Posted by: Patricia Salkin | May 21, 2016

Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals Finds Issues of Material Fact Existed as to Whether The Equal Terms Provision of RLUIPA was Violated

Defendant–Appellee Upper Arlington (the government), regulated the use of land owned by Plaintiff–Appellant Tree of Life Christian Schools. As a result of this regulation, TOL Christian Schools could not use its land to operate a religious school. TOL Christian Schools, after corresponding with and applying to the government on related proposals, applied to rezone the property to allow use as a religious school. The government denied the application because such a use would not accord with certain aspects of the government’s Master Plan. Specifically, the government focused on the Master Plan’s provision that the government maintain zoning for commercial uses in order to maximize its income-tax revenue. After this denial, TOL Christian Schools filed this suit, claiming under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) that the government illegally failed to treat TOL Christian Schools on equal terms with nonreligious assemblies or institutions. After both parties moved for summary judgment, the district court granted summary judgment to the government.

Here, the government did not deny that the UDO would allow child day care centers, hotels/motels, hospitals, outpatient surgery centers, and business and professional offices and similar assemblies or institutions to use 5000 Arlington Centre Boulevard. The court therefore analyzed whether these other assemblies or institutions, treated more favorably, were similarly situated. The court found that TOL Christian Schools pled facts sufficient to allege that at least some of these assemblies or institutions were situated, relative to the government’s regulatory purpose, similarly to TOL Christian Schools, in that they would fail to maximize income-tax revenue. These allegations created a genuine issue of fact as to whether the government more favorably treated assemblies or institutions similarly situated with respect to maximizing revenue, unless the government could demonstrate that no assemblies or institutions could be similarly situated. Because there was a genuine issue of material fact, summary judgment was not merited. Lastly, the court noted that using eminent domain, Upper Arlington could force TOL Christian Schools to sell the land to the government, and sell the land to a buyer that the government thought offered superior economic benefits; however, it failed to do so in this case.

Tree of Life Christian Schools v. City of Upper Arlington, 2016 WL 2897658 (6th Cir. CA 5/18/2016)


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