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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SCOTUS Non-Land Use Case Could Impact Land Use

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a request to review a church’s claim that the state of Missouri violated the federal constitution by prohibiting religious groups from obtaining state funding because of their religious nature.  The case involves Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, which runs a preschool and daycare in Missouri that is open … Continue Reading

Zombie Case Just Won’t Die

It’s maybe one of our favorite blog posts titles of all time: “Zombies Outshine Satan? More Controversial Holiday Displays, Including Baby, Fanged, Undead Jesus and Dogs in Costumes.”  The case of Baby, Fanged, Undead Jesus continues after Sycamore Township, Ohio fined Jasen Dixon, curator of the undead scene, for constructing an illegal structure in his … Continue Reading

Illinois Nuns Sue Over Brewery/Nursing Home Denial

Fraternite Notre Dame, Inc. is suing the County of McHenry, Illinois, over the County’s denial of a petition to amend a conditional use permit.  Notre Dame’s mission includes various charitable activities, such as a daily soup kitchen, a weekly food pantry, and an after-school program.  In 2005, Notre Dame obtained conditional use approval to develop … Continue Reading

Synagogue Neighbor’s Weekday Service Protest Dismissed by New York Court

In 2005, the Village of Lawrence (Village) granted permission to Bais Medrash of Harborview Synagogue (Medrash) to construct a synagogue on three contiguous lots.  As part of its approval, Medrash entered a Declaration of Restrictive Covenants, prohibiting weekday services and vehicle traffic on Fridays and Saturdays with the exception of certain Jewish holidays that fell … Continue Reading

Ninth Circuit Rules No Substantial Burden Where Church Could Relocate or Submit Modified Application

The Ninth Circuit, in Mesquite Grove Chapel v. Debonis, recently issued an important decision ruling that plaintiff Chapel did not suffer a substantial burden on its religious exercise under the Religious Land Use & Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) following the Pima County Chief Zoning Inspector’s determination that the proposed use did not meet the zoning … Continue Reading

When the Tent’s A-Rockin’… Rock Below 60 Decibels

Vintage Church of Metairie, Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, was never a source of neighborhood angst—that is, until the tent came. After merging with another local church in 2010, Vintage’s membership steadily rose.  By 2015, the Church had plans ready to expand its building on Rayne Street.  Before construction began on its existing facility, the Church moved … Continue Reading

Nativity Scenes & Starbucks Coffee Cups Spark Holiday Controversy Across Nation

It wouldn’t be the holidays without controversial nativity scenes igniting lawsuits across the country.  Generally, these lawsuits are brought under the Establishment Clause, alleging that the government illegally endorses one religion over another by permitting religious displays on public property.  Even controversial religious displays on private property can lead to zoning enforcement action.  Last year, … Continue Reading

New Hampshire Church and Signs for Jesus Sue for Electronic Biblical Board

Hillside Baptist Church (the Church) and Signs for Jesus (S.4.J.C.) (together, Plaintiffs) recently filed a complaint in the District Court for New Hampshire, seeking a declaration that the Town of Pembroke’s (the Township) sign ordinance is unconstitutional both facially and as applied to the Plaintiffs.  According to the Plaintiffs, the Township’s Ordinance “restricts how the … Continue Reading

RLUIPA Round-Up (Thanksgiving Edition)

Many view Thanksgiving week as a time for reflection and gratitude.  Whether looking forward to the next turkey or reminiscing about the last, take some time for our semi-regular summary of news items involving local government, religion, and land use—the round-up: The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, in Trapp v. Commissioner of the Department of Corrections, … Continue Reading

West Virginia Church Sues Development Authority

Summit Church, founded in 1991 in Elkins, West Virginia, is suing the Randolph County Development Authority for thwarting the Church’s plans to purchase property for its religious use.  The Church already owns property in Elkins, but it claims that it is not large enough to accommodate the Church’s needs and that it must hold religious … Continue Reading

Magistrate Judge Recommends Issuance of Preliminary Injunction to Hope Rising Church

Plaintiff Hope Rising Community Church is one step closer to obtaining a preliminary injunction against Penn Hills, Pennsylvania, as U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert C. Mitchell issued a Report and Recommendation to allow the Church to use certain property for religious assembly and worship.  The Magistrate Judge found that the Church “is likely to succeed on … Continue Reading

Update: Nomadic Church and Delanco Township Consent Order

On November 3, we reported that My Father’s House Ministry, Inc. (Church) sued Delanco Township, New Jersey after denial of the Church’s application for a use variance . (See our November 3 post).  Based on the parties stipulation, the court issued a Consent Order Preliminarily Enjoining Delanco Township from preventing the Church from using the … Continue Reading

Round Two: DOJ Sues Pittsfield Charter Township

Earlier this year, we reported on the dismissal of Michigan Islamic Academy’s (“MIA”) RLUIPA suit against Pittsfield Charter Township. 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 … Continue Reading

Bike Lanes, Jedi, Medicine Men, Cowboys and More: This Week’s RLUIPA Round-Up

What is Religious Exercise? remains a prevalent question in religious land use news this week.  Below, find our semi-regular summary of news items involving local government, religion, and land use. A District of Columbia church, the United House of Prayer, recently claimed that plans to designate a protected bike lane in front of its place … Continue Reading

RLUIPA Round-Up

Below are news items from the past week involving local government, religion, and land use that may be of interest to our readers. The New York Times reports that the Ten Commandments monument on the Oklahoma Capitol grounds has been removed following the State Supreme Court’s decision that the monument violated the Oklahoma Constitution (prior … Continue Reading

Tear Down This Wall! Botched Demolition and Apartment Conditions Lead to RLUIPA Dispute

On September 24, Rock Church of Easton (Rock Church) filed an “Emergency Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order and /or Preliminary Injunction” against the City of Easton, Pennsylvania (the City or Easton) and its Bureau of Codes and Inspections.  Rock Church seeks a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) to stop the City from enforcing “local code … Continue Reading

RLUIPA Round-Up

Below are news items from the past week involving local government, religion, and land use that have caught our attention. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York has issued a Memorandum and Order on the parties’ cross-motions for summary judgment in Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York v. … Continue Reading

Hope Rising Church Hoping for a Preliminary Injunction

In June 2014, Plaintiff Hope Rising Community Church sought to establish a place of worship in Penn Hills, Pennsylvania.  According to its complaint, Pastor Harry Hoff met with Penn Hill’s planning and code enforcement officials, discussed Hope Rising’s plan to locate at a warehouse in a non-residential zone, and was told Penn Hills had no … Continue Reading

Mosque’s RLUIPA Claims Move Forward

Almost a year ago, we reported on The Bensalem Masjid, Inc.’s lawsuit against Bensalem Township, Pennsylvania following the Township’s denial of Masjid’s use variance application to build a 16,900-square foot mosque, including a 500-square foot conference room, a 4,000-square foot multipurpose room and 154 parking spaces (prior post here).  After five sessions of the public … Continue Reading

No TRO: Here’s Why

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, approximately two weeks after it denied Livingston Christian Schools’ (“LCS” or “School”) request for a temporary restraining order (“TRO”), has issued a written decision that explains why Genoa Charter Township, Michigan’s (“Township”) denial of a permit that would allow LCS to operate a private school … Continue Reading

Arkansas Senate Opens the Door; Baphomet Walks In

The Arkansas Senate, in  passing Bill no. 939 (now Act 1231), authorized the placement of a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Arkansas State Capitol to purportedly “help the people of the United States and of the State of Arkansas to know the Ten Commandments as the moral foundation of the law.”  While … Continue Reading

Jesus is Just Alright, Holds the Ninth Circuit*

The Ninth Circuit has affirmed a lower court’s decision ruling that a twelve foot statute of Jesus near Montana’s Big Mountain does not violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. The statue, known as “Big Mountain Jesus,” is located on national forest land that the government leases to a private commercial ski resort. Freedom From Religion … Continue Reading
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