The City of San Leandro, California has agreed to a settlement agreement in which it will pay the International Church of Foursquare Gospel $2.3 million in order to end its five-year litigation with the Church. The case had worked its way through the Ninth Circuit and even reached the United States Supreme Court. Daniel Dalton, founding partner at Dalton & Tomich plc, submitted an amicus brief to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in support of the Church. The Court of Appeals accepted the brief and used the arguments in its opinion affirming religious liberty.
In 2007, the Church attempted to relocate its rapidly growing congregation to an industrial area within San Leandro. The City refused, alleging the Church’s proposed move conflicted with its zoning code that had set aside the land for manufacturing uses. However, the City allowed entertainment activities and commercial recreation to operate in industrial zones. The Church then filed suit, alleging the City’s refusal to allow the Church to relocate to the industrial zone violated its rights under RLUIPA.
In 2011, the Ninth Circuit agreed with the Church, finding the City’s actions violated RLUIPA by imposing a substantial burden on the Church’s religious exercise. San Leandro appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, and in October 2011 the Court denied certiorari.
San Leandro announced the settlement agreement at its September 24 City Council meeting. In a statement released by the City, San Leandro admitted no wrongdoing and made no changes to its zoning code. The City also said it had sufficient funds in its self-insurance fund and reserve account to cover the settlement amount, meaning taxpayers fortunately will not be on the hook to pay any of the $2.3 million.
This case is representative of how courts nationwide are vigorously enforcing RLUIPA, and how municipalities are agreeing to large settlements rather than drag out litigation and risk an even larger monetary loss at trial. If you are a religious entity and feel that you have been discriminated against in the areas of land use or zoning, the experienced attorneys at Dalton & Tomich, PLC are available to answer any questions you may have.