Posted by: Patricia Salkin | May 4, 2015

Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals Vacates Dismissal of RLUIPA Equal-Terms and Nondiscrimination Claims

Defendant Mateyka inspected some property Plaintiff Washington owned, known as Al Moroc Humanity Park, located in the City of Tampa. Washington identifies herself as a “sovereign Moorish National,” and she and her “fellow Moorish nationals” practice their Islamic faith every Sunday at Al Moroc Humanity Park. Washington placed a sign in the park, which she avers “displays her religious rights and the constitutional right to peaceful assembly.” Defendant Mateyka cited Washington for displaying unpermitted signs, building without a permit, and failing to obtain a special use permit to operate a private recreational facility. Washington made a “special appearance” to challenge the jurisdiction of the City’s special magistrate, Alex Dunmire, arguing that as an “Indigenous/Aboriginal Free Moorish National” she was not a “person” within the meaning of the Florida Statutes. The special magistrate authorized the city clerk to place a lien on all real property owned by Washington, except homestead property, if Washington failed to correct the code violations on time and to foreclose the lien if any amount remained unpaid after three months.

Washington’s First Amendment claims under § 1983 alleged she was exempt from local land use regulations by virtue of the First Amendment. Because she cited no authority for this assertion, the claim was dismissed. Washington’s Fifth Amendment claim was likewise unsupported since as a property owner in the City of Tampa, she was subject to the jurisdiction of the magistrate. Finally, the court found Plaintiff’s RLUIPA claims equally threadbare, because the complaint did not identify any particular nonreligious assembly or institution or allege with any specificity how the Defendants’ application of the City of Tampa’s code to Washington’s property resulted in her religious assembly being treated on less than equal terms. Because it was not apparent from the record that Washington could not allege facts that would state a plausible First Amendment or RLUIPA claim, the court found she was free to amend these complaints. Thus, the remand with instructions to dismiss these claims was vacated.

Bey v City of Tampa Code Enforcement, 2015 WL 1543646 (11th Cir. 4/8/2015)

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