Dwight Merriam

Dwight Merriam

Dwight H. Merriam founded Robinson+Cole’s Land Use Group in 1978. He represents land owners, developers, governments and individuals in land use matters, with a focus on defending governments in RLUIPA cases. Dwight is a Fellow and Past President of the American Institute of Certified Planners, a former Director of the American Planning Association (APA), a former chair of APA’s Planning and Law Division, Immediate Past Chair of the American Bar Association’s Section of State and Local Government Law, Chair of the Institute of Local Government Studies at the Center for American and International Law, a Fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation, a member of the Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute National Advisory Board, a Fellow of the Connecticut Bar Foundation, a Counselor of Real Estate, a member of the Anglo-American Real Property Institute, and a Fellow of the American College of Real Estate Lawyers.

He teaches land use law at the University of Connecticut School of Law and at Vermont Law School and has published over 200 articles and eight books, including Inclusionary Zoning Moves Downtown, The Takings Issue, The Complete Guide to Zoning, and Eminent Domain Use and Abuse: Kelo in Context. He is the senior co-author of the leading casebook on land use law, Planning and Control of Land Development (Eighth Edition). Dwight has written and spoken widely on how to avoid RLUIPA claims and how to successfully defend against them in court. He is currently writing a book on the subject, RLUIPA DEFENSE, for the American Bar Association.

Dwight has been named to the Connecticut Super Lawyers® list in the area of Land Use Law since 2006, is one of the Top 50 Connecticut Super Lawyers in Connecticut, and is one of the Top 100 New England Super Lawyers (Super Lawyers is a registered trademark of Key Professional Media, Inc.). He received his B.A. (cum laude) from the University of Massachusetts, his Masters of Regional Planning from the University of North Carolina, where he was the graduation speaker in 2011, and his J.D. from Yale. He is a featured speaker at many land use seminars, and presents monthly audio land use seminars for the International Municipal Lawyers Association. Dwight has been cited in the national press from The New York Times to People magazine and has appeared on NBC’s The Today Show, MSNBC and public television.

Dwight also had a career in the Navy, serving for three tours in Vietnam aboard ship, then returning to be the Senior Advisor of the Naval ROTC Unit at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill where he taught Defense Administration and Military Management as an Assistant Professor in the undergraduate and graduate curriculum in Defense Administration and Military Management. He left active duty after seven years to attend law school, but continued on for 24 more years as a reserve Surface Warfare Officer with two major commands, including that of the reserve commanding officer of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center. He retired as a Captain in 2009 after 31 years of service.

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Bare Amish Horses? It Depends.

Two Amish men have sued Auburn, Kentucky (population approx. 1,300) in a Kentucky state court over an ordinance requiring that horses wear equine diapers.  The ordinance, passed in 2014, is intended to keep town streets clear of horse manure, and is the result of neighbor complaints.  The ordinance requires “[a] properly fitted collection device shall … Continue Reading

Settlement Reached Allowing Construction of Muslim Cemetery in Dudley, MA

Guest Post by Derek Valentine Following some last minute hand-wringing, nearly a year of hearings and deliberations by the Zoning Board of Appeals (“ZBA”) and accusations of religious bias, the Town of Dudley agreed to a deal that would allow a proposed Muslim cemetery to be constructed on six acres of former farmland in a … Continue Reading

DOJ’s RLUIPA Claims Survive Motion to Dismiss

A federal court in Pennsylvania has denied Bensalem Township’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by the United States Department of Justice challenging the Township’s denial of a use variance for a mosque.  The lawsuit alleges violations of the Religious Land Use & Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and is in addition to a separate lawsuit … Continue Reading

Missouri Church Wins Digital Sign Appeal

The Missouri Court of Appeals has ruled that the Kansas City, Missouri, Board of Adjustment abused its discretion in failing to grant a variance to Antioch Community Church (Church) to install digital components into its monument sign.  The Church argued that absent the variance it had practical difficulty in communicating its message.  In the alternative, … Continue Reading

DOJ Claims that County’s Denial of a Sewer Permit Violates RLUIPA

Guest Post by Derek Valentine Earlier this month, the U.S. Justice Department (“DOJ”) filed suit in District Court for the Western District of Virginia against the Culpeper County Virginia Board of Supervisors alleging it acted in a discriminatory manor by denying a permanent pump and haul septic system permit for a proposed mosque. The Islamic … Continue Reading

Port Jervis, NY Sued by DOJ; Settles Two Days Later

The City of Port Jervis, New York has agreed to settle a federal lawsuit filed by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) alleging that the City’s revision to its zoning code violated the Religious Land Use & Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).  In August 2015, Goodwill Evangelical Presbyterian Church (Church) finalized a contract to purchase … Continue Reading

Rocky Mountain Sign Law Blog: Installation of Ten Commandments On City Hall Lawn is Government Speech, Violates First Amendment

Guest Post by Brian Connolly, Otten Johnson, PC Earlier this month, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Bloomfield, New Mexico’s installation of a Ten Commandments monument on the lawn in front of city hall violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. In 2007, upon request of one of its members, the Bloomfield … Continue Reading

Facial RLUIPA Claims Against Mobile, AL Dismissed

Guest Post by Tavo T. True-Alcala Earlier this year, the Thai Meditation Association of Alabama and several individual plaintiffs (“the Center”) filed suit against the City of Mobile, Alabama (“the City”), alleging that the denial of its application to operate a meditation center in a residential area was a violation of its rights under RLUIPA on three … Continue Reading

$1.7 Million Settlement with DOJ and CAIR-MI

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 … Continue Reading

Landmarking designation is alleged to violate RLUIPA

Guest Post by Tavo T. True-Alcala A brewing dispute in Yonkers, NY has led the Islamic Community Center for Mid Westchester (ICCMW) to allege that Yonkers violated ICCMW’s rights under RLUIPA, and the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution.  The controversy began in the summer of 2015 when ICCMW submitted an application to undertake … Continue Reading

Nashville Islamic Center Claims Tax Rules Impose Unfair Burden

Guest Post by Tavo T. True-Alcala The Islamic Center of Nashville (ICN) recently filed a federal complaint and request for declaratory judgment against the State of Tennessee, the Metropolitan Trustee of Nashville, and the Tennessee State Board of Equalization after it was denied a request for retroactive property tax relief. Since 1995, ICN has operated a religious … Continue Reading

RLUIPA Case of the Year? Minnesota Municipality Uses RLUIPA’s Safe Harbor Provision to Avoid Liability

In an important decision for municipalities across the country, a federal court in Minnesota has recently ruled that actions taken under RLUIPA’s “safe harbor” provision absolved a local government of possible RLUIPA violations.  This is especially noteworthy because few courts have considered the safe harbor provision.  According to the court, the City of St. Michael’s … Continue Reading

Ocean, NJ ordered to allow Yeshiva boarding school

In January of this year, Yeshiva Gedola Na’os Yaakov, Inc. (the “Yeshiva”) filed a 79-page complaint in federal court against the Township of Ocean, New Jersey, and the Township’s Zoning Board of Adjustment (the “Township) following the denial of an application to develop a yeshiva with boarding facilities for 96 male students between the ages … Continue Reading

Prevailing RLUIPA Defendant Denied Attorneys’ Fees

This summer, we reported that Genoa Charter Township prevailed in a lawsuit filed by Livingston Christian Schools (LSC), which claimed that the Township violated RLUIPA’s substantial burden provision, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and the Fourteenth Amendment’s substantive due process protection. Although the Township denied LSC’s application for a permit to operate its … Continue Reading

Georgia County Imposes Moratorium on Religious Uses

Newton County, Georgia has imposed a moratorium on religious uses following the planned construction of a mosque and cemetery.  The Al Maad Al Islami Inc., a Doraville mosque, purchased 135 acres at the corner of 162 and County Line Road Road in June of 2015, and obtained an administrative use permit to construct the mosque … Continue Reading

RLUIPA Defense/Rocky Mountain Sign Law Joint Blog Post: Pennsylvania Borough’s Church Directional Signs Did Not Violate the Establishment Clause

This post is co-authored with Brian Connolly of Otten Johnson Robinson Neff + Ragonetti, contributor author to the Rocky Mountain Sign Law (www.rockymountainsignlaw.com) blog.  Late last month, a federal district court in Pennsylvania ruled that directional signs to a church, which contained images of a cross and bible, did not violate the Establishment Clause of … Continue Reading

Buddhist Meditation Center Sues Mobile, AL

The Thai Meditation Association of Alabama and several individual plaintiffs (the “Center”) have filed suit against the City of Mobile, Alabama, its  Planning Commission, and City Council (“Mobile”) after the Planning Commission denied the Center’s application to construct and operate a meditation center intended to accommodate Buddhist practices on a 6.7-acre parcel (the “Property”).  The complaint, … Continue Reading

Hundreds Erupt in Elation After Sterling Heights Mosque Denial

In the RLUIPA Round-Up post, we noted that the City of Sterling Heights, Michigan, is facing a federal lawsuit following its denial of the American Islamic Community Center’s (Center) zoning application to build a 20,500 square foot mosque.  The Center began searching for property it could purchase and construct a mosque, especially in the City … Continue Reading

RLUIPA Round-Up

We noted in our previous post that the U.S. Department of Justice, in its latest report, has stated that one of the biggest trends in religious land use disputes since 2010 has been the drastic increase in disputes involving mosques and Islamic schools.  Below are some of the latest religious land use controversies from around … Continue Reading

California Federal Court: Is Leasing to a Church Religious Exercise?

The Scinto Foundation (Foundation) supports religious organizations “by having activities which are similar to [religious activities] and/or by giving them money, or donating services ….”  The Foundation sued the City of Orange, California, claiming violations of rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and state law, because the City “deprived the … Continue Reading

Federal Court Rules Alabama Sex Offender Law is “Land Use Regulation” Under RLUIPA

We previously reported on the case Martin v. Houston (M.D. Alabama 2016), in which the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama considered a pastor’s religious discrimination claims involving the state legislature’s enactment and enforcement of a sex offender law that prevented the pastor’s transitional housing program.  The law in question (Alabama Code … Continue Reading

Massachusetts Church Alleges Solar Panel Denial Violates Religious Freedom

A Massachusetts Superior Court is soon to consider the interplay of three important planning principles – historic preservation, sustainable development, and freedom of religion.  A Unitarian Universalist church is suing the Historic District Commission of the Town of Bedford (Commission) over the Commission’s denial of the church’s request to install solar panels on a building … Continue Reading

U.S. Department of Justice Issues RLUIPA Report

The Department of Justice (DOJ) released a new report on its involvement in RLUIPA cases.  The report, “Update on the Justice Department’s Enforcement of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act: 2010-2016,” is a follow-up to the DOJ’s 2010 report, and is an important read for any municipal lawyer.  One of the main take-aways … Continue Reading
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