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Who can file a RLUIPA case?

Written by Daniel P. Dalton on December 17, 2012 Category: Land Use and Zoning, RLUIPA
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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.

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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.