Posted by: Patricia Salkin | November 26, 2008

Sale of Wine and Beer Permitted, But No Church Services Under RLUIPA Claim Due to Ripeness

Since 1986, the Guatay Christian Fellowship has been holding services in the recreation center of the Pine Valley Trailer Park on land zoned rural residential.  Non residential and non agricultural uses require a Master Use Permit (MUP). The County sent a notice to the Park in 2008, indicating that the existing MUP for the recreation center permitted the sale of wine and beer and live entertainment, but that the use of the facility for religious assembly required a modification of the MUP.  The Park disagreed with the County over whether an MUP was required, and a month later the County issued a cease and desist order prohibiting religious assemblies or worship at the site. Following a hearing where the court denied the Church a temporary restraining order from the County proceeding with an inspection of the site, the County discovered 67 code violations.  The Church then filed the instant action to enjoin the County from interfering with its members’ exercise of their religious rights, alleging among other things, a violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).

 

The Court determined that the RLUIPA claim was not yet ripe because there was no final agency action as the Church had not yet applied for either an MUP or a zoning change for the property.  Relying on RLUIPA’s legislative history which provides that religious institutions are not immune for land use regulations nor are they relieved form applying for variances, special permits or other relief provisions in land use regulations, the Court concluded that ripeness applies to claims under RLUIPA. Further, the Court relied on the Ninth Circuit’s decision in San Jose Christian College v. City of Morgan Hill, 360 F. 3d 1024 (2004) which held that RLUIPA does not excuse or eliminate the requirement that religious institutions apply for changes to zoning regulations.

 

The Court did grant the Church’s request to enjoin the County from enforcing its cease and desist order, allowing the Church to conduct religious activities at the site only if they remedied the eight most serious code violations, and on the condition that they remedy to the extent practicable the remaining violations within 90 days.  Further the Court ordered the Church to apply for an MUP within 30 days.     

 

Guatay Christian Fellowship v. County of San Diego, 2008 WL 4949895 (S.D. CA. 11/18/2008).

 

The opinion can be accessed at: http://documents.scribd.com/docs/2kfqn7r6cbdo8efuu49.pdf

 

Special thanks to Dwight Merriam, Esq. of Robinson & Cole in Hartford, CT for forwarding this case.


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