On March 31, 2020, the United States District Court of Connecticut issued a ruling which added nearly $100,000 in attorneys’ fees, costs and interest to an existing fee award of over $700,000 against the Borough of Litchfield, CT.
By way of background, Dalton & Tomich successfully tried a RLUIPA case on behalf Chabad Lubavitch against the Borough in 2017. More information about the claims involved can be found here Chabad Lubavitch of Litchfield vs. the Historic District of the Borough of Litchfield.
Because RLUIPA allows prevailing plaintiffs to recover their attorneys fees from municipal defendants, the court awarded the Chabad an attorney-fee award of over $700,000 dollars after it won at trial. The fee award was the culmination of a more than decade-long, hard-fought religious land use dispute between the Chabad and the municipal defendants. While such a significant attorney fee award would be enough to convince most defendants to give up, it was not enough to dissuade the Borough from continuing to fight. The Borough and its Historic District Commission filed an appeal with the Second Circuit Court of Appeals and argued that the Chabad was not a “prevailing party” and was not entitled to its attorneys’ fees.
In June 2019, Dan Dalton, with the help of Alex Reuter and Adel Nucho, briefed and argued the appeal. Just two months later, the Court of Appeals ruled in the Chabad’s favor and remanded the case back to the District Court for entry of the judgment. Once the case was back before the District Court, we filed a second fee petition to recover the additional fees incurred defending the original fee award on appeal. In its March 31st ruling, the court held that the Chabad was entitled attorneys’ fees incurred defending the original fee award on appeal. The court added $54,849.25 in appellate attorney fees and $4,457.17 in appellate costs. The court also held that the Chabad is entitled to interest on the award until it is paid.
Previously, Borough officials indicated that they would likely have to raise taxes in order to pay what is owed. This case is yet another reminder of how RLUIPA helps level the playing field for religious institutions in the land use and zoning context.
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