The U.S. Supreme Court announced on October 3, 2011, that it has declined to hear an appeal of the Faith Fellowship case against the City of San Leandro. The decision represents a blow to the City of San Leandro and Professor Marci Hamilton, who had hoped that the Supreme Court would take on the case and potentially reverse the decision of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. This means that the decision of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on February 15, 2011, stands, and the case can proceed to trial.
For the City of San Leandro, this means either a potentially lengthy and costly trial or an expensive settlement. The decision is a boost for Faith Fellowship and the Pacific Justice Institute, which is providing free legal services to Faith Fellowship. In a press release issued on October 3, 2011, Pacific Justice Institute President Brad Dacus said, "We are gratified that the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed to stand the favorable decision we won at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. That decision strikes an important balance between both the legitimate goals of city planners and the fundamental rights of religious congregations to exist and be treated fairly in the zoning process."
In May 2011, Faith Fellowship claimed it had lost $3.7 million to date and will likely want at least that amount as part of any judgement or settlement.
The lawsuit came about as a result of the church's desire to relocate to a larger facility in 2006. The church bought a parcel of land, hoping that the City of San Leandro would rezone the property so that it could be used as a church. When the City didn't rezone the property, the church sued under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), which requires that municipalities not create a substantial burden on land use by religious entities.
Hamilton, who prepared the appeal to the US Supreme Court, had been hopeful that the Court would want to clarify the issues raised in this case. Hamilton did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Update: In a press release issued October 4, 2011, the City of San Leandro stated, "The Church will have the burden of proving that the City's denial of its application to re-zone the property, subsequent to its purchase, constituted a substantial burden on religious exercise."Posted by Mike Katz-Lacabe at October 3, 2011 11:10 PM | TrackBack