Posted by: Patricia Salkin | September 18, 2013

Sixth Circuit Remands RLUIPA Ripeness Claims Following Rezoning Denial

Tree of Life Christian Schools (“Tree of Life”) of Upper Arlington, Ohio (“City”), wanted to build a school on property located in the City’s Office and Research zoning district, where churches and schools were not allowed as of right. When Tree of Life was denied a conditional use permit, it appealed to both the Board of Zoning and Planning (“BZAP”) and the City Council. Both appeals were unsuccessful, so Tree of Life filed a complaint in the district court, making four claims under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”) and six constitutional First Amendment claims. The district court granted the City’s motion for summary judgment, finding that the claims were not ripe because Tree of Life did not seek a zoning amendment.

Tree of Life appealed the district court order to the Sixth Circuit, arguing that its claims were ripe because the BZAP and the City Council had made final determinations. The City responded that the claims were not ripe because “the results of an attempted zoning amendment are uncertain because it is a legislative process.”

On appeal, the Sixth Circuit cited to case law to define a ripe claim as one in which the “claimant has obtained a final decision regarding the application of the zoning ordinances . . . to its property” (internal quotations omitted). The court noted that while the present case was pending, Tree of Life sought a zoning amendment, which the City Council denied. As a result, the court held that the “present arguments before [the] panel [were] no longer sufficient,” and remanded the case to the district court to determine whether the claims were ripe.

Tree of Life asked the Sixth Circuit to review its RLUIPA claims, asserting that the district court made a determination on the merits of these claims. Although the district court did comment on the merits of the RLUIPA claims, the Sixth Circuit held that these comments were merely dicta and not a separate holding. The court thus declined to review this and instead left it to the district court to make a determination on the merits on remand.

Finally, the court dismissed the City’s cross-appeal of the district court’s denial of the City’s summary judgment motion on the merits. The Sixth Circuit reasoned that the court generally does not have appellate jurisdiction “when the appellant does not seek a change in the relief ordered by the judgment appealed from, because [they] do not issue advisory opinions” (internal quotations omitted). The court thus left these issues for the district court to decide on remand.

Tree of Life Christian Schools v. City of Upper Arlington, 2013 WL 4779603 (6th Cir. 9/6/2013)

The opinion can be accessed at:

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