St. Vincent de Paul Place, Norwich, Inc. (“St. Vincent”) provides food, shelter, and other services to the poor and homeless in Norwich, Connecticut in accordance with its religious beliefs.  On July 9, 2012, St. Vincent obtained a six-month temporary zoning permit to use a former religious school building (the “Property”) to perform these services.  The Property is owned by The St. Joseph’s Polish Roman Catholic Congregation (“St. Joseph’s”), which operates a church building on property adjacent to the former religious school building.  St. Vincent submitted a special permit application to the City of Norwich Commission on the City Plan (the “Commission”) to operate permanently at the Property.  The Commission denied the application on December 18, 2012.

On January 4, 2013, St. Vincent and St. Joseph’s sued the Commission, the City of Norwich, and city employees, in their individual capacities, alleging that the denial of the special permit application violated their rights under RLUIPA, the federal and state constitutions, and other state law.  On March 13, 2013, the District Court dismissed St. Vincent’s and St. Joseph’s claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction for lack of ripeness.  In particular, the District Court concluded that because the plaintiffs failed to file for a variance application prior to commencing litigation, their claims were not ripe under Williamson County Regional Planning Commission v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson City, 473 U.S. 172 (1985).  Although St. Vincent and St. Joseph’s applied for a variance after bringing suit, the District Court found that their “injury [was] merely speculative and may never occur” because the variance application had not yet been decided.  The District Court refused to apply the “relaxed ripeness inquiry” set forth in Dougherty v. Town of North Hempstead Board of Zoning Appeals, 282 F.3d 83 (2d Cir. 2002).  The District Court’s decision in St. Vincent de Paul Place, Norwich, Inc. v. City of Norwich (D. Conn. 2013) can be accessed here.

St. Vincent and St. Joseph’s appealed the District Court’s dismissal, arguing that their claims were ripe for review under the “relaxed ripeness inquiry,” pursuant to which a claim is ripe if “(1) . . . the [plaintiff] experienced an immediate injury as a result of [a defendant’s] actions and (2) [if] requiring the [plaintiff] to pursue additional administrative remedies would [not] further define their alleged injuries.”  Murphy v. New Milford Zoning Commission, 402 F.3d 342, 351 (2d Cir. 2005) (citing Dougherty, 282 F.3d at 90)).  During the pendency of the appeal, the City of Norwich Zoning Board of Appeals denied the variance application.  In view of this, the Second Circuit vacated the District Court’s dismissal of the case and remanded it back to the lower court to determine whether the claims are now ripe following the variance denial.  Although the Second Circuit did not decide whether the claims are ripe for review, it states in its Summary Order: “It thus appears that even under the more stringent ripeness inquiry of Williamson County, appellants’ claims are now ripe.”  The Second Circuit’s Summary Order in St. Vincent de Paul Place, Norwich, Inc. v. City of Norwich (2d Cir. 2013) can be accessed here.

*Robinson & Cole represents parties in this case.