Posted by: Patricia Salkin | September 28, 2019

Fed. District Court in MI Holds Church was Entitled to Summary Judgment on Its RLUIPA Equal Terms Claim

This post was authored by Matthew Loeser, Esq.

Clinton Township enacted a comprehensive zoning code that divided the Township into several zoning districts. The “Multiple-Family Low Rise District,” (“RML”) was intended to promote the development of multiple-family dwelling structures, however, other uses were permitted as a matter of right in the district. Specifically, churches were required to first attain a special use permit in order to locate and operate in the RML District. Plaintiff River of Life Ministries, INT and its pastor, Plaintiff Michael Dorman, challenged this provision of Defendant Clinton Township’s zoning code that applied to the real property on which River of Life wanted to locate its church. River of Life and Dorman claimed that this section of the zoning code violated the Equal Terms provision of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (“RLUIPA”). In this case, River of Life and Dorman each moved for summary judgment.

As to the RLUIPA’s Equal Terms claim, it was undisputed that River of Life satisfied the first two elements of this claim: that it was a religious assembly or institution, and that it was subject to a land use regulation – the RML Zoning Ordinance. Here, the court found that the RML District treated the listed nonreligious uses more favorably than churches. Specifically, schools, libraries, and swim clubs could locate in the RML District as a matter of right, while churches could only locate in the district if they first obtained a special use permit. As such, River of Live was granted summary judgment on its RLUIPA Equal Terms claim.

The court next rejected Clinton Township’s contention that the relevant “land use regulation” was the zoning code as a whole, rather than the RML Zoning Ordinance specifically. It found that the RML Zoning Ordinance was the relevant “land use regulation” because it was the specific ordinance provision that imposed the special use permit requirement for operation of a church.

Lastly the court held that Dorman, individually, was not entitled to summary judgment in his favor with respect to his RLUIPA Equal Terms claim. The record reflected that Dorman’s counsel acknowledged at the hearing on the summary judgment motions that Dorman could not maintain a claim under RLUIPA’s Equal Terms provision because he was not a “religious assembly or institution”. Accordingly, the court denied Dorman summary judgment on his Equal Terms claim and granted Clinton Township summary judgment on that claim.

Dorman v Charter Township of Clinton, 2019 WL 3322352 (ED MI 7/24/2019)

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