Editor’s Note: This posting appears on the RLUIPA Defense Blog and is reprinted with permission: https://www.rluipa-defense.com/2016/03/new-jersey-district-court-remands-rluipa-and-equal-protection-defense-to-state-court/
The Freedom From Religion Foundation sued the Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders, the Morris County Preservation Trust Fund Review Board, and Joseph A. Kovalcik, Jr. (“Defendants”) in New Jersey Superior Court claiming that the use of taxpayer money to fund the restoration of churches violates the New Jersey Constitution and the New Jersey Civil Rights Act (“State Laws”). In response, the Defendants claimed that the State Laws were preempted by federal law, namely, the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”). Given their federal defenses, the Defendants removed the case to the Federal District Court.
The District Court, however, remanded the matter back to state court after it recognized that the Plaintiffs’ complaint included no federal claims. While this was not dispositive to the remand decision, the District Court concluded that “[a]lthough Defendants’ arguments center around potential federal defenses they may raise, that does not bring Plaintiffs’ original cause of action within the jurisdiction of this Court.”
Although the decision in Freedom From Religion Foundation et al. v. Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders, et al. (available here) is procedural in nature (and not particularly interesting), it caught our attention at RLUIPA Defense given the unusual position of the Defendants. It is not common for a municipal defendant to use RLUIPA as a defense and claim that a state’s constitution and statutes are unconstitutional.
Freedom From Religion Foundation, et al. v. Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders, et al., Civil Action No. 16-185 (3/18/2016) – Letter order available here: https://cases.justia.com/federal/district-courts/new-jersey/njdce/2:2016cv00185/328772/8/0.pdf?ts=1458392438