Wednesday, July 13, 2011

9th Circuit: Damages Under RLUIPA Still Recoverable Against Municipalities

In Centro Familiar Cristiano Buenas Nuevas v. City of Yuma, (9th Cir., July 12, 2011), the 9th Circuit held that a church which was wrongfully required to obtain a conditional use permit for its building can recover damages under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act despite the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision in Sossamon v. Texas. (See prior posting). The 9th Circuit reasoned:
Sossamon is grounded on the line of Eleventh Amendment authority requiring "clear expression" to abrogate the sovereign immunity of states from damages claims. The Eleventh Amendment requirement does not apply to municipalities. The City of Yuma,therefore, may be liable for monetary damages under RLUIPA, if plaintiffs prove a violation and damages.
The court went on to find that requiring a conditional use permit for religious organizations and not for other membership organizations was a violation of the "equal terms" provision of RLUIPA.  Yuma had attempted to justify the different treatment on the ground that the presence of the church would have precluded issuance of liquor permits to other businesses within 300 feet.  But the court responded that "many of the uses permitted as of right would have the same practical effect as a church of blighting a potential block of bars and nightclubs." The Yuma (AZ) Sun reports on the decision.