Karla Chaffee

Karla Chaffee

Karla L. Chaffee is a member of Robinson+Cole’s Real Estate + Development Group and is based in the Boston office, focusing on a variety of land use and environmental matters. Karla’s interest in RLUIPA began in law school when she co-authored, “Six Fact Patterns of Substantial Burden in RLUIPA: Lessons for Potential Litigants,” (with Dwight Merriam) published in Albany Government Law Review (Spring 2009). Karla has continued to write and speak on RLUIPA and has represented clients in several federal proceedings, including RLUIPA, First Amendment, and Equal Protection claims. In addition to her RLUIPA practice, Karla has litigated complex environmental matters, defending claims under Massachusetts Chapter 21E. Karla’s transactional experience includes pre-acquisition and pre-financing due diligence, environmental risk assessment and risk mitigation. She also represents clients seeking local zoning approvals and counsels them on the impact of proposed or recently enacted land use legislation, as well as on land use trends across the country.

Karla is also a proud member of Robinson+Cole’s Pro Bono Committee and is dedicated to maintaining pro bono work as part of her practice. Her pro bono clients include individuals and families seeking asylum in the United States. She has also represented nonprofit organizations in obtaining tax-exempt status and has served as legal counsel in a zoning appeal for a nonprofit association created to support and protect a national park.

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New Substantial Burden Framework in the Sixth Circuit; Court Upholds RLUIPA Verdict in Favor of Michigan Township

In an important decision for municipalities across the Country, the Sixth Circuit upheld a district court decision that found Genoa Charter Township (Township) did not violate federal law in denying a church’s application for a special use permit to operate a religious school. The take away from the case? Asking students to drive an extra … Continue Reading

RLUIPA Round Up

The recent confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch has brought renewed attention to the often blurry line between the courts, government and individual religious liberty. Gorsuch wrote a concurring opinion in the 10th Circuit’s Hobby Lobby decision, which established that a closely held corporation may refuse to provide health insurance coverage that offers certain … Continue Reading

Signs 4 JC Shown the Light by NH District Court

Thou shall have the right to an electronic sign?  Apparently not.  Just over a year ago, Hillside Baptist Church and Signs for Jesus (together, Plaintiffs or Church) filed a complaint in the District Court for New Hampshire, seeking a declaration that the Town of Pembroke’s (the Town) sign ordinance is unconstitutional both facially and as … Continue Reading

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

Third Circuit Upholds District Court Decision in Pennsylvania Baptist Church Sign Case

Last week, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals entered an order upholding the district court’s decision in the case of Tearpock-Martini v. Shickshinny Borough, which we reported on last summer.  The case involved an Establishment Clause challenge by a citizen to a Pennsylvania borough’s decision to install a sign in the right-of-way stating “Bible Baptist Church Welcomes … 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

R+C RLUIPA Lawyers Present at Touro Law

Land use litigation lawyers Ted Carey, John Peloso, and Karla Chaffee presented an update on the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) for Touro Law’s Institute for Land Use and Sustainable Development Law on September 23, 2016. The presenters offered techniques for local governments to use in avoiding, mitigating, and defending against RLUIPA … 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
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