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Boulder County Appeals Adverse RLUIPA Decision to the United States Supreme Court

Written by Daniel P. Dalton on October 18, 2010 Category: Religious Institutions, RLUIPA

On Friday October 15, 2010, Boulder County filed an application for leave to appeal to the United States Supreme Court of the decision of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, who, affirmed a jury verdict and the entry of a permanent injunction for the Church due to the County’s violation of RLUIPA’s substantial burden, equal terms and unreasonable limitations provisions. Rocky Mountain Christian Church v. Board of County Com’rs, 2010 WL 2802757 (10th Cir. 2010). The County first argued a lack of evidence on all three counts the jury found for the plaintiff. The 10th Circuit disagreed, finding that there was sufficient evidence the plaintiff was similarly situated to a non-religious use to find an equal terms violation, and evidence showed unreasonable limitations on churches. Additionally, the 10th circuit affirmed the trial court’s grant of an injunction even though the jury had not awarded any damages to the church. The appellate court held such a result was not inconsistent since the failure of a jury to award damages only means the church did not prove monetary damages were appropriate.

Boulder County has asked the Supreme Court to review this dispute with a church, arguing that the case raises questions local governments nationwide need to have answered. The petition centers around the county’s 2006 decision to deny a church’s plan to more than double its campus near Niwot, about five miles northeast of Boulder. Rocky Mountain Christian Church successfully sued under RLUIPA, which protects churches from discriminatory land-use laws. While county commissioners maintained that they treated the church’s application to expand the same way they treated others and that it was denied because it would violate land-use codes, a jury ruled in favor of the church, and the county lost its appeal with the 10th Circuit in July.

Boulder County argues in its petition to the U.S. Supreme Court that the federal land use law, and how it is supposed to be applied, is likely to vex other local governments. “The issues raised by this case go far beyond a dispute between a single church and a small government entity,” the county petition reads. “These are national issues of pressing performance.”

It is disappointing, but not surprising, that the application was filed. A decision by the Supreme Court as to whether or not it will accept the case for consideration may occur within the next year.

Regards, Dan

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