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Centro De Ensenanza Palabra De Fe, Inc. v. City of Hialeah

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

January 23, 2018

CENTRO DE ENSENANZA PALABRA DE FE, INC., A Florida Non-Profit Corporation, Plaintiff,
v.
THE CITY OF HIALEAH, FLORIDA, A Florida Municipal Corporation, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          ALICIA M. OTAZO-REYES UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         THIS CAUSE came before the Court upon Defendant City of Hialeah's ("Defendant" or "City") Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs First Amended Complaint for Declaratory Relief, Injunctive Relief and Damages (hereafter, "Motion to Dismiss") [D.E. 34]. This matter was referred to the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636 by the Honorable Darrin P. Gayles, United States District Judge [D.E. 39]. The undersigned held hearings on this matter on September 27 and November 16, 2017 [D.E. 42, 50]. For the reasons stated below, the undersigned respectfully recommends that Defendant's Motion to Dismiss be GRANTED.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Centra De Ensenanza Palabra De Fe, Inc. ("Plaintiff or "Centra") commenced this action on April 24, 2017 with the filing of a Verified Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief [D.E. 1]. Two days later, Centra filed a Motion for Declaratory Judgment and an Emergency Motion, seeking an immediate hearing on the Motion [D.E. 5, 7]. At a hearing held on April 28, 2017, the parties informed the undersigned that they had reached a resolution of their dispute and that Centra would be filing a notice of voluntary dismissal without prejudice [D.E. 19]. As a result, the Court administratively closed the case and required Centra to file its stipulation of dismissal within 10 days [D.E. 20]. Centra did so on May 5, 2017 [D.E. 21].

         On May 27, 2017, Centra filed a Motion to Reopen Case, Amend Complaint and for Emergency Hearing [D.E. 22]. On June 6, 2017, the Court granted Centra's Motion [D.E. 29]. On June 8, 2017, Centra filed its First Amended Complaint [D.E. 30]. In its amended pleading, Centra asserts three claims under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc; a claim for violation of the first amendment freedoms of speech, assembly and exercise of religion, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983"); and a claim under the Florida Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1998 ("FRFRA"), Fla. Stat. § 761.01, et seq. Id. The three RLUIPA claims are: a substantial burden claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc(a); an equal terms claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc(b)(1); and an unreasonable limitations claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc(b)(3). Centra alleges that the City violated RLUIPA, Section 1983 and FRFRA by imposing certain zoning requirements as a condition for Centro to continue operating a daycare center and an elementary school at the premises where it also conducts religious services.

         On June 20, 2017, the City filed its Motion to Dismiss on Article III jurisdictional grounds, namely, ripeness and failure to exhaust administrative remedies. Although the City only generally referenced Rule 12 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in its Motion to Dismiss, the City confirmed at the hearings that its challenge to the First Amended Complaint is brought pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

         APPLICABLE LAW

         A. RLUIPA - substantial burdens clause

         The substantial burdens clause of RLUIPA provides:

(a) Substantial burdens
(1) General rule
No government shall impose or implement a land use regulation in a manner that imposes a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person, including a religious assembly or institution, unless the government demonstrates that imposition of the burden on that person, assembly, or institution-
(A) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and
(B) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.

         (2) Scope of application

         This subsection applies in any case in which-

(A) the substantial burden is imposed in a program or activity that receives Federal financial assistance, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability;
(B) the substantial burden affects, or removal of that substantial burden would affect, commerce with foreign nations, among the several States, or with Indian tribes, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability; or
(C) the substantial burden is imposed in the implementation of a land use regulation or system of land use regulations, under which a government makes, or has in place formal or informal procedures or practices that permit the government to make, individualized assessments of the proposed uses for the property involved.

42 U.S.C. § 2000cc(a) (hereafter, "the substantial burden clause").

         B. RLUIPA - equal terms and unreasonable limitations clauses

         The equal terms and unreasonable limitations clauses of RLUIPA provide:

(b) Discrimination and exclusion
(1) Equal terms
No government shall impose or implement a land use regulation in a manner that treats a religious assembly or institution on less than equal terms with a ...

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