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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.

A federal court in New York issued an important decision that should serve as a reminder about the reach of RLUIPA.  The case involves a homeowner’s request to have an Amish roofer repair her damaged roof.  In April 2018, Dorthy Frances Ripley’s home was damaged by high winds and she hired a local Amish roofer, Emmanuel Roffer, to replace her roof.  Mr. Roffer told Ms. Ripley that he could not perform the work because he did not have insurance, which was required by the City of Olean, New York but prohibited by his religion.  Ms. Ripley tried to purchase insurance for her roofer, but was informed by her insurance agent that she was not allowed to do so.  Ms. Ripley sued the City and alleged that the City violated “the religious customs of Emmanuel Roffer, whose Amish beliefs … forbid[] him to buy insurance of any kind, or to obtain government-issued permits or licenses.”  She also claimed that being denied “the benefit of having Amish laborers replace the roof on her home … is a violation of her land use rights,” and she sought unspecified damages.
Continue Reading RLUIPA Does Not Apply to Uninsured Amish Roofer Repairing Homeowner’s Damaged Roof

Late last month, an addiction ministry known as Vision Warriors Church, Inc. sued the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners under the Fair Housing Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, RLUIPA, and the U.S. Constitution.  According to the complaint, the Church provides “a faith-based community for men recovering from addiction that focuses on accountability and transparency in an effort to help men to be better Disciples of Christ, fathers, husbands, leaders and friends.”  It does so by offering support services for 20-30 men to overcome addiction through a residential program, weekly services and faith-based meetings.  In 2017, the Church purchased property located at 1709 Old Country Place, Woodstock, Georgia from another ministry called Happy Acres Mission Transit Center.  Happy Acres operated there for approximately 35 years and, with local zoning approval, provided temporary housing to missionaries, had a worship/assembly hall, dormitories with kitchen facilities, an auto repair shop, and storage building.  The Church alleges that it purchased the property following assurances from the Zoning Administrator that its use would be permitted.  After operating for approximately 4 months, the Church claims that the County prevented it from operating in response to neighborhood opposition in an attempt to close the Church’s doors.
Continue Reading Fair Housing Act Meets RLUIPA in Georgia

Last week, the United States Supreme Court denied Tree of Life Christian Schools’ petition for certiorari involving its longstanding religious dispute with Upper Arlington, Ohio (City).  In 2009, Tree of Life purchased a commercially-zoned 254,000 square foot office building that it hoped to convert to a religious school.  After the City denied a conditional use

A United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee recently ruled that Layman Lessons Church and Welcome Baptist Church, Inc. (“Layman Lessons”) can move forward with most, but not all, of its religious discrimination claims against Metropolitan Government of Nashville/Davidson County (“Nashville”).  The dispute arose in 2018, when Layman Lessons claims that Nashville used local building and zoning laws to prevent it from ministering to the poor and homeless on commercially zoned property located at 1455 Neelys Bend Road, Madison, Tennessee (“Property”).  Layman Lessons provides food, clothing, shelter, a mobile shower and laundry center, transportation, life skills training, and spiritual and recovery counseling to the poor and homeless.  It alleges that Nashville discriminated against it by refusing to allow it to use the Property to serve the poor and homeless in a variety of ways, including by delaying its religious use of the Property; preventing mobile food pantries in the paved parking area; issuing fabricated stop work orders, even though Layman Lessons was not violating any law; recommending demolition of Layman Lessons’ storage barn; refusing to correct an illegal storm water pipe that flooded the Property; and interfering with Layman Lessons’ existing contract with its landlord to conduct religious activities, operate mobile food pantries; and provide laundry services to the homeless.
Continue Reading Church Ministering to Homeless/Needy Can Proceed with Most of its Religious Discrimination Claims

The Planning and Law Division (PLD) of the American Planning Association is pleased to host the upcoming webcast How Land Use and Natural Resource Regulations are Shaping the Legal Cannabis Industry on Thursday, March 21, 2019 from 2:00 – 3:30 p.m. EST.  The program will explore how various land use and natural resource regulations shape

Yesterday, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) reported on the case of Garden State Islamic Center v. City of Vineland.  The case involves Garden State Islamic Center’s plans to build a mosque.  The United States filed a Statement of Interest in the case to address the issue of what qualifies as a “land use regulation” under RLUIPA.  RLUIPA applies only to land use regulations, which the statute defines as “a zoning or landmarking law, or the application of such a law, that limits or restricts a claimant’s use or development of land (including a structure affixed to land), if the claimant has an ownership, leasehold, easement, servitude, or other property interest in the regulated land or a contract or option to acquire such an interest.”  The issue centered around whether a municipal sewage regulation was a land use regulation invoking RLUIPA.
Continue Reading New Jersey Islamic Group’s Religious Discrimination Claims May Proceed, Rules Federal Court

Last week, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed a lower court’s decision dismissing a church’s religious discrimination claims.  In doing so, the Fourth Circuit found that the church had properly alleged claims under RLUIPA based in part on the community’s ethnic bias against the church’s connection to associated church’s in Kenya, as well as the fact that many of the church’s congregants were born in Africa.  (We previously posted about the case here).
Continue Reading 4th Circuit Rules Ethnic Bias Gives Rise to RLUIPA Claim