Do 1,400 cattle and 17.4 million gallons of cow waste in open-air lagoons, upwind and a half a mile from a religious youth summer camp, impose a substantial burden? As unpleasant as a concentrated animal feed operation (“CAFO”) may be, a neighboring religious organization cannot use RLUIPA as a shield to prevent its operation.

We originally posted about House of Prayer Ministries, Inc. d/b/a Harvest Christian Camp v. Rush County Board of Zoning Appeals, here. On January 16, the Court of Appeals of Indiana dismissed House of Prayer’s lawsuit that sought judicial review of a decision issued by the Rush County Board of Zoning Appeals (the “Board”) allowing a special exemption permit to Milco Dairy Farm, LLC (“Milco”) to operate a CAFO. One of five issues on appeal was whether the Board’s approval violated RLUIPA and Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”).

The Court never considered whether the CAFO operations imposed a substantial burden on House of Prayer’s camp operations under RLUPIA, because it concluded that RLUIPA was not applicable. Under RLUIPA, no government may impose or implement a land use regulation in a manner that imposes a substantial burden on religious exercise. However, RLUIPA defines a land use regulation as “a zoning… law or the application of such a law, that limits or restricts a claimant’s use. . . of land. . . , if the claimant has. . . [a] property interest in regulated land. . . .”  42 U.S.C.A. § 2000cc-5(5).  Therefore, the Court concluded that “[b]y its plain terms, RLUIPA may be raised only by a claimant who has a ‘property interest in regulated land.’”  House of Prayer argued that RLUIPA was applicable because “regulated land” means any land affected by regulation, even if the regulation is directed at land where the claimant may not have a legal interest.

Interpreting RLUIPA in the broad manner advocated by House of Prayer, the Court reasoned, would lead to absurd results—Since the proposed CAFO could potentially impact the entire Country, every citizen of the County would potentially have a RLUIPA claim.

Next the Court examined House of Prayer’s RFRA claim. RFRA has a broader reach than RLUIPA and applies to any law of general applicability that may impose a substantial burden on religious exercise. The Court disagreed with the Board’s assertion that House of Prayer provided no evidence of a substantial burden.  It did, however, credit the Board’s finding that Milco submitted sufficient evidence of mitigation efforts intended to abate noxious odors and avoid waste run-off from Milco’s property. For these reasons, the Court found that the Board’s finding that House of Prayer would not be substantially burdened was supported by substantial evidence.

The Court’s decision in House of Prayer Ministries, Inc. d/b/a Harvest Christian Camp v. Rush County Board of Zoning Appeals, is available here.

Photo by Rose Craftsome rights reserved.

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Photo of Karla Chaffee Karla Chaffee

Karla L. Chaffee is a member of Robinson+Cole’s Real Estate + Development Group and is based in the Boston office, focusing on a variety of land use and environmental matters. Karla’s interest in RLUIPA began in law school when she co-authored, “Six

Karla L. Chaffee is a member of Robinson+Cole’s Real Estate + Development Group and is based in the Boston office, focusing on a variety of land use and environmental matters. Karla’s interest in RLUIPA began in law school when she co-authored, “Six Fact Patterns of Substantial Burden in RLUIPA: Lessons for Potential Litigants,” (with Dwight Merriam) published in Albany Government Law Review (Spring 2009). Karla has continued to write and speak on RLUIPA and has represented clients in several federal proceedings, including RLUIPA, First Amendment, and Equal Protection claims. In addition to her RLUIPA practice, Karla has litigated complex environmental matters, defending claims under Massachusetts Chapter 21E. Karla’s transactional experience includes pre-acquisition and pre-financing due diligence, environmental risk assessment and risk mitigation. She also represents clients seeking local zoning approvals and counsels them on the impact of proposed or recently enacted land use legislation, as well as on land use trends across the country.

Karla is also a proud member of Robinson+Cole’s Pro Bono Committee and is dedicated to maintaining pro bono work as part of her practice. Her pro bono clients include individuals and families seeking asylum in the United States. She has also represented nonprofit organizations in obtaining tax-exempt status and has served as legal counsel in a zoning appeal for a nonprofit association created to support and protect a national park.

Photo of Evan Seeman Evan Seeman

Evan J. Seeman is a lawyer in Robinson+Cole’s Hartford office and focuses his practice on land use, real estate, environmental, and regulatory matters, representing local governments, developers and advocacy groups. He has spoken and written about RLUIPA, and was a lead author of…

Evan J. Seeman is a lawyer in Robinson+Cole’s Hartford office and focuses his practice on land use, real estate, environmental, and regulatory matters, representing local governments, developers and advocacy groups. He has spoken and written about RLUIPA, and was a lead author of an amicus curiae brief at the petition stage before the United States Supreme Court in a RLUIPA case entitled City of San Leandro v. International Church of the Foursquare Gospel.

Evan serves as the Secretary/Treasurer of the APA’s Planning & Law Division. He also serves as the Chair of the Planning & Zoning Section of the Connecticut Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Section, and is the former Co-Chair of its Municipal Law Section. He has been named to the Connecticut Super Lawyers® list as a Rising Star in the area of Land Use Law for 2013 and 2014. He received his B.A. in political science and Russian studies (with honors) from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, where he was selected as the President’s Fellow in the Department of Modern Languages and Literature. Evan received his Juris Doctor at the University of Connecticut School of Law, where he served on the Connecticut Law Review. While in law school, he interned with the Connecticut Office of the Attorney General in the environmental department, and served as a judicial intern for the judges of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Court. Following law school, Evan clerked for the Honorable F. Herbert Gruendel of the Connecticut Appellate Court.