Posted by: Patricia Salkin | May 3, 2015

Fed. Dist Court in WA Holds Owners Failed to Sufficiently Allege FHA and RLUIPA Substantial Burden Claims but Did Find RLUIPA Equal Terms Claim Can Proceed

Plaintiffs John and Jane Mack, the primary pastors of Plaintiff Holy Ghost Revival Ministries, operate group housing residences called “Mack Houses” as part of their “religious mission.” These Mack Houses provide low-cost transitional housing to released convicts, some of whom are recovering from substance abuse or addiction. A high number of residents, if not all residents, were registered sexual offenders. The residents at Mack Houses received “teachings grounded in scripture,” and were required to abide by twelve-step programs and Department of Correction requirements. In 2013, the Macks received an Enforcement Order from the City stating that the storage of large vehicles at the 61st Street Property violated the City’s zoning code, and an Enforcement Order from the City stating that the Smokey Hill Property was an inappropriate residential use and occupancy of a building on a parcel of land zoned for General Commercial use. The basis for these claims is Plaintiffs’ contention that the City selectively enforced its zoning ordinance against Plaintiffs on the basis of their religion. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim.

Defendant first contended that the Rooker–Feldman doctrine barred the court from hearing claims that require reconsideration of the Hearing Examiner’s decision. Under this doctrine, a federal district court “must refuse to hear a de facto appeal” of a state court judgment and “must also refuse to decide any issue … that is ‘inextricably intertwined’ with an issue resolved by the state court in its judicial decision.” Here, the City’s enforcement decision was a determination made by a state administrative agency. Thus, the Defendant’s motion to dismiss for lack of subject jurisdiction was dismissed.

At the outset, the court determined a failure to comply with LUPA’s deadline does not bar a Section 1983 claim in federal court. Thus, none of Plaintiffs’ federal statutory or constitutional claims were barred by Plaintiffs’ failure to fail a timely LUPA petition. As to Plaintiffs’ FHA claim, Plaintiffs argued that extrinsic evidence shows they had viable disparate treatment FHA claims on the basis of handicap and religion; however, these not pleaded in their complaint, and the court may not consider extrinsic evidence on a motion to dismiss. Thus these claims were dismissed with leave to amend.

As to the RLUIPA claim, Plaintiffs’ alleged that as a result of the enforcement action Holy Ghost Church had to shut down the Mack House for a period of time. The court found that the mere fact Plaintiffs had to renovate one of the ten houses in order to continue housing residents at that location was not a burden that is “oppressive to a significantly great extent.” Accordingly, the court dismissed the substantial burden claim. However, because the complaint alleged that the Mack Houses, which are religious institutions, were singled out by the City for enforcement of the zoning code, the court concluded that Plaintiffs have adequately alleged treatment on a less than equal basis with secular comparators, such as other group housing institutions.

Holy Ghost Revival Ministries v City of Marysville, 2015 WL 1538458 (WD WA 4/7/2015)


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