Posted by: Patricia Salkin | December 27, 2014

Fed. Dist. Court in FL Dismisses RLUIPA Equal Terms Claim Following Notice of Violation

A pro se plaintiff filed a claim against a city code enforcement department and its officers alleging various constitutional violations as well as a violation of RLUIPA for code enforcement activity. Plaintiff owned real property known as “Al Moroc Humanity Park” that Moorish Nationals (like plaintiff) congregated at every Sunday to practice Islam, among other things. The property has several signs, make shift structures and installations on the property placed there without permits. Code enforcement officers had temporarily blocked access to the property while viewing it with an eye toward code enforcement. The city sent plaintiff a “Notice of Violation” listing various infractions of the city code.

A special magistrate conducted a hearing and determined plaintiff was guilty of the alleged violations. He ordered plaintiff to correct the violations and advised that failure to comply would result in a fine of $100 per day for any violation that continued past the date set for compliance. The special magistrate’s order was recorded and thus established a lien on plaintiff’s property.

Plaintiff appealed to the federal circuit court. Her alleged violations were vague and hard to understand. The district court gave her the benefit of the doubt in interpreting her complaint. She asserted without evidence that under RLUIPA the city enforcement action violated the equal terms clause because the city authorized others to use their property similarly. The district court stated that while the gathering of people to practice Islam on the property was a religious assembly, plaintiff produced no evidence that she was treated on any terms unequal to any other similarly situated person. Further the court stated that to the extent plaintiff alleged an unconstitutional search of her property, the court cited the United States Supreme Court decision in Camara v. Municipal Court of City and County of San Francisco, 387 US 523 (1967) which decided that: “‘Inspection programs aimed at securing city-wide compliance with minimum physical standards for private property’ are reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.”
The court dismissed the complaint stating it failed to allege a claim. Plaintiff has appealed the dismissal of her complaint to the Eleventh Circuit.

Nura Washington Bey v. City of Tampa Code Enforcement, 2014 WL 4629665 (M.D.Fla

Editor’s Note: This abstract appears in Wendie Kellington, Esq.’s materials from the December 2014 ALI Land Use Institute.

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