Posted by: Patricia Salkin | June 1, 2010

Federal District Court Declines to Dismiss RLUIPA Claims Against Members of Historic Commission

Following a denial of a Certificate of Appropriateness for plaintiff Chabad Lubavitch of Litchfield County to renovate a Victorian house in an Historic District into a Temple for purposes of providing sufficient space for it to “meet the spiritual and physical needs” of its members, the religious group filed suit alleging, among other things, a violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).  After purchasing the property, and aware that the building was located in the historic district, Chabad retained engineering, architecture and historic preservation professionals to assist in developing a site plan for the property. Chabad also made costly architectural and site plan modifications at the Borough’s request.  During the public hearings, Chabad asserted that the derogatory comments about them and about the Jewish faith were made.  Specifically, they note that one Commission member said that, “the Star of David may not comply with the district,” and another member said that if the design were permitted it would turn Litchfield into a “factory town,” and an alternate board member comments, “Stone from Israel?  We’ll have to get the whole town out for this one.”  Further, an attorney representing the Town said that the plan should be “reviewed as if it were a strip joint.” Chabad claimed that other properties in the historic district have been modified to include additions, and that their proposed certificate of appropriateness was consistent with the patterns of development in the district. 

The district court denied a motion to dismiss those aspects of the complaint alleging conspiracy, holding that the town and the commission lacked standing to move to dismiss the civil rights claims against the members of the commission in their individual capacities. 

Chabad Lubavitch of Litchfield County, Inc. v Borough of Litchfield, 2010 WL 1882308 (D.Conn. 5/10/2010).

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

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