The US District Court for the District of Maine recently affirmed the decision of a magistrate judge which granted the dismissal of a claim brought under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). In Cassidy v. City of Brewer, Plaintiff apparently was a landlord who brought suit on behalf her tenant, Rock Church. The suit was brought after the City of Brewer’s Code Enforcement Officer denied the church’s request for a land use variance. After the initial denial, the opinion states that the church never appealed the decision of the officer to the City. The court points out that the enforcement officer “is not the City’s final decision-maker” and thus, the denial itself was not final. Since the denial was not final, the RLUIPA claim was not ripe to adjudicate.
The court in its very brief opinion also refused to answer a more uncertain question: must a RLUIPA plaintiff satisfy prudential standing requirements in addition to the traditional constitutional standing requirements? The answer is not clear, and the court did not deem it necessary to formulate an answer in order to dispose of the case. The court did, however, say that the plaintiff in this case would not meet the prudential standing requirements, which are more rigorous than the constitutional requirements (also known as Article III requirements). While RLUIPA itself states that “[s]tanding to assert a claim or defense under this section shall be governed by the general rules of standing under Article III of the Constitution” (42 U.S.C. §2000cc-2(a)), the court says in a footnote that it did not take such language to mean that the prudential requirements are removed.
Although it is very short, this opinion contains two valuable takeaways. First, it is important in most cases to follow local procedures for appealing the initial denial of a permit, variance, or other land use decision. A failure to obtain a final decision will often lead to a claim being dismissed as unripe. Additionally, with standing requirements for RLUIPA plaintiffs unclear, it is vital to be sure that the a RLUIPA claim is brought by the correct party.
The attorneys at Dalton & Tomich, plc have extensive experience with land use matters and RLUIPA cases across the country. Our attorneys can assist you to ensure that a legitimate claim meets the requirements of standing and ripeness. If you feel that your rights are being violated, please do not hesitate to contact us.
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.
In 2015, Hope Rising Community Church experienced extreme opposition, the kind that would force it to close its doors and leave behind the families and youth it was so passionate about reaching. As the lead pastor I felt helpless, inferior and as if I had no […]Read More
Dalton & Tomich’s assistance in our RLUIPA matter has paved the way for our church to continue serving the community and for new churches in the area to thrive in the future. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your stand for religious […]Read More
The Urban Church will be forever grateful to Dalton & Tomich plc for navigating it through a difficult land use issue. Let them give you honest and caring advice because that’s exactly what they’ll do.Read More
Dalton & Tomich, PLC defended a complicated case at a church we insure. Not only is the firm professional, they understand how church business runs and work well within church leadership.Read More
Dalton & Tomich, PLC helped us immensely in the areas of litigation and negotiation! Their professionalism and understanding of church policy helped our church be victorious in a modern day religious land use battle. RLUIPA Religious Land Use Case: Lighthouse Community Church of GodRead More
Dalton & Tomich, PLC serves as General Counsel for the 144 churches within the Church of God in Michigan. The firm provides the legal expertise we need in dealing with the issues that arise during the course of fulfilling our ministry.Read More
I met Dan Dalton during a dark time for our church. He was recommended as the leading RLUIPA attorney in the nation. He demonstrated wisdom, expertise, a gentle nature, a calming inter-relational skill, genuineness, and a humble demeanor, while at the same time, being sharp, […]Read More
Mr. Dalton’s expertise and experience helped us through a very difficult legal journey, ultimately achieving a favorable outcome. His personal interest in helping our church went “above and beyond” just the call of duty. His understanding of both legal and spiritual matters seems to uniquely […]Read More