In Bey v. City of Tampa Code Enforcement (11th Cir. 2015), the plaintiff Nura Washington Bey (“Washington”) sued the City of Tampa and its Code Enforcement Officer, Steven Mateyka, after Mateyka cited Washington in connection with her use of property to practice her Islamic faith with “fellow Moorish nationals.” The citation noted that Washington had displayed unpermitted signs without a building permit and that she failed to obtain a special use permit to operate a private recreational facility. At an April 2, 2014 hearing, Washington claimed that the City’s special magistrate lacked jurisdiction to consider the citations, since she is not a “person” within the meaning of the Florida statutes but instead an “Indigenous/Aboriginal Free Moorish National.” The special magistrate found Washington guilty of the code violations, ordered her to correct them, imposed a fine of $100 per day that the violations were not corrected, authorized the city clerk to place a lien on her property if the code violations remained uncorrected, and further authorized the City to foreclose the lien if any amount remained unpaid after 3 months.
Washington, pro se, alleged violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), her First Amendment right to exercise her religion and to assemble, and her Fifth Amendment right to procedural due process.
RLUIPA (Equal Terms and Nondiscrimination)
Washington’s RLUIPA claims were brought under the statute’s equal terms and nondiscrimination provisions. While the Eleventh Circuit concluded that the district court had improperly found that Washington lacked standing, it nevertheless dismissed her RLUIPA claims for failure to state a claim. Washington’s complaint made only a conclusory statement that the defendants permitted “other religious and nonreligious assemblies and institutions to operate in residential districts” without being subject to enforcement actions. Notably, “[t]he complaint did not identify any particular nonreligious assembly or institution or allege with any specificity how the Defendants’ application of the City of Tampa’s code to Washington’s property resulted in her religious assembly being treated on less than equal terms.”
Similarly, Washington’s nondiscrimination claim “was equally threadbare, making only the conclusory statement that the Defendants’ actions to prevent organized religious services from taking place on the Al Moroc Humanity Park property constituted discrimination against her on the basis of religion.” The Eleventh Circuit, however, instructed that the RLUIPA claims be dismissed without prejudice to allow the self-represented Washington the opportunity to amend her complaint.
First Amendment (Free Exercise and Free Assembly)
Washington alleged that the defendants’ actions in enforcing the City’s zoning code violated her First Amendment right to exercise freely her religion and to assemble. This claim was rejected because Washington failed to allege any facts showing how the defendants’ actions burdened her religious or associational rights. Specifically, the Eleventh Circuit noted that “the gravamen of Washington’s First Amendment claims, as alleged, appears to be that Washington is entirely exempt from local land use regulations by virtue of the First Amendment. Washington cites no authority to support such a proposition and we could find none.” (emphasis in original). This claim was also dismissed without prejudice to allow Washington to amend her complaint to properly state a claim.
Fifth Amendment (Procedural Due Process)
Washington’s procedural due process claim rested on her allegation that the special magistrate lacked jurisdiction over her because she is a “Moorish National” and therefore she is not subject to the City’s zoning code. The Eleventh Circuit was not persuaded by this argument and, in particular, Washington’s reliance upon the 1787 Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the U.S. and Morocco or the Free Moorish Zodiac Constitution. Instead, the Eleventh Circuit determined that since Washington owned the subject property within the City, the special magistrate had jurisdiction to adjudicate code violations on Washington’s property and to assess fines if they were not corrected.