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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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

Department of Justice Sues Bensalem Township, PA Over Mosque Denial

On July 21, the United States Department of Justice sued Bensalem Township, Pennsylvania, in federal court alleging violations of each of RLUIPA’s provisions following the Township’s 2014 denial of a variance application submitted by the Bensalem Masjid, Inc. (Masjid) to build a mosque.  While it is always noteworthy when the DOJ sues a municipality over … Continue Reading

Sikh Temple files suit after Oyster Bay, NY ordered it to stop work and then required SEQRA review

Guru Gobind Singh Sikh Center, Inc. (the “Temple”), on June 29, 2016 in the Eastern District of New York, sued the Town of Oyster Bay, New York, the Town Board, and several Town Officials (together, the “Defendants”) after the Defendants halted the Temple’s construction of a house of worship, known as a gurdwara. The complaint … Continue Reading

Ninth Circuit Rejects Hawaii Cannabis Ministry’s RFRA Challenge

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently upheld the convictions of two ministers of the Hawaii Cannabis Ministry who admitted using and distributing large quantities of cannabis in accordance with their religious beliefs.  The Hawaii Cannabis Ministry was founded in 2000 in the City of Hilo, Hawaii as “a community wherein Cannabis … Continue Reading

Sewer Connection Must Be By The Least Restrictive Means

Barbara L. Yoder and Joseph I. Yoder (“Owners”) own a home in Sugar Grove Township, Pennsylvania (“Township”), which has a mandatory sewer connection ordinance (the “Ordinance”), requiring connection to the Sugar Grove Area Sewer Authority’s (“Authority”) infrastructure.  According to the Ordinance, any property that abuts a sewer system constructed by the Authority must connect to … Continue Reading

Cemetery Association Not Substantially Burdened by Coastal Area Review

Woodland Cemetery Association (the “Association”) appealed the Zoning Board of the City Stamford, Connecticut’s denial of an application to make several improvements to an existing cemetery within a “coastal area” regulated under Connecticut’s Coastal Management Act (the “Act”), Conn. Gen. Stat. § 22a-90 et seq.  In Connecticut, site plan applications for property located within a coastal … Continue Reading

Indiana Church Files Religious Discrimination Suit Over Nearby Dairy Farm Approval

For the past 30 years, Harvest Christian Camp has provided a summer camp for thousands of Christian children on a 36 acre site in Henry County, Indiana, in accordance with its religious beliefs to “help[] children and teens to develop a strong life-long relationship with the Lord [through] praise and worship, Bible classes, devotions and … Continue Reading

A flood of amici support the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge

Recently, we reported that Bernards Township, New Jersey (the “Township”) had invited the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge (“ISBR”) to resubmit an application to develop a mosque. Previously, the Township denied the Islamic Society’s application for a 4,250 square foot mosque after more than 39 public hearing sessions over the course of about 4 years.  … Continue Reading

Did the Sixth Circuit Unintentionally Adopt an RLUIPA Equal Terms Test?

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit recently issued its decision in Tree of Life Christian Schools v. City of Upper Arlington, in which it reversed the lower court’s granting of summary judgment in favor of the City as to Tree of Life’s RLUIPA equal terms claim.  RLUIPA’s equal terms provision states: “No … Continue Reading

New Article: Five Tips For Planners & Planning Commissioners Reviewing Religious Land Use Applications

Robinson+Cole lawyers Brian Smith and Evan Seeman recently published an article in the Spring 2016 edition of Connecticut Planning, a publication of the Connecticut Chapter of the American Planning Association that should be of interest to many of our readers.  In the article, Smith and Seeman discuss a Connecticut soup kitchen’s legal battle with the … Continue Reading

Ninth Circuit Agrees That Prohibition on the Possession and Distribution of Cannabis Does Not Violate RFRA

Founder and president of Oklevueha Native American Church of Hawaii, Inc. (“Oklevueha”), Michael Rex “Raging Bear” Mooney, filed suit in 2009 against various federal officials in the Federal District Court of Hawaii.  Mooney and Oklevueha sought to prevent the government from prosecuting them under the Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”), 21 U.S.C. § 801 et seq. … Continue Reading

Chabad Files RLUIPA Suit Against Toms River, New Jersey

Rabbi Moshe Gourarie and the Chabad Jewish Center of Toms River Inc. (the “Center”) have sued the Township of Toms River, New Jersey, and the Township’s Zoning Board of Adjustment (“ZBA”) in the Federal District Court of New Jersey.  The Center’s complaint is available here. Rabbi Gourarie has run the Center from his home and … Continue Reading

Recovery House’s RLUIPA Challenge Fails

The District Court for the Northern District of Illinois has rejected RLUIPA and other claims asserted by a religious group in Affordable Recovery Housing v. City of Blue Island (N.D. Ill. 2016).  The case stems from Affordable Recovery Housing’s (ARH) attempt to open a faith-based recovery home for adult men recovering from drug and alcohol … Continue Reading

New Jersey District Court Remands RLUIPA and Equal Protection Defense to State Court

The Freedom From Religion Foundation sued the Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders, the Morris County Preservation Trust Fund Review Board, and Joseph A. Kovalcik, Jr. (“Defendants”) in New Jersey Superior Court claiming that the use of taxpayer money to fund the restoration of churches violates the New Jersey Constitution and the New Jersey Civil … Continue Reading

West Virginia Church Prevails Against Development Authority

Late last year, Summit Church of  Elkins, West Virginia, sued the Randolph County Development Authority (“RCDA”) in the Northern District of West Virginia for preventing the Church from purchasing a local movie theater for its religious use.  The theater was part of a former CSX rail-yard that was purchased in 1997 by RCDA, subdivided, and … Continue Reading

Ninth Circuit Rules in Favor of Soup Kitchen in Dispute with San Buenaventura, CA

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has reversed a district court’s decision that Harbor Missionary Church’s (Church) religious exercise was not substantially burdened by the City of San Buenaventura’s denial of a conditional use permit.  In 2008, the Church began providing service to the poor and needy in accordance with its religious … Continue Reading

All Hell Breaks Loose in Phoenix Satanic Prayer Showdown

In our post last month Satanists Score Victory in Phoenix, we reported on the controversy involving the Satanic Temple’s request to open Phoenix City Council’s meeting with prayer.  Long story short, the City opted to end a 65-year prayer policy and replace it with a moment of silence following the Satanic Temple’s request.  World Religion … Continue Reading

Congregation unlikely to succeed on RLUIPA claims

The Northern District of Illinois recently had an opportunity to apply the Seventh Circuit’s “accepted zoning criteria” RLUIPA Equal Terms test to a plaintiff’s request for a preliminary injunction in Truth Foundation Ministries, NFP v. Village of Romeoville, Case No. 15 C 7839.  The court concluded that Truth Foundation Ministries (“TFM”) did not have a … Continue Reading

2,000sf Game Room, in Violation of Building Code, Not Protected By RLUIPA

Plaintiff Michael Salman wanted to hold Bible studies in his home and nothing, not even the prospects of a Phoenix municipal enforcement action, 60 days in jail, and $12,000 in fines would stop him.  In 2007, Salman’s neighbors complained that he was hosting large Bible studies in his home. The City sent several letters to … Continue Reading

Satanists Score Victory in Phoenix

The Phoenix City Council has voted to abolish a 65-year practice of opening meetings with religious prayer.  Now, the meetings will begin with a moment of silence.  The vote was prompted by a request from the Satanic Temple of Tucson to lead the February 17 meeting with its own prayer.  The City Council decided that … Continue Reading

Is a permit requirement for door-to-door solicitation a violation of the 1st Amendment?

The Arkansas-Louisiana Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists (the “Adventists”) filed a lawsuit in the Eastern District of Arkansas, contending that a local ordinance in White Hall, Arkansas (the “City”) restricts its right to religious speech.  The ordinance requires that anyone wishing to solicit door-to-door obtain a permit from the City.  The Complaint in Arkansas-Louisiana Conference of … Continue Reading

Fourth Circuit: Church Never had Reasonable Expectation to Use Property as Place of Worship

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a church’s claim that denial of a setback variance substantially burdened its religious exercise under the Religious Land Use & Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).  In 2012, a religious congregation, Reconciling People Together in Faith Ministries, LLC (the “Congregation”), was formed in the … Continue Reading

Rhode Island Town Sued for Religious Discrimination

The King’s Tabernacle, a Rhode Island Church with a predominantly African American congregation of 20 members, has sued the Town of Johnston, Rhode Island over the Town’s denial of its special use permit for religious assembly use.  According to King’s Tabernacle, “[i]n early 2015, by the leading of the Holy Spirit, the Church set out … Continue Reading
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