A federal district court in Illinois has dismissed religious discrimination and related claims alleged by the Church of Our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ (“Church”) against the City of Markham, Illinois (“City”), in connection with the City’s denial of the Church’s application for a conditional use permit. We previously posted about this case, Church of Our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ v. City of Markham, here and here.
The Church has been meeting at a residence previously owned by its pastor since 2003 (the “Property”). In 2013, the Church applied to the City for zoning approval to operate the Property as a church in a residential zone. During its review of the Church’s application, town officials questioned the sufficiency of parking at the site and ultimately denied the application after finding parking plans were inadequate. After the City denied the Church’s application, the Church brought this suit.
In 2015, the Church’s nondiscrimination claims were dismissed for failing to allege facts to support the claim. However, the Court declined to dismiss claims brought by the Church under RLUIPA’s substantial burden provision, finding that these claims were adequately pled and the City’s reasons for denying the Church’s permit were not clear at the initial stage of the case. See Memorandum Opinion and Order, dated August 19, 2015.
In 2016, after reviewing the parties’ summary judgment motions and supplemental briefs, the Court struck without prejudice the dueling summary judgment motions, and ordered the Church to submit an application for a variance regarding the amount of parking required. The Order did not opine as to whether the Church needed, or the City should approve, a parking variance, but nonetheless stayed the case until a decision on such application, allowing the parties to renew their summary judgment motions at a later date. Accordingly, the Church submitted a variance application to the City, which was granted, in part, in March 2017.
Having concluded the variance application process, the parties renewed their motions for summary judgment, resulting in the instant decision. See Church of Our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ v. City of Markham (N.D. Ill., Feb. 13, 2018).
After a lengthy discussion of the parties’ “inability to hone in on the relevant issues,” the Court determined that the Church’s substantial burden claim was not ripe at the time it was filed. The Court found that the Church improperly chose to seek recourse through the court, rather than through the City’s administrative process, when there remained available to the Church administrative remedies that could grant the Church the relief it sought without the need for judicial intervention. As for the Church’s “purported financial setbacks” or its members’ alleged “emotional harm” resulting from the Court’s delayed consideration of the merits of this case, the Court noted: “[T]hese injuries are of [the Church’s] own making given its failure to seek the variance earlier.”
Additionally, the Court explained that, because the Church has now received a variance, there is no present case or controversy, such that the Church’s substantial burden claim is moot.