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Illinois Federal Court Grants and Denies Motions to Dismiss in Rluipa Case

coexist_orig   Flickr   Photo SharingChurch of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ v. City of Markham, No. 15 C 4071 (N. D., Ill. August 19, 2015) was a suit by Plaintiff church against Defendants City and members of its governing body over the denial of a discretionary permit to allow a church use. A state court proceeding challenging that denial was dismissed without prejudice, but this federal action involved both an appeal of the denial, various complaints about open meetings violations, and violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and its state law analogue. This decision involved Defendants’ Motions to Dismiss all claims.

At the outset, the court granted the motion with respect to the RLUIPA claims against members of the governing body, stating that relief under that legislation is only against public agencies, rather than individuals. Moving on to the “substantial burden” claim against the City, the court noted that the allegations claimed that the church had operated for ten years “without issue” before City officials asked it to close down for alleged safety violations and because it did not have a conditional use permit. The City’s Planning Board denied the conditional use permit application without explanation, though the complaint alleged improprieties in the decisional process.

The court, while noting that RLUIPA did not allow construction of churches everywhere under its “substantial burden” standard, did find contested facts that would preclude a dismissal without trial. For the same reason, the court denied a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff’s Free Exercise claim, which would have used the same standard for review as RLUIPA (i.e., requiring a compelling state interest to justify the regulations, as well as the use of the least restrictive means to accomplish that interest). The motions to dismiss were denied with respect to these claims.

However, Plaintiff failed to respond to the Motion to Dismiss with respect to its RLUIPA discrimination claim, as well as its claim under the Illinois Open Meetings law; accordingly, the Court dismissed those claims.

This case is an example of the winnowing process involved in pretrial motions. The dismissal of the RLUIPA claims against the individual governing body members is important, although the denial of those motions when a plaintiff does not respond is routine. Finally, it is also routine not to dismiss those ripe claims that allege sufficient facts and to allow those claims to proceed to trial. Judicial resources are at a premium and the court was justified in reducing the number of issues for trial to those where there is a semblance of contested facts and law.

Church of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ v. City of Markham, No. 15 C 4071 (N. D., Ill. August 19, 2015).

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