Posted by: Patricia Salkin | May 7, 2017

Fed. Dist. Court in MI Finds Questions of Fact as to Whether Wedding Venue was a Religious Institution Before RLUIPA Claims Could Proceed

A wedding venue, Irish Oaks Community Church, sought summary judgment against the Lapeer Township on it claim that the Township’s zoning ordinance violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”). On appeal, the court first noted the technical defects in Plaintiff’s motion, such as Plaintiff’s failure to seek a concurrence prior to filing its motion. Additionally, Plaintiff’s complaint was a narrative-styled recitation of the pertinent facts without numbered paragraphs, and was impossible for Defendant or the court to identify and evaluate which facts are truly in dispute.

Notwithstanding these defects, Plaintiff alleged that: Defendant discriminated against it by failing to place it on equal terms with other non-religious institutions, and Defendant’s zoning ordinance violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”). In response, Defendant argued that Plaintiff was not in fact a “religious assembly or institution” but was a for-profit venue and chapel seeking to “hold weddings and corporate events.” In support of this contention Defendant identified statements made before the Township of Lapeer Planning Commission in March of 2016 indicating that the proposed church did not yet have a pastor. Additionally, Defendant identified advertisements disseminated by Plaintiff calling itself “Irish Oaks Farms” or “Hunters Creek Venue” while offering services such as hay rides, a pig roast, and a venue for everything “from weddings and receptions to reunions, corporate events or whatever your imagination creates.” Accordingly, the court held that summary judgment was inappropriate and denied Plaintiff’s motion.

Irish Oaks Community Church v Lapeer Township, 2017 WL 1838846 (ED MI 5/8/2017)

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