infrastructure professionals are being held liable for not taking into account increasingly severe weather changes. As an example, Farmers Insurance Company filed nine class action lawsuits in 2014 against the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago for failing to adequately prepare the city’s stormwater infrastructure. New litigation may prove helpful in making climate change progress as governments and industry professionals seek to codify new best practices in order to avoid litigation.


City-State Relations and Preemption #preemption

Cities Are Rising in Influence and Power on the Global Stage

In response to President Trump’s announcement that the United States would pull out of the Paris Agreement, the mayors of Paris and Pittsburgh wrote an op-ed in the New York Times. The letter announced an alliance between more than 7,400 cities worldwide to uphold the goals of the Paris Agreement, irrespective of their own country’s level of commitment to it. Around the same time, more than 150 mayors drew up the Mechelen Declaration, demanding a seat at the Global Compact on Migration and Global Compact on Refugees negotiating tables. These developments are beginning to reflect in international instruments and agendas, such as the Paris Climate Agreement.

Professor Sheila Foster, an Urban Law Center Advisory Board Member and Professor of Law and Public Policy at Georgetown University, co-authored this article.

World mayors pose for a group picture after signing the Chicago Climate Charter during the North American Climate Summit in Chicago, Illinois, December 5, 2017. Kamil Krzaczynski/Reuters


City-State Relations and Preemption #preemption

Defining What's Excessive In Police Property Seizures Remains Tricky

Though the Supreme Court recently held that states must comply with the Eighth Amendment’s “excessive fines” clause, the definition of what constitutes an “excessive fine” still remains up in the air. The Supreme Court in Timbs v. Indiana held that the Eighth Amendment’s “excessive fines” clause, like other parts of the Bill of Rights, has been “incorporated” into the Fourteenth Amendment to apply against states. However, the Court did not reach a conclusion as to whether the seizure of Mr. Timbs’ Land Rover, valued at $42,000, was an “excessive fine” in relation to the $1,200 in fines he was charged related to a drug offense. Some lawyers think that the ruling will lead to an elongated discussion and a “case-by-case development of where the [excessive fines] line is.

Institute for Justice lawyer Wesley Hottot in his Seattle office. On the wall is a framed illustration of him arguing Timbs v. Indiana at the Supreme Court last fall. Martin Kaste/NPR


Scholarship Corner #scholarship

“Local opposition to development of socially desirable facilities is one of the most important policy challenges in the United States. Despite decades of effort, a formula to reduce ‘Not in My Back Yard’ (NIMBY) opposition is yet to be found. Cash payments, inclusive deliberation, benefits negotiations, and statutory mandates are only a few of the policy and legislative measures that have been attempted. This...Article explores two recent successful examples of communal ownership—the development model for wind farms and the U.K.’s Community Right to Build reform...”

Ori Sharon, Fields of Dreams: An Economic Democracy Framework for Addressing NIMBYism, 49 Envtl. L. Rep. 10264 (2019).


Now Available: Global Perspectives in Urban Law: The Legal Power of Cities

Global Perspectives in Urban Law: The Legal Power of Cities is a collaborative scholarly focus on comparative and global perspectives in the growing field of urban law. This brand new volume offers diverse insights into urban law, with emerging theories and analyses of topics ranging from criminal reform and urban housing, to social and economic inequality and financial crises, and democratization and freedom for individual identity and space. Particularly now, social, economic, and cultural issues must be closely examined in conjunction with the rule of law not only to address inadequate access to basic services, but also to construct long-term plans for our cities and our world. The book is now available from Routledge here.

Global Perspectives in Urban Law: The Legal Power of Cities (Nestor M. Davidson & Geeta Tewari eds., Routledge 1st ed. 2018) #international

We thank the Urban Law Center's Urban Law Student Fellows for assisting in preparation of The Bulletin, which provides news in major areas of urban law, and categorizes the stories as follows:

· City Administration and Urban Governance #administration

· City-State Relations and Preemption #preemption

· Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion #equality

· Environment and Sustainability #sustainability

· Housing and Development #housing

· International/Global Urban Law #international

· Law and Justice #justice

· Public Health #health

· Technology #technology

· Transportation and Infrastructure #transportation

· Urban Mobility #mobility

· Urban Planning and Space #planning

If you have an article, legal decision, or commentary that you would like to share in an upcoming Bulletin, please e-mail it to urbanlaw@fordham.edu.

Subscribe to The Urban Law Bulletin here.

The Urban Law Center at Fordham University School of Law

Nestor M. Davidson

Faculty Director, Urban Law Center

Geeta Tewari

Associate Director, Urban Law Center

Urban Law Student Fellow Lead Contributor

Thomas Lloyd

Urban Law Student Fellow Contributors

Brittany Armstead

Victoria Lee

Steven Stern

Shirley Urena