Posted by: Patricia Salkin | September 15, 2015

Fed. Dist. Court in IL Denies Motion to Dismiss RLUIPA and Free Exercise Claims Over Denial to Allow Church to Operate in a Residential Zone

Plaintiff, The Church of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, brought suit against the City of Markham, its Mayor, David Webb, and several of its aldermen, including Donna Barron, Ernest Blevins, Clifton Howard, and Rondal Jones, based on the City’s denying Plaintiff a special use permit to operate a church in an area zoned residential. Plaintiff filed its initial complaint, seeking only administrative review of the zoning decision, in the Circuit Court of Cook County. That complaint was dismissed without prejudice. Several months later, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint which it called the Second Amended Verified Complaint (“SAC”), alleging six counts: administrative review; violation of § 2(a) of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act; violation of § 2(b)(2) of RLUIPA; violation of the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act, 775 Ill. Comp. Stat. 35/1; violation of the Illinois Open Meetings Act, 5 Ill. Comp. Stat. 120/2; and a First Amendment violation.

Here, while Count 1 appeared to be improperly named as a count for “administrative review,” the Court declined to dismiss the count because the court understood the Plaintiff to be asserting that Defendants’ refusal to amend its zoning ordinance was arbitrary and capricious and violated the Illinois constitution. In Plaintiff’s RLUIPA claims, Plaintiff alleged that although the Building and Fire Inspectors approved the use of its property for its intended purpose, the City’s Planning Board attempted to force the inspectors to change their decisions, Board members spoke out against the issuance of a special use permit during a meeting when the issue was not on the agenda, and the Planning Board (and subsequently the City Council) arbitrarily and capriciously denied the special use permit without explanation. Although the Defendants noted that the property did not come close to having sufficient off-street parking and had no handicapped accessible parking, these facts were found to be outside the four comers of the complaint and therefore were not considered by the court at this stage of the litigation. Accordingly, Defendants’ motion to dismiss the RLUIPA and RFRA claims was denied; however, because Plaintiff failed to allege any facts supporting a claim for discrimination, its Section 2(b) (2) of RLUIPA claim was dismissed.

Next, because the court found that Plaintiff sufficiently alleged a claim under § 2(a)(1) of RUILPA, the motion to dismiss the claim under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment was denied for the same reason. Finally, since Plaintiff was required to file an Open Meetings Act challenge within sixty days of the relevant decision and failed to do so its claim on the ground was dismissed.

The Church of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ v City of Markham, 2015 WL 4994290 (ND IL 8/19/2015)

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