In yet another case about ripeness, the Sixth Circuit, in Tree of Life Christian Schools v. City of Upper Arlington (6th Cir. 2013), recently weighed-in on the issue. Tree of Life Christian Schools (the “School”) purchased property in the City’s Office and Research zoning district with the intent to open a private Christian school to consolidate it with its other school campus. The School applied for and was denied a conditional use permit to open the school and its appeal was similarly denied by the City Council. The School sued in federal court, claiming that the City’s denial and decision to uphold its appeal violated RLUIPA and the U.S. Constitution. The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of the City, finding that under Williamson County Regional Planning Commission v. Hamilton Bank, 473 U.S. 172 (1985), the School’s claims were not ripe because the School had not sought a zoning amendment in connection with its proposal to open the private school.
The School appealed the Decision of the District Court and while the appeal was pending applied for and was denied a zoning amendment. The School then moved to supplement the record to include the minutes of the City Council’s meeting in which it denied the zoning amendment request. The Sixth Circuit granted the School’s motion to supplement the record and remanded to the District Court to determine whether its claims are now ripe for review based on the change in circumstances.
This is an important decision that may lay the blueprint for curing a ripeness defect under Williamson County’s ripeness test. Now, can plaintiffs whose claims are dismissed for lack of ripeness under Williamson County cure the ripeness defect by (1) appealing the dismissal and (2) seeking subsequent zoning approval and obtaining a denial on same during the pendency of the appeal? Surely, this will not be the last we hear of this.