More than a year ago, we reported on an important decision for municipal officials by the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, in American Islamic Center v. City of Des Plaines, No. 13-C-6594 (N.D. Ill. 2014) (the “AIC case”). In our prior post, we explained that the court’s March 24, 2014 decision confirmed that city council members who voted against rezoning property owned by the American Islamic Center (“AIC”) were entitled to absolute legislative immunity. According to the latest docket entry in the AIC case, the parties will be filing dispositive motions and replies this month and next.
Now, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) has decided to step up the pressure on Des Plaines and has filed a complaint with allegations almost identical to those in the AIC case. According to the complaints, AIC provides religious and educational services to Muslims throughout the Chicago metropolitan area. The cases arise from AIC’s effort to permanently locate its operations at certain property in Des Plaines’ manufacturing zoning district, which AIC had contracted to buy contingent on the property being rezoned to allow religious and educational uses. In June 2013, the Des Plaines Plan Commission conducted a public hearing on AIC’s rezoning request at which it found that rezoning the property would neither significantly harm traffic and parking patterns nor require the expansion of public facilities. It recommended that the Des Plaines City Council adopt the proposed zoning amendment. In July 2013, however, the City Council went against the Commission’s recommendation and denied the proposed amendment by a vote of 5 to 3.
Earlier this month, the DOJ moved to consolidate its case with the AIC case “for purposes of dispositive motions and trial.” According to the DOJ, AIC does not object to consolidation. The DOJ also requests that the court suspend the summary judgment schedule in the AIC case until the DOJ “completes limited and targeted discovery.”
The DOJ’s involvement in this matter is significant because it signals that the United States has a special interest either in the facts at hand or an undecided point of law. If you need a refresher on the DOJ’s involvement in RLUIPA cases, peruse “United States Department of Justice Report on the Tenth Anniversary of RLUIPA.”