The City of Orlando, Florida has filed an eminent domain suit to acquire property owned by a church as part of its plan to construct an $85 million soccer stadium for a Major League Soccer expansion franchise.  Although negotiations between the City and the church are ongoing, the City filed suit – City of Orlando v. Faith Deliverance Temple, Inc. (Fla. Cir. Ct. 2014) – to protect itself in case negotiations break down. 

The City’s petition alleges that the value of the church’s 0.44 acre property, which consists of a one-story concrete church building and parking lot, is $695,000.  Negotiations opened with Faith Deliverance Temple, Inc. asking the City for approximately $35 million, plus the cost to purchase and renovate a replacement property.  The most the City has offered to pay for the property is $4 million.  The petition alleges that the construction and operation of the new stadium “constitutes a public purpose that will benefit the citizens of the City of Orlando and the general public by providing such a forum and by providing employment and increasing tourism within the City of Orlando, as well as improving the aesthetics and economic opportunities in the area.”

Cities, like Orlando, which use eminent domain to take property owned by a religious institution may wish to consider whether the taking could give rise to an action under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).  RLUIPA’s substantial burden provision applies to any “land use regulation,” which the Act defines as “a zoning or landmarking law, or the application of such a law, that limits or restricts a claimant’s use or development of land (including a structure affixed to land), if the claimant has an ownership, leasehold, easement, servitude, or other property interest in the regulated land or a contract or option to acquire such an interest.”  While most courts that have considered RLUIPA claims in eminent domain actions have concluded that the exercise of eminent domain power does not implicate RLUIPA, at least one court has found that it does.  See St. John’s United Church of Christ v. City of Chicago (7th Cir. 2007) (“if Congress had wanted to include eminent domain within RLUIPA, it would have said something.”); Congregation Adas Yerim v. City of New York (E.D.N.Y. Dec. 8, 2009) (eminent domain is not a “land use regulation” under RLUIPA); but see Cottonwood Christian Center v. Cypress Redevelopment Agency (C.D. Cal. 2002) (rejecting city’s argument that eminent domain is not a “land use regulation” under RLUIPA).  It is not yet clear whether Faith Deliverance Temple will challenge the City’s suit under RLUIPA.

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