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A RLUIPA Win: The American Islamic Community Center will build a Mosque in Sterling Heights, Michigan

Written by Daniel P. Dalton on February 21, 2017 Category: Firm News, Mosques, RLUIPA Cases

As reported in the New York Times, in a significant win for the Muslim community in Detroit, and for religious freedom throughout the United States, the American Islamic Community Center (“AICC”) has settled its lawsuit with the City of Sterling Heights. The AICC brought a lawsuit against the City after it denied site plan approval for a proposed Mosque that met all established zoning criteria of the City. The law firms of Dalton & Tomich PLC, by Daniel Dalton and Katherine Brink Harrison, Elder & Brinkman PC by Azzam Elder and the Law Offices of Mohammed Abdrabboh PC filed suit in the United States District Court, Southern District of Michigan in August 2106 alleging claims under the First Amendment Free Exercise Clause and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act contending the denial of the site plan violated their rights. The United States Department of Justice filed a separate suit in December 2016 alleging similar claims.

As a result of the settlement, the AICC will build its Mosque in Sterling Heights and the City will pay damages and attorney fees.

Pursuant to the SHZO’s requirements, on June 16, 2015, AICC submitted its SALU application. In advance of the August 13, 2015 Planning Commission hearing, the City’s Planning Office issued a Staff Report pertaining to AICC’s SALU application. The Report concluded AICC’s “site plan meets all zoning ordinance conditions including setbacks, parking, and landscaping.” The Planning Office also determined “all of the specific conditions contained under Section 3.02 A. and other applicable design standards identified under Zoning Ordinance No. 278 have been met[.]” Ultimately, the Planning Office recommended the Planning Commission approve AICC’s SALU application.

On August 13, 2015, the Planning Commission conducted a public hearing on AICC’s SALU application. At the end of the hearing, the Planning Commission voted 6-1 to postpone a decision and carry the matter until the September 10 meeting so AICC could “review the scale of the development.” On August 28, AICC’s architect submitted revised plans to the Planning Commission and at its September 10, 2015 public hearing, the Planning Commission unanimously voted to deny AICC’s SALU application.

Thereafter, Dan Dalton, the author of Litigating Religious Land Use Cases, a leading RLUIPA attorney for religious land use cases, filed the lawsuit on behalf of the AICC in the United States District Court in the Eastern District of Michigan in August 2016. The Department of Justice filed a separate case in December 2016 in support of the AICC.  Since November 2016, the parties discussed settlement negotiations.  The result is that the  City has approved the site plan for the AICC resulting in the Mosque being built on the subject property.  The City will also pay a substantial amount of damages and attorney fees.  Additional information can be found in articles written in the New York Times, Washington Post, Reuters, the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press and M Live.

If you have a similar situation involving the denial of use of land for a religious building, whether it be a Mosque, Temple, Church or Synagogue, please contact Dan Dalton or a professional at Dalton & Tomich PLC.

July 2017 update: For the latest on the American Islamic Cultural Center case, watch our update video.

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Dalton & Tomich, PLC is the national leader in successfully helping churches, other religious institutions and their insurers defend their rights in land use and zoning matters under RLUIPA, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. We have helped clients win cases against municipalities and other local government bodies from coast to coast, with experience serving both as general counsel and special litigation counsel.