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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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

Church and New Jersey Township Nearing Settlement of Religious Lawsuit

We previously reported about the federal lawsuit filed by Christian Community Chapel against the Township of Hillsborough, New Jersey, in which the Township denied the Chapel’s variance requests to use a 14.3 acre property as a parsonage with a 150-seat worship facility.  Although the Township voted 4-3 in favor of the Chapel’s proposal, the application … Continue Reading

Muslim Group Rejects New Jersey Township’s Offer to Resubmit Mosque Application

Bernards Township, New Jersey has invited the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge to resubmit an application to develop a mosque.  Earlier this year, 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.  The Township’s protracted review of … 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

When is Mixed-Use Religious Exercise?

A Connecticut federal court has issued an important decision in a case involving the Religious Land Use & Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) that could affect how municipalities and courts examine whether certain proposals are religious uses protected by the statute.  The 2016 decision in Chabad Lubavitch of Litchfield County, Inc. v. Borough of Litchfield is … Continue Reading

USPS Sued for Seizing Sacramental Marijuana

Oklevueha Native American Church (Church) was established in 1997 in Utah by Plaintiff James Mooney and his wife Linda, who are each of Native American decent.  According to the complaint in Oklevueha Native American Church v. United States of America, Case 3:16-cv-00077 (D. OR, Jan. 15, 2015), the Church has thousands of members and branches … Continue Reading

Yeshiva Sues New Jersey Township for Religious Discrimination

Yeshiva Gedola Na’os Yaakov, Inc. (the “Yeshiva”) has filed a federal lawsuit against the Township of Ocean, New Jersey and the Township’s Zoning Board of Adjustment following the denial of an application to develop a yeshiva with boarding facilities for 96 male students between the ages 18 and 22 in a residential zone, to allow … Continue Reading

Is a Parsonage a Primary Use? NJ District Court Ponders the Question

Christian Community Chapel Wesleyan Church, Inc. (the “Chapel”) was founded in 2000 and grew quickly to 125 members.  Expecting continued growth, the Chapel purchased a 33,000 square foot building with seats for 600 worshipers.  Unfortunately for the Chapel, its membership fluctuated greatly over the next ten years, at one point dropping to 35 members.  Its … Continue Reading

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
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