The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week that a religious institution's lawsuit against the City alleging violations of RLUIPA (the federal religious land use statute) can move forward, reversing the district court's ruling in favor of the City. World Outreach Conference Center v. City of Chicago, (7th Cir. June 1, 2015)
As the 7th Circuit discusses in the case, this lawsuit has been going on for quite some time, and had been the subject of an earlier opinion by the 7th Circuit that World Outreach's lawsuit against the City should not have been dismissed. After the dismissal was overturned, the case continued for almost 10 years before again reaching the 7th Circuit on World Outreach's appeal of the district court's grant of summary judgment to the City.
The case involved the City's denial of licenses to allow World Outreach to use a portion of its building for SRO (single-room occupancy) units. Although the YMCA had previously used the property for the same purposes pursuant to City license, World Outreach was denied licenses based on the City's interpretation of its zoning ordinance to require World Outreach to obtain special use permit approval before it could operate the SROs. Eventually, the City did grant the licenses, but the lawsuit continued, including World Outreach's claims that the City's actions constituted a "substantial burden" on its religious activities. The case made its way to federal court, where the district court judge granted summary judgment to the City on various grounds, including that the delay in licensing was the fault of World Outreach, not the City.
On appeal, the 7th Circuit reversed the grant of summary judgment to the City, finding that there were too many factual issues in dispute to resolve the case before trial. The Court rejected the district court's ruling that the delays were not the fault of the City, based on evidence that the aldermen showed animosity towards World Outreach and that the code enforcement activities against World Outreach were out of the ordinary. The court did, however, question World Outreach's damages claims, stating that the evidence "leaves us uncertain whether World Outreach can recover substantial damages" for its claims. The Court then remanded the case back to the district court to conduct a trial.
Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf