In Parish of Jefferson v. Daughters of St. Paul Inc. d/b/a/, Pauline Books and Media (2013), the Louisiana Appellate Court affirmed the trial court’s decision granting summary judgment in favor of the Parish of Jefferson (the “Parish”), finding that its land use ordinance did not “substantially burden” the religious exercise of Daughters of St. Paul Inc., d/b/a Pauline Books and Media (“Pauline Books”) in violation of RLUIPA. At issue was Jefferson Parish Ordinance No. 21597, regulating the use and lease of the Parish’s rights-of-way in the Commercial Parkway Overlay Zone and establishing the appropriate compensation to be paid to the Parish by those using its rights-of-way.
Pauline Books, a non-profit corporation with a community of religious women vowing to share their religious beliefs through media, is located in the Commercial Parkway Overlay Zone. It uses Parish land directly in front of its building for parking. The Parish had attempted since 2002 to enter into a lease with Pauline Books for that land, but was unable to reach an agreement. In 2008, the Parish sued Pauline Books requesting that the trial court order Pauline Books to enter into a lease pursuant to Jefferson Parish Ordinance No. 21597 and pay it $18,816 for failing to lease the property from 2003 through 2008. In response, Pauline Books claimed that the Parish’s land use ordinance, which required it to lease the property for use as parking spaces, violated RLUIPA’s substantial burden provision. The trial court, however, found that RLUIPA did not apply, granted summary judgment in favor of the Parish, awarded the parish $6,720 for each of the years of 2008-2012, and ordered Pauline Books to pay the Parish for any future use of the property as parking.
On appeal, the Appellate Court noted that a party claiming a violation of RLUIPA’s substantial burden provision (42 U.S.C. § 2000cc(a)(1)) must establish a prima facie case by proving that governmental action “1) imposes a substantial burden, 2) on the ‘religious exercise,’ 3) of a person, institution or assembly.” If a plaintiff is able to establish a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the government to prove that it has a compelling governmental interest to impose the substantial burden on religious exercise and has done so through the least restrictive means possible.
Pauline Books claimed that the land use ordinance imposed a substantial burden on its religious exercise by making the use of its building “effectively impractical,” as the choice of leasing the right-of-way from the Parish or forfeiting the use of the right-of-way “brings significant pressure that directly coerces it to conform its behavior or effectively bars it from using its building on the property in the exercise of its religion.” Pauline Books further alleged that it would be forced to change its religious behavior by requiring that it either start to charge for certain services to increase its income or else decrease the services and goods it provides in accordance with its religious beliefs. It further contended that if it did not lease the right-of-way, it would not be able to practice its religion because no one with a vehicle would be able to access its building.
The Louisiana Appellate Court affirmed the decision of the trial court. Although the Louisiana Appellate Court concluded that Pauline Book’s use of the building was a form of religious exercise, it found that the land use ordinance did not substantially burden Pauline Books’ religious practice. In particular, the Appellate Court found that the financial burden of leasing the right-of-way did not infringe on Pauline Books’ religious exercise. It did not find that the “inconvenience of either having to find alternate parking around the building or having to possibly increase its income rises to the level of ‘substantial burden’ intended by RLUIPA.” Ingress and egress to the building would not be prohibited; only parking in the spaces in front of the building would be prohibited. Accordingly, Pauline Books failed to make out a prima facie case under RLUIPA’s substantial burden provision.