Posted by: Patricia Salkin | May 24, 2010

10th Circuit Court of Appeals Upholds RLUIPA Jury Verdict in Mega Church Case

In continued protracted litigation between the Rocky Mountain Christian Church and Boulder, CO, (see earlier posting here) the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a jury verdict, finding that sufficient evidence was presented at trial to justify the jury’s determination that the denial of the Church’s special use application violated the equal terms provision of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).  

Specifically, with respect to the Equal Terms Provision, the Court determined that the way the County treated an application of a school, was a similar enough comparator for purposes of analysis. The Court also determined that there is no affirmative defense to an Equal Terms challenge. The Court also found that the County violated the unreasonable limitations provision of RLUIPA based on testimony presented that it was more difficult now for a church, and specifically a mega-church, to be sited in the County.

Because they upheld the jury verdict on the above two grounds, the Court ducked the question of whether the substantial burden provisions of RLUIPA violate the Establishment Clause or exceed Congress’ enforcement powers under Sec. 5 of the 14th Amendment. The Court also noted that the County had preserved a constitutional argument only insofar as the substantial burden provision was concerned.

A number of organizations, including the American Planning Association, submitted amicus briefs. It is possible that this case could be appealed to the US Supreme Court.

Rocky Mountain Christian Church v. Board of Commissioners of Boulder County, Colorado, 2010 WL 1948644  (C.A. 10th Cir. (Colo) 5/17/2010)

The opinion can be accessed at: http://www.ck10.uscourts.gov/opinions/09/09-1188.pdf

For more information click here 

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


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