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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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

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

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

Michigan Township Prevails on Federal Religious Discrimination Claims

A federal court in Michigan has ruled that Genoa Charter Township did not violate federal law in denying a church’s application for a special use permit to operate a religious school.  Livingston Christian Schools (LSC) sought to use property owned by another church, Brighton Church of the Nazarene (Nazarene Church), for its religious school.  LSC … 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

DOJ Investigating Possible RLUIPA Violation in Toms River, New Jersey

Earlier this year, we reported on the lawsuit filed by Chabad Jewish Center of Toms River, Inc. against the Township of Toms River, New Jersey (read prior post here).  The Center challenges the Township’s decision that it must obtain a variance to continue its small religious gatherings at the home of Rabbi Moshe Gourarie.  Rabbi … 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
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