In 2011, Pittsfield Charter Township denied, allegedly without deliberation, Michigan Islamic Academy’s (“MIA”) application to rezone a 26 acre parcel (the “Property”) to allow the development of a pre-K through grade 12 school. MIA then sued the Township, alleging that the denial substantially burdened its religious exercise. At the time, MIA operated a school in nearby Ann Arbor, but such facilities were overcrowded and MIA was forced to use on-site trailers to accommodate its 190 students. As we reported last November, MIA’s lawsuit was dismissed because, according to the District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, MIA did not have a sufficient property interest to maintain its RLUIPA claims because it never acquired a legally cognizable property interest in accordance with Michigan law.
After the dismissal, both the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and the Michigan chapter of the Council on American- Islamic Relations (“CAIR”) filed separate lawsuits on behalf of MIA.
As part of the settlement, the township has agreed to permit MIA to construct a school on the vacant parcel of land, to treat the school and all other religious groups equally and to publicize its non-discrimination policies and practices. The township also agreed that its leaders and various township employees will attend training on the requirements of RLUIPA. In addition, the county will report periodically to the Justice Department. In the separate settlement between MIA and the township, Pittsfield agreed to pay $1.7 million to resolve MIA’s claims for damages and attorney’s fees caused by the 2011 denial and the resulting delay in construction of the school.
In addition to the $1.7 million payment, MIA received the right to build a 70,000 square foot Islamic school, a residential development consisting of 22 duplex units and three single family homes, and a park. CAIR-MI’s press release regarding the settlement is available here.
Original photograph by Anthony Easton, some rights reserved.