Attorneys Mike Knapek and Steven Dimitt represent churches and religious institutions in matters related to the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). In a recent article published by the American Bar Association (ABA), they provided useful tips for attorneys working on RLUIPA claims.
In the article, Mike and Steven emphasize the importance of ripeness in RLUIPA claims, noting that most courts require that a “final” ruling has been made on either a variance application, permit application, or appeal of a denied permit before they will hear a case. As a result, attorneys must ensure that necessary variances and appeals have been pursued in order to ensure a RLUIPA claim is ripe.
Even if a procedural step has been missed, however, they advise that the claim may still be ripe. “Courts have held that seeking a variance is not required when it would be futile because the zoning agency either lacks discretion to grant variances or has dug in its heels and made clear that all such applications will be denied,” they wrote. They also explained that facial challenges are often ripe as soon as the challenged regulation or ordinance has been passed.
In a general sense, they advise attorneys involved in RLUIPA cases to be cognizant of the delicate nature of this area of law.
“While most lawsuits involve disputes between two parties who will never see each other again, most churches and religious organizations hope to be an integral part of their community long after their lawsuit with the municipality is over.”