Posted by: Patricia Salkin | September 23, 2019

Fed. Dist. Court in NY Dismisses RLUIPA Claim Involving Amish Roofer

This post was authored by Matthew Loeser, Esq.

In 2018, the roof of plaintiff’s home was damaged by high winds. Plaintiff contacted Emmanuel Roffer, a local Amish roofer, who quoted her a price of $12,000 to replace her roof, which was $3,000 less than the next lowest estimate she received for the work. Mr. Roffer ultimately informed plaintiff that he could not perform the work because he did not have the insurance required by the City of Olean, which his religion prohibited him from purchasing. Plaintiff then contacted Ed Jennings, the City’s Code Enforcement Officer, and William Aiello, the City’s Mayor, both of whom replied that Mr. Roffer needed to have insurance to work in the City. Plaintiff then attempted to buy the necessary insurance herself, but was advised by her insurance agent that it could not be purchased by a private individual. In this case, plaintiff claimed that the City is “violating the religious customs of Emmanuel Roffer, whose Amish beliefs forbid him to buy insurance of any kind, or to obtain government-issued permits or licenses”. Plaintiff further argued that the denial of “the benefit of having Amish laborers replace the roof on her home … is a violation of her land use rights”, and sought unspecified monetary damages.

As to the RLUIPA claim, the court first noted that the requirement the City has for roofers to be insured falls outside of a landmarking law, which “generally involves the regulation and restriction of certain areas as national historic landmarks, special historic sites, places and buildings for the purpose of conservation, protection, enhancement and perpetuation of these places of natural heritage.’ ” The subject requirement also did not constitute a zoning law, which in New York encompasses the powers of a city to “regulate and limit the height, bulk and location of buildings”, as well as “the location of trades and industries and the location of buildings, designed for specified uses”. Even if the requirement that roofers working in the City be insured could be considered a landmarking or zoning law, however, that requirement only restricted who could perform the work, not the use or development of the property. Accordingly, the court dismissed the Complaint for failure to state a cause of action.

Ripley v City of Olean, 2019 WL 4396074 (WDNY 1/14/2019)

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