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Dorman v. Charter Township of Clinton

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

July 24, 2019

MICHAEL DORMAN et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CHARTER TOWNSHIP OF CLINTON, Defendant.

         OPINION AND ORDER (1) GRANTING PLAINTIFF RIVER OF LIFE'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT ON ITS EQUAL TERMS CLAIM (ECF #81), (2) DENYING PLAINTIFF MICHAEL DORMAN'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT ON HIS EQUAL TERMS CLAIM (ECF #81), AND (3) GRANTING SUMMARY JUDGMENT IN FAVOR OF DEFENDANT ON PLAINTIFF MICHAEL DORMAN'S EQUAL TERMS CLAIM

          MATTHEW F. LEITMAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         In this action, Plaintiff River of Life Ministries, INT and its pastor, Plaintiff Michael Dorman, challenge a provision of Defendant Clinton Township's zoning code that applies to the real property on which River of Life wants to locate its church. River of Life and Dorman claim that this section of the zoning code violates the Equal Terms provision of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (“RLUIPA”). River of Life and Dorman have now each moved for summary judgment on this claim. (See Mot., ECF #81.) For the reasons stated below, the Court (1) GRANTS River of Life's motion for summary judgment on its Equal Terms claim, (2) DENIES Dorman's motion for summary judgment on his Equal Terms claim, and (3) GRANTS summary judgment in favor of Clinton Township on Dorman's Equal Terms claim.

         I

         A

         Clinton Township is a municipality located in Macomb County, Michigan. It has enacted a comprehensive zoning code that governs the use and development of real property located within its borders. That zoning code divides the Township into several zoning “districts.” (See Zoning Map, ECF #81-3.) The district at issue here is the “Multiple-Family Low Rise District, ” which is also known as the “RML” District. That district is created by Chapter 1262 of Clinton Township's Code of Ordinances (the “RML Zoning Ordinance”). (See RML Zoning Ordinance, ECF #81-4.) The RML Zoning Ordinance explains that the RML District “is intended to provide sites for multiple-family dwelling structures which may serve as zones of transition between high-traffic carrying thoroughfares and One-Family Residential Districts.” (RML Zoning Ordinance at § 1262.01, ECF #81-4 at Pg. ID 3432.)

         Even though the RML District is intended to promote the development of multiple-family dwelling structures, other uses are permitted as a matter of right in the district. For example, publicly-owned libraries and parks, municipal buildings, swim clubs, colleges, universities, and “public, parochial and other private elementary, intermediate, and/or high school[s]” may locate and operate in the RML District as a matter of right.[1] (Clinton Twp. Zoning Code at § 1258.02, ECF #81-5 at Pg. ID 3435-36.)

         Churches, however, cannot locate as a matter of right in the RML District. Instead, churches must acquire a special use permit in order to locate and operate in the RML District. (See RML Zoning Ordinance at § 1262.03(c), ECF #81-5 at Pg. ID 3432.)

         B

         River of Life is a religious organization that “combines Christianity with elements of Judaism and Jewish traditions.” (Decl. of Michael Dorman at ¶3, ECF #81-2 at Pg. ID 3425.) Its pastor is Plaintiff Michael Dorman. (See Id. at ¶2, Pg. ID 3425.) River of Life “spread[s] its faith through regular, weekly religious services.” (Id. at ¶4, Pg. ID 3425.)

         In 2001, Dorman purchased property located at 22515 Laurel in Clinton Township (the “Laurel Property”). (See Id. at ¶6, Pg. ID 3425.) The Laurel Property is located in the RML District. (See Zoning Map, ECF #81-3.) As River of Life's “congregation began to grow, [Dorman] determined that [the Laurel Property] would be [an] ideal [location] for River of Life” to hold its religious services and operate its church. (Id. at ¶7, Pg. ID 3425.) River of Life thereafter “acquired an ownership interest” in the Laurel Property. (Id. at ¶8, Pg. ID 3425.) It also applied for a special use permit from Clinton Township as required in the RML Zoning Ordinance. (See Permit Appl., ECF #81-7.)

         On June 15, 2015, Clinton Township denied River of Life a special use permit. (See Clinton Twp. Bd. of Tr. Meeting Mins., ECF #81-12 at Pg. ID 3511-16.) That decision prohibited River of Life from operating a church at the Laurel Property.[2]

         II

         River of Life and Dorman filed this action against Clinton Township on July 18, 2015. (See Compl., ECF #1; Am. Compl., ECF #8.) In the Amended Complaint, River and Life and Dorman brought seven claims against Clinton Township:

● Violation of the Substantial Burden provision of RLUIPA, 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc(a) (see Am. Compl., ECF #8 at ¶¶ 88-97);
● Violation of the Equal Terms provision of RLUIPA, 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc(b)(1) (see Id. at ¶¶ 98-103);
● Violation of the Nondiscrimination provision of RLUIPA, 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc(b)(2) (see Id. at ...

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