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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Seventh Circuit Finds No Violation of RLUIPA or Illinois RFRA Based on Sprinkler System Dispute

A recent decision from the Seventh Circuit considered whether a municipality violated the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person Act (RLUIPA) by evicting residents of a religious recovery home that lacked a sprinkler system.
In Affordable Recovery Housing v. City of BlueIsland, a faith-based group sought to use a vacant convent as a recovery home for adults suffering from drug and alcohol addiction.  However, after the recovery home had already moved in dozens of residents, the municipality notified the recovery home that it was required to install a sprinkler system.  The recovery home refused to install the sprinkler system because of the significant cost. The municipality then issued an eviction order, and the residents of the recovery home were forced to move out.
The recovery home filed suit claiming, among other things, that the municipality had violated the Illinois RFRA and RLUIPA. The recovery home argued that the municipality substantially burdened its exercise of religion by evicting the recovery home residents due to the lack of a sprinkler system.  While the recovery home subsequently obtained a state license to operate, which did not require the installation of a sprinkler system, the recovery home pursued its claims based on the alleged infringement of its exercise of religion.

The Seventh Circuit rejected the recovery home’s claims.  The court found that there was no evidence that the expulsion of the recovery home's residents was attributable to anything other than a legitimate concern for fire hazards based on the lack of a sprinkler system.  The court also noted that the recovery home did not claim that the sprinkler system requirement itself burdened its religious exercise, only the expulsion of its residents.  As such, the court found that the expulsion of the residents was due to the recovery home's disregard for the sprinkler requirement, and that the whole issue could have been avoided had the recovery home researched the state licensing and operating requirements before it started accepting residents.  The court also held that, even if the municipality's fire-safety code could be considered a zoning law subject to RLUIPA's protections, the municipality was not seeking to exclude the recovery home from the municipality's boundaries, and therefore there was no violation of RLUIPA. 

Post Authored by Kurt Asprooth, Ancel Glink


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