United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division
THAI MEDITATION ASSOCIATION OF ALABAMA, INC., et al., Plaintiffs,
CITY OF MOBILE, ALABAMA, Defendant.
F. MOORER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter is before the Court on the parties' cross motions
for summary judgment. Defendant City of Mobile filed a Motion
for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support, (Docs. 89
& 90), a reply brief in support, (Doc. 104), a response
and supporting documents to Plaintiffs' motion for
partial summary judgment, (Docs. 100 & 101), and a
response in opposition to Plaintiffs' sur-reply, (Doc.
110). Plaintiffs Thai Meditation Association of Alabama,
Inc., Sivaporn Nimityongskul, Varin Nimityongskul, Serena
Nimityongskul, and Prasit Nimityongskul have filed a Motion
for Partial Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support,
(Docs. 91 & 94), a reply brief in support (Doc. 106), a
response and supporting documents to Defendant's motion
for summary judgment, (Docs. 97 & 98), and a sur-Reply in
opposition to Defendant's motion for summary judgment,
(Doc. 112). For the reasons stated below, Defendant's
motion for summary judgment is due to be GRANTED IN
PART AND DENIED IN PART, and Plaintiffs' motion
for partial summary judgment is due to be
matter arises out of the Defendant's denial of
Plaintiffs' zoning applications to construct a Buddhist
meditation center in a residential district. The Complaint
asserts seven counts: (1) Defendant imposed and implemented
land use regulations, both on their face and as applied, in a
manner that places a substantial burden on Plaintiffs'
religious exercise in violation of 42 U.S.C. §
2000cc(a); (2) Defendant imposed and implemented land use
regulations, both on their face and as applied, in a manner
that discriminates against Plaintiffs on the basis of
religion and religious denomination in violation of 42 U.S.C.
§ 2000cc(b)(2); (3) Defendant imposed and implemented
land use regulations, both on their face and as applied, in a
manner that treats Plaintiffs on terms that are less than
equal to nonreligious assemblies in violation of 42 U.S.C.
§ 2000cc(b)(1); (4) Defendant has deprived Plaintiffs of
their right to free exercise of religion under the First
Amendment in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (5)
Defendant has deprived Plaintiffs of their right to equal
protection under the laws under the Fourteenth Amendment in
violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (6) Defendant imposed and
implemented land use regulations, both on their face and as
applied, in a manner that places a burden on Plaintiffs'
religious exercise in violation of Article I, § 3.01 of
the Alabama Constitution; and (7) Defendant has negligently
misrepresented facts relating to Plaintiffs' zoning
classification in violation of Alabama state law. (Doc. 1).
filed a motion to dismiss certain parts of the Complaint.
(Doc. 18). The Court granted in part Defendant's motion
to dismiss as to the facial components of Counts 1, 2, and 3.
(Doc. 31). Defendant's motion to dismiss as to Count 7
was denied. Id. The parties subsequently filed cross
motions for summary judgment-Defendant's motion on all
counts, and Plaintiffs' motion on Counts 1 through 6.
Each party briefed their position and provided evidentiary
support thereof to the Court. This matter is now ripe for
2015, Plaintiffs Sivaporn Nimityongskul
(“Nimit”), Varin Nimityongskul (“V.
Nimit”), Serena Nimityongskul (“S. Nimit”),
and Prasit Nimityongskul (“P. Nimit”)
(collectively, “the Nimit Plaintiffs”) purchased
property located at 2354 and 2410 Eloong Drive (“the
Eloong property”) for the primary purpose of
constructing a Buddhist meditation center on the site. (Doc.
92-4; Doc. 92-29; Doc. 92-30, p. 19 ¶¶ 12-22).
Plaintiff Thai Meditation Association of Alabama, Inc.,
(“TMAA”) has a leasehold interest in the Eloong
property. (Doc. 92-29).
September 2015, Nimit submitted an application to the City of
Mobile Planning Commission (“the Planning
Commission”) for Planning Approval, Planned Unit
Development (“PUD”), and Subdivision Approval
(collectively, the “Applications” or
“Plaintiffs' Applications”) to permit
TMAA's development on the Eloong property. (Doc. 93-21).
In the Applications, Plaintiffs sought construction of a 2,
400-square foot meditation center building, a 2, 000-square
foot cottage for visiting monks, a 600-square foot restroom
facility, and associated parking. (Doc. 93-22). The Planning
Commission ultimately denied Plaintiffs' Applications,
and the Mobile City Council (“the City Council”)
denied Plaintiffs' appeal, upholding the Planning
Commission's decision. (Doc. 92-20, p. 2).
The Zoning Ordinance
64 of the Code of the City of Mobile, Alabama (“the
Zoning Ordinance”) divides Mobile into fifteen zoning
districts, identified in Section 64-3 of the Zoning
Ordinance. (Doc. 92-12, pp. 20-53). Section 64-3 of the
Zoning Ordinance sets forth the specific regulations
governing the applicable districts and delineates uses
permitted by right and uses requiring planning approval.
Id. at p. 22-53, 137. If a requested use in a
particular zone is not specifically listed, the City of
Mobile's director of inspection services or his agent may
determine in which district the use may be permitted by right
or with planning approval. Id. at p. 137.
the Zoning Ordinance, a “church or religious
facility” is permitted by right in all business
districts, but it must receive planning approval to locate in
any residential district. Id. at p. 146.
Accordingly, before a church or religious facility may locate
in a residential area, the Planning Commission must determine
if the facility's location would be in harmony with, and
appropriate for, the residential district. Id. at p.
Eloong Property is located in an R-1 Residential District
(“R-1 District”). (Doc. 93-1). R-1 Districts are
composed of primarily “one-family dwellings and small
open areas . . . where residential development seems likely
to occur.” (Doc. 92-12, p.22). Churches and schools are
permitted with Planning Approval in R-1 Districts because
Defendant wishes to encourage suitable neighborhood
environments for families. Id. Because Plaintiffs
sought to build a religious facility in an R-1 District, they
were required to apply for Planning Approval.
Plaintiffs' Religious Beliefs
a Buddhist religious organization. (Doc. 93-24, p. 1). The
organization's purpose is “[t]eaching and research
into growth and development of mind and spirit through
meditation and to expand the knowledge of Buddhism.”
Id. It is affiliated with the Dhammakaya school of
Buddhism, a sect of Theravada Buddhism headquartered in Wat
Phra Dhammakaya in Pathum Thani, Thailand. (Doc. 93-75
¶¶ 14-16). TMAA's religious exercise includes
“prayer, meditation, various religious ceremonies,
lectures, teaching and learning.” Id. at
¶ 17. While there are many different schools of
Buddhism, TMAA engages in the meditation technique known as
Dhammakaya meditation, which is practiced by
thousands of temples in Thailand. Id. at ¶ 13,
17. Meditation sessions at TMAA are led by either monks or
lay teachers trained in Dhammakaya meditation. Id.
at 17. Plaintiffs believe “Shakyamuni Buddha, the
founder of the Buddhist religion, achieved his great
spiritual insights as a result of years of meditation, and he
taught that mediation is central to following his
teachings.” Id. at ¶ 21. Every week, TMAA
offers four meditation classes with talks on Buddhist
scriptures and morality. Id. at ¶ 36.
however, questions Plaintiffs' meditation practice as
religious exercise. (Doc. 100, p. 3). Defendant bases its
viewpoint on various public announcements, in which
Plaintiffs explained why religion is not important for
meditation. (See, e.g., Doc. 92-16). For instance,
in a 2010 article published by AL.com, Nimit explained,
“[T]his meditation center was established in order to
teach people how to find inner peace and happiness. My
ultimate mission is to spread world peace through inner
peace, and have people see that mediation is not to be
associated with any one particular, race, culture, and
religion . . . .” (Doc. 92-16, p. 7). TMAA also holds
itself out to be a non-profit, non-religious organization on
social media and other website directories. Id. at
p. 10; 14-15. Furthermore, in her deposition, Nimit agreed:
The great thing about meditation is that philosophy/religious
belief is not important. Meditation is about consciousness.
The beliefs of the mind become trivial. You dive deep into
the heart of the matter to gain access to your soul - your
inner reality. Therefore, meditation can be practiced by
people of different religions or no religion at all.
(Doc. 101-2, pp. 6-7).
assert they describe their meditation practices as
“non-religious” because TMAA is open to all, and
“following Buddhist teachings does not require
rejection of the particular theistic concepts that are
central to Judeo-Christian notions of what is meant by
‘religion.'” (Doc. 94, p. 5). In fact, both
the Planning Commission and City Council heard testimony to
this effect at the hearings in front of each body.
(See Doc. 92-19, p. 18 (“The meditation
[center] has elicited itself on Facebook and other social
media as non-religious to indicate that one does not have to
be Buddhist in order to come learn meditation.”); Doc.
93-34, p. 12 (“Buddhist liberation is essentially tied
to meditation and meditation practice.”). Nevertheless,
Plaintiffs' religious beliefs were questioned throughout
the processing of the Applications. (See Doc. 92-19;
Plaintiffs' Location History
began in 2007 at a home located at 4567 Airport Boulevard,
Mobile, Alabama. (Doc. 93-73 ¶ 23). The home provided
housing for a Buddhist monk who taught meditation classes
there. Id. In August 2007, a citizen complained to
Defendant that Plaintiffs had posted a sign that advertised
services that were provided inside of the home. (Doc. 93-10,
p. 1). A City Inspector came to the home and informed Nimit
the sign was not permitted and must be removed. Id.
Nimit removed the sign, and the inspector issued a Notice of
Violation. Id., pp. 1-2. The Notice gave Plaintiffs
ten days to either cease the violation or apply for Planning
Approval. Id. at p. 2.
September 14, 2007, Plaintiffs applied for Planning Approval
to continue offering meditation services at the home. (Doc.
93-12). The application received tremendous community
opposition, and many neighbors came to the Planning
Commission hearing to oppose the application. (Doc. 1 ¶
85; Doc. 32 ¶ 85). Similar to the Applications at issue
in this case, opposition to Plaintiffs' application for
the Airport Boulevard home targeted both legitimate community
concerns as well as Plaintiffs' religious beliefs. For
instance, one resident wrote a letter stating:
There is no concern on their part for the welfare of children
growing up in this quiet area, no thought given to the
additional traffic and the danger it represents, and no
concern for the loss of property value that we will all
suffer because of their unwanted intrusion . . . . While
serving with the Air Force in Vietnam many years ago I had
the occasion to visit Thailand, where there are countless
temples, and the streets are filling with Buddhist priests,
wearing their colorful, orange robes. It was a quaint sight,
but I had no desire to bring one back to my neighborhood, and
install him there . . . . We do not want a meditation center,
a non-sectarian church, a dental clinic, a service station, a
bingo palace, or anything that is alien to family life
intruding upon the citizens of this area . . . .
November 1, 2007, the Planning Commission recommended denial
of Plaintiffs' application based on concerns regarding
the possibility for future rezoning or use variance requests,
and the lack of compliance with the parking surface,
maneuvering, tree and landscaping, and buffering requirements
of the Zoning Ordinance. (Doc. 93-13, p. 3). The Planning
Commission's Staff Report explained, “[T]he
meditation center would likely be a relatively
‘quiet' neighbor and might generally be conducive
to location in a residential area. However, as parking
improvements and, most likely, building code improvements
would be required to accommodate the proposed use, the
general compatibility appears to be less favorable.”
Id. Plaintiffs later withdrew their application.
2009, Plaintiffs relocated TMAA to its current site at 3821
Airport Boulevard, Mobile, Alabama. (Doc. 93-73 ¶ 6).
The current site is located in a shopping center on a busy
street. Id. at ¶ 7. Plaintiffs assert its
current location creates significant hardships for their
religious exercise because their meditation practice requires
a serene environment, they lack sufficient space for visiting
monks and overnight retreats, and participants have
encountered safety issues while attending classes.
Id. at ¶¶ 10-16. Defendant, however,
asserts Plaintiffs' proposed meditation center would not
alleviate Plaintiffs' size concerns because it is only
200 square feet larger than its current location, and
Plaintiffs own numerous homes throughout the city where they
could host visiting monks. (Doc. 100, p. 7). Additionally,
Defendant asserts Plaintiffs have received 100 acres of
viable land where they could host their meditation
aver they received approximately 100 acres of donated land in
November 2014 for the purpose of building a meditation
center. (Doc. 92-30, pp. 41-44; Doc. 93-73 ¶ 25).
However, after investigating the property and consulting with
their land use professional, Plaintiffs found the donated
acreage was not a feasible location. (Doc. 93-73 ¶ 26).
Thus, Plaintiffs began searching for other property suitable
for their meditation practices, and they discovered the
Eloong Property. Id. at ¶ 27.
Procedural History of Plaintiffs' Applications
April 24, 2015, Plaintiffs attended a predevelopment meeting
with their attorney and realtor, Bill Youngblood
(“Youngblood”), and two City of Mobile Planners,
Bert Hoffman (“Hoffman”) and Marie Cross York
(“York”) to discuss the possibility of relocating
TMAA to the Eloong property. (Doc. 93-27; Doc. 93-25, p. 3).
The purpose of a pre-development meeting is for Defendant to
gather information from applicants or potential applicants
about what they are proposing to do at a specific location.
(Doc. 93-5, p. 3). Additionally, Defendant provides
applicants information about the process they must go through
in order to obtain approvals. Id. Defendant reviews,
inter alia, the district in which applicants wish to
locate and whether the property is a legal lot of record.
Id. Thus, if an applicant's proposed use is not
permitted in the district, in which the property is zoned,
Defendant would inform the applicant of such at the
predevelopment meeting. Id. at p. 4.
predevelopment meeting for Plaintiffs' potential
Applications, the discussion centered around concerns about
construction as well as the religious nature of their
proposed meditation. (Doc. 93-25, p. 9). Following the
meeting, Defendant concluded Plaintiffs' Applications
would need the following approvals: “(1) Planning
Approval for worship related use; (2) PUD because of a second
habitable structure on the property; (3) Subdivision; and (4)
Variance for non-paved parking and maneuvering.” (Doc.
September 11, 2015, Plaintiffs submitted the Applications to
construct a meditation center on the Eloong property. (Doc.
93-21). The Applications were, then, assigned to York for
review and preparation of a Staff Report. (Doc. 93-4, p. 5;
Doc. 93-25, p. 7). The Planning Commission issued the first
Staff Report for Plaintiffs' Applications on October 15,
2015, which noted:
The applicant is requesting Planning Approval to allow a
meditation center in an R-1, Single-Family Residential
District, Planned Unit Development approval to all multiple
buildings on a single building site, and Subdivision approval
to create one legal lot of record. Religious facilities
require Planning Approval when located in R-1 districts.
(Doc. 93-1, p. 4).
the Staff Report recommended the Applications be held over
until the November 19, 2015, Planning Commission meeting so
Plaintiffs could revise the Applications to reflect
compliance with Engineering, Traffic, and Landscaping
requirements. (Doc. 93-1, pp. 6-11). However, their
Applications were ultimately reviewed at the October Planning
Commission meeting instead of the proposed November meeting.
October 15, 2015 Planning Commission meeting, Plaintiffs'
Applications were met with strong community opposition.
(See Doc. 93-43). Specifically, a nearby resident of
the Eloong property, Tamela Esham (“Esham”)
explained every single neighbor in the community opposed the
project. Id. Some residents opposed the Applications
for environmental reasons, and other residents opposed them
because of the “lack of information” regarding
the proposed project. Id. at pp. 12-13.
questions were raised regarding Plaintiffs' religious
beliefs. Id. at p. 7. The Planning Commission's
attorney, Doug Anderson (“Anderson”), stated:
For this to be proper within the zoning ordinance, it has to
be a religious use. We're going to need written
documentation, more than just an application, that says this
is a religious building or religious use. We're going to
need documentation to show - to prove that this actually is
more than just a yoga or a meditation facility but that it is
a religious use[;] otherwise planning approval is not going
to be the proper procedure but a Board of Adjustment variant
would be proper . . . . If you can just provide us whatever
written documentation other than just saying that it's
religious. We've got to have something that shows
it's not a commercial use but it is a religious use.
Id. at pp. 7-8.
also, informed the Planning Commission his staff
“separately did some research trying to determine if it
was a religious or non-religious facility based on how
it's handled in other cities [, ] and [they] found mixed
results.” Id. at p. 19. The Planning
Commission recommended holding over Plaintiffs'
Applications until the December Planning Commission meeting.
Id. at pp. 15-17.
the time between the October 2015 Planning Commission meeting
and the December 2015 holdover meeting, Plaintiffs provided
Defendant documentation addressing their religious status.
The documentation included TMAA's articles of
incorporation, tax documentation, letters from Buddhist
monks, letters from the Dhammakaya Foundation, and a letter
from Eric Loomis, an associate professor of Philosophy,
explaining the centrality of meditation to the Buddhist
religion. (Doc. 93-29, pp. 3-5; Doc. 93-24; Doc. 93-34, pp.
10-12). TMAA's articles of incorporation state,
“The corporation has been organized for . . . teaching
and research into growth and development of mind and spirit
through meditation and to expand the knowledge of
Buddhism.” (Doc. 93-24). Upon receipt of the items,
Hoffman consulted Anderson to further evaluate
Plaintiffs' religious status. (Doc. 93-45). In a November
23, 2015, email to Anderson, Hoffman requested, “Doug -
If you can give us a legal opinion as to whether the attached
documentation is sufficient to determine if the proposed
meditation center on Dog River is ‘religious' or
not, it would be appreciated.” Id. at p. 1. In
response, Anderson asserted:
I do not think it is. This shows the IRS has given it tax
exempt status as a charity or foundation - there are tests a
church has to go through with the IRS to be classified as a
church/religious organization. Just because meditation is
part of a religion (my preacher teaches contemplative prayer)
does not make the building a church or the owner a religious
organization. Recommend denial.
December Planning Commission Meeting, the Planning
Commission, once again, entertained viewpoints from those in
favor of Plaintiffs' Applications as well as those in
opposition to them. (Doc. 93-34). Similar to the October
meeting, there was discussion regarding both Plaintiffs'
religious status as well as residents' concerns regarding
the compatibility of the meditation center in the Eloong
neighborhood. Id. Following extensive discussion,
the Planning Commission moved to deny Plaintiffs'
Applications. (Doc. 93-34, p. 44-47).
December 3, 2015, the Planning Commission issued the Staff
Report recommending denial of Plaintiffs' Applications.
(Doc. 93-22). In relevant part, the Staff Report recommended
denial because Plaintiffs' proposed use was not
“approvable via the Planning Approval process, ”
“multiple buildings cannot be allowed for unapproved
use, ” and “legal counsel of the Planning
Commission” determined Plaintiffs had not provided
sufficient IRS documentation to be classified as a church or
religious facility under the Zoning Ordinance. Id.
at p. 12. However, Defendant informed Plaintiffs their
Applications were denied based on compatibility, site access,
and traffic increase. (Doc. 92-17, p. 2). Plaintiffs filed a
Notice of Appeal to the City Council seeking reversal of the
Planning Commission's denial. (Doc. 92-18).
week before the City Council reviewed Plaintiffs' appeal,
Esham composed an email to City Councilman C.J. Small
(“Councilman Small”) expressing her concerns
about Plaintiffs' proposed construction. (Doc. 93-35). In
her first email to Councilman Small, Esham expressed her
concerns that the meditation center would increase traffic
and noise, which would “fundamentally change the nature
and character of our residential neighborhood.”
Id. at p. 2. A second email to Councilman Small,
however, touched on the religious nature of Plaintiffs'
meditation center. (Doc. 93-36, p. 1). In defending her
position regarding TMAA's compatibility within the
neighborhood, Esham wrote that Nimit's “version of
events that this is a religious issue” is
“inaccurate and misguided.” Id.
resident of the Eloong neighborhood also reached out to
members of the City Council prior to the January appeal
meeting. Resident Greg Marshall (“Marshall”)
wrote Councilman John Williams (“Councilman
Williams”) regarding a rumor that TMAA would be a
“NUDE yoga center.” (Doc. 93-53). Marshall
expressed, “It's just not compatible with the
neighborhood, and it's just a business flying under the
veil of religious use exemptions.” Id.
Councilman Williams responded to the email, “You just
saying nude makes me certain NO is the answer. CJ [Councilman
Small] is with us here as well[.]” Id.
City Council reviewed Plaintiffs' appeal on January 19,
2016. (Doc. 92-19). After extensive discussion regarding
TMAA's compatibility with the Eloong neighborhood as well
as dialogue regarding Plaintiffs' religious beliefs, the
City Council upheld the Planning Commission's decision.
Id. at p. 91. Plaintiffs' appeal failed by a
vote of six to one, with one council member abstaining.
motion for partial summary judgment asserts Defendant's
application of the Zoning Ordinance burdened their religious
exercise and discriminated against them on the basis of
religion. Defendant's motion for summary judgment
attempts to rebut Plaintiffs' assertions on all claims.
Standard of Review for Summary Judgment
judgment should be granted only if “there is no issue
as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)
(“Rule 56”). The party seeking summary judgment
bears “the initial burden to show the district court,
by reference to materials on file, that there are no genuine
issues of material fact that should be decided at
trial.” Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929
F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991). Once the moving party has
satisfied its responsibility, the burden shifts to the
nonmoving party to show the existence of a genuine issue of
material fact. Id. “If the nonmoving party
fails to make ‘a sufficient showing on an essential
element of her case with respect to which she has the burden
of proof,' the moving party is entitled to summary
judgment.” Id. (quoting Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986) (footnote omitted)).
“In reviewing whether the nonmoving party has met its
burden, the court must stop short of weighing the evidence
and making credibility determination of the truth of the
matter. Instead, evidence of the non-movant is to be
believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in
his favor.” Tipton v. Bergrohr GMBH-Siegen,
965 F.2d 994, 999 (11th Cir. 1992) (internal citations and
quotations omitted). The mere existence, however, of any
factual dispute will not necessarily compel denial of a
motion for summary judgment; rather, only material factual
disputes preclude entry of summary judgment. Lofton v.
Sec'y of Dep‘t of Children and Family Servs.,
358 F.3d 804, 809 (11th Cir. 2004).
applicable Rule 56 standard is not affected by the filing of
cross motions for summary judgment. See Gerling Global
Reinsurance Corp. of America v. Gallagher, 267 F.3d
1228, 1233 (11th Cir. 2001). Indeed, the Eleventh Circuit has
explained that “[c]ross-motions for summary judgment
will not, in themselves, warrant the court in granting
summary judgment unless one of the parties is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law on facts that are not genuinely
disputed.” United States v. Oakley, 744 F.2d
1553, 1555 (11th Cir. 1984) (citations omitted). However, it
is, also, true cross motions may be probative of the absence
of a factual dispute where they reflect general agreement by
the parties as to the dispositive legal theories and material
facts. Id. at 1555-56.
addressing the parties' substantive claims, the Court
must first determine whether TMAA has standing to bring this
question of standing ‘involves both constitutional
limitations on federal court jurisdiction and prudential
limitations on its exercise.'” Bennett v.
Spear, 520 U.S. 154, 162 (1997) (citations omitted).
“To satisfy the ‘case' or controversy'
requirement of Article III standing, which is the
‘irreducible constitutional minimum' of standing,
” the plaintiff must demonstrate three elements.
Id. (citations omitted). “First, the plaintiff
must have suffered an ‘injury in fact' - an
invasion of a legally protected interest which is (a)
concrete and particularized . . . and (b) ‘actual or
imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical.'”
Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560
(1992) (internal citations and citations omitted).
“Second, there must be a causal connection between the
injury and the conduct complained of-the injury has to be
fairly . . . trace[able] to the challenged action of the
defendant, and not . . . th[e] result [of] the independent
action of some third party not before the court.”
Id. (citations omitted). “Third, it must be
‘likely,' as opposed to merely
‘speculative,' that the injury will be
‘redressed by a favorable decision.” Id.
Defendant argues TMAA has not suffered an actual injury
because it was not an applicant on the Applications submitted
to Defendant and the Planning Commission. (Doc. 90, p. 46).
Defendant maintains TMAA does not have standing to bring this
lawsuit because it had no legal interest in the Eloong
property from the day the Applications were submitted through
the day the Applications were denied. Id. TMAA did,
however, gain a leasehold interest in the Eloong property
prior to the filing of this lawsuit. (Doc. 92-29, p. 2).
under Article III is determined at the time that the
complaint is filed. Dillard v. Chilton Cty.
Comm'n, 495 F.3d 1324, 1339 (11th Cir. 2007). In
this case, at the time Plaintiffs filed their Complaint, TMAA
had a leasehold interest in the Eloong property.
(See Doc. 1; Doc. 92-29). Additionally, TMAA was
referred to as an interested party throughout the paperwork
and proceedings before the Planning Commission and City
Council, and Plaintiffs' Applications specifically
requested using the property as a meditation center.
(See Doc. 92-7). Defendant's assessment of
TMAA's ability to bring suit is contrary to the purpose
of the doctrine of standing: it “is not a technical
rule intended to keep aggrieved parties out of court.”
59 Am.Jur. 2D Parties § 29 (2018). All of the Plaintiffs
in this case have a legally protected interest in the Eloong
property, they were all injured by Defendant's denial of
planning approval, and a favorable decision by this Court
will redress their harm. Thus, TMAA has standing under
Article III to bring suit against Defendant. Furthermore,
based on the foregoing reasons, TMAA, also, meets the
requirements of standing for purposes of the Religious Land
Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”).
Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act
parties seek summary judgment with respect to Plaintiffs'
RLUIPA claims (Counts 1, 2, and 3). Plaintiffs argue
Defendant's decision denying their Applications to
construct a Buddhist meditation center violates RLUIPA and
their free exercise of religion. The Complaint alleges
Defendant violated RLUIPA in the following ways: (1) by
imposing and implementing land use regulations in a way that
substantially burdens religious exercise (Count 1); (2) by
implementing a land use regulation that discriminates on the
basis of religion (Count 2); and (3) by applying the Zoning
Ordinance in a way that treats Plaintiffs on less than equal
terms with other religious and nonreligious assemblies (Count
RLUIPA - Substantial Burden Provision (Count 1)
enacted RLUIPA “'in order to provide a very broad
protection for religious liberty.'” Holt v.
Hobbs, 135 S.Ct. 853, 859 (2015) (citation omitted).
RLUIPA concerns two areas of government activity: land use
regulation-the provision at issue in this case-and religious
exercise by institutionalized persons. 42 U.S.C. §
2000cc; 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1. The Court's analysis
of Plaintiffs' substantial burden claim involves three
considerations: (1) whether Plaintiffs have jurisdiction to
bring a claim under RLUIPA; (2) whether Plaintiffs have
established a prima facie case that Defendant imposed a
substantial burden on their religious exercise; and (3) if
Plaintiffs established a prima facie case, whether Defendant
can justify the burden imposed by demonstrating a compelling
interest achieved by the lease restrictive means. See
Midrash Sephardi, Inc. v. Town of Surfside, 366 F.3d
1214, 1225 (11th Cir. 2004).
a. Jurisdiction is Appropriate Under RLUIPA
RLUIPA's land use regulation provision only applies . . .
where one of three jurisdictional perquisites is met: (1) the
land use regulation that allegedly imposes a substantial
burden is implemented as part of a plan or activity that
receives federal funding; (2) the substantial burden affects,
or its removal would affect, interstate commerce; or (3) the
substantial burden arises from the state or ...