Posted by: Patricia Salkin | January 25, 2014

ED of MI Finds Property Owner Had Valid Claim for Violation of RLUIPA’s Nondiscrimination Provision for Town’s Denial to Rezone so an Islamic School and Community Center Could be Built

The Muslim Community Association of Ann Arbor and Vicinity (MCA), a Michigan domestic nonprofit corporation, sought a rezoning in order to build an Islamic school and community center. Their application was denied and they brought a challenge under stated a claim for violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person Act’s (RLUIPA) substantial burden and nondiscrimination provisions, the Establishment Clause and the Equal Protection Clause. The Board of Trustees provided no reasons for the denial and Plaintiff claims it was denied a public hearing and opportunity to provide a meaningful defense before the Board of Trustees, despite an MCA representative’s request two weeks prior to the Board of Trustees’ vote that MCA have an opportunity to address the Township at a hearing. The Defendants made a motion to dismiss.

Plaintiff alleged that Defendants applied the Zoning Ordinance to MIA on less than equal terms with other religious and non-religious assemblies and institutions (in violation RLUIPA’s “equal terms” provision) and that the decisions to deny Plaintiff’s zoning application and a public hearing before the Board of Trustees were discriminatory based on Plaintiff’s Islamic faith (in violation RLUIPA’s “nondiscrimination” provision).

The district court reasoned that there where many claims from Plaintiff’s pleading that would require further analysis before a decision could be made regarding whether Plaintiff can prevail on its RLUIPA substantial burden claim. Such factual issues include: whether other land is available in the Township where it would be allowed to engage in religious exercise; whether the zoning laws have not been applied neutrally to it; and whether secular schools and Christian churches have been treated more preferably. The district court therefore held that the determination of whether Defendants’ conduct has substantially burdened Plaintiff’s religious exercise was too fact intensive to resolve on Defendants’ motion to dismiss.

Muslim Community Ass’n of Ann Arbor and Vicinity v. Pittsfield Charter Tp., 947 F. Supp. 2d 752, 769 (E.D. Mich. 5/22/2013)

The opinion can be accessed at:

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