A few weeks ago, we reported on a new RLUIPA suit arising in Genoa Charter Township, Michigan, where Livingston Christian Schools is suing the Township over the denial of a special land use permit to operate a religious school. As the story goes, the School entered into a lease with Brighton Church of the Nazarene to use the Church’s property as a religious school. The School claims that the building from which it has operated for the past 9 years can no longer accommodate its size. Denial of its application, according to the School, has substantially burdened its religious exercise, as well as the religious exercise of its students.
Five days after commencing suit, the School filed an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order to allow it to use the leased property to begin the new school year. The School alleged there was an “emergency” insofar as it would not be able to operate in a building capable of meeting its religious needs and those of its students for the new school year. But after filing its emergency motion, the School found another location and entered into a short-term lease. The School stated in a release: “While Livingston Christian Schools prepare for their federal lawsuit against Genoa Township later this month, their students can plan on starting school on Sept. 8 thanks to a short-term lease with Whitmore Lake Public Schools.”
On August 31, the Court denied the School’s emergency motion. According to the Township’s lawyer, T. Joseph Seward, the new short-term lease “played a substantial role in the judge’s decision.” The School’s lawyer, Roger L. Myers, agreed: “it would be irresponsible to just leave all that up in limbo. Unfortunately, the judge weighed that as a factor against issuing the temporary restraining order.”
The case moves forward with no possibility of settlement in sight. The School contends that it will operate in the new leased space while the case is pending and incur damages in the form of rental payments it would not otherwise have to pay. It also claims it has experienced “significant de-enrollment” that has caused a loss in tuition.
The same day that the Court denied the emergency motion, the Township filed its answer and affirmative defenses. Among the Township’s affirmative defenses are lack of standing and ripeness, signaling that a motion to dismiss the School’s lawsuit may be in short order. The Township, like the School, also seeks attorneys’ fees.