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Youkhanna v. City of Sterling Heights

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

August 14, 2019

Kamal Anwiya Youkhanna; Wafa Catcho; Marey Jabbo; Debi Rrasi; Jeffrey Norgrove; Megan McHugh, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
City of Sterling Heights; Michael C. Taylor, individually and in his official capacity as Mayor, City of Sterling Heights, Michigan, Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued: April 30, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan at Detroit. No. 2:17-cv-10787-Gershwin A. Drain, District Judge.

         ARGUED:

          Robert Joseph Muise, AMERICAN FREEDOM LAW CENTER, Ann Arbor, Michigan, for Appellants.

          Marc D. Kaszubski, O'REILLY RANCILIO P.C., Sterling Heights, Michigan, for Appellees.

         ON BRIEF:

          Robert Joseph Muise, AMERICAN FREEDOM LAW CENTER, Ann Arbor, Michigan, David Yerushalmi, AMERICAN FREEDOM LAW CENTER, Washington, D.C., for Appellants.

          Marc D. Kaszubski, Nathan D. Petrusak, O'REILLY RANCILIO P.C., Sterling Heights, Michigan, for Appellees.

          Before: MERRITT, MOORE, and WHITE, Circuit Judges.

          OPINION

          KAREN NELSON MOORE, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         This case arises from the settlement of another case. In 2015, the American Islamic Community Center (AICC) applied for zoning permission to build a mosque in Sterling Heights, Michigan. The City's planning commission denied AICC's request, and AICC sued. The City decided to settle the lawsuit, which alleged violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and the First Amendment, and it negotiated a consent judgment that allowed AICC to build the mosque. This lawsuit challenges the validity of that consent judgment, along with the legality of actions taken by the City and the Mayor during the City Council meeting at which the consent judgment was approved. The district court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment, and we AFFIRM.

         I. BACKGROUND

         AICC's efforts to build a mosque on Fifteen Mile Road in Sterling Heights, Michigan spawned two rounds of litigation. This is the second.

         A. The Sterling Heights Planning Commission Denies AICC's Zoning Application

         On July 8, 2015, AICC applied for permission to build a mosque on Fifteen Mile Road in a neighborhood that is otherwise zoned for residential use. Appellant Br. at 4-5; Youkhanna v. City of Sterling Heights, 332 F.Supp.3d 1058, 1062 (E.D. Mich. 2018). The Sterling Heights Planning Commission met in August to consider AICC's application. Youkhanna, 332 F.Supp.3d at 1062. Despite a city planner's testimony that the mosque complied with all zoning criteria and was appropriately placed on a major thoroughfare, the proposal faced resistance and its approval was postponed. Id. at 1062-63. One month later, the Commission voted down AICC's updated application, giving the following reasons:

• "the location and height of the mosque interferes with and discourages the appropriate development and use of adjacent land and buildings,
• lack of size compatibility with established long term development patterns,
• a likely shortage of off-street parking when the principal and ancillary uses are combined,
• additional parking spaces are required,
• and the scale of the mosque is not harmonious with the neighboring areas."

Id.; R. 67-5 (Sept. 2015 Planning Commission Staff Report at 5) (Page ID #1658).

         B. AICC Sues, and Sterling Heights Settles

         AICC then sued the City, alleging violations of RLUIPA, 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc et seq., and the First Amendment. Youkhanna, 332 F.Supp.3d at 1063. The Department of Justice also opened an investigation into the City's denial of AICC's application. The DOJ alleged that Jeffrey Norgrove, the commissioner who moved to deny AICC's application, had publicly demonstrated anti-Muslim bias[1] and had "improperly influenced the other Commissioners." Id.

         The City denied wrongdoing. Id. at 1064. Eventually, the parties (AICC and Sterling Heights) reached a settlement giving AICC "special land use approval" to build the mosque, subject to certain conditions, and the district court entered a consent judgment. R. 67-20 (Consent Judgment at 3) (Page ID #1832).

         In order to sign the settlement, however, the City Council had to vote its approval. Youkhanna, 332 F.Supp.3d at 1064. The meeting during which the Council considered the settlement, which was recorded on video, was open to the public and well attended. Video at 1:37:49-41:02 (Mayor Taylor: "We have 181 seats, I believe, in this Council Chamber; every seat is taken (save for maybe one or two) and we also have overflow of at least 25 to 30 or more in the vestibule."). The media were in attendance also, and the meeting was streamed on the City's website and YouTube channel and was broadcast on live television. Youkhanna, 332 F.Supp.3d at 1068.

         After the announcement that the Council would be taking up the agenda item of the consent judgment, the attorney for the City, Ann McClorey McLaughlin, explained the terms of the agreement and the City's reasons for settling the case. Video at 1:42:40. Mayor Taylor then said the floor would open to public comment, although comments would be limited to two minutes and subject to the following ground rules:

Speakers will be required to stay on point. Your comments during this agenda item must be related to this agenda item. This agenda item is to consider settlements, consent order, and consent judgments in these two cases . . . . If you fail to abide by the Council's Rules, you will be called out of order . . . and you will be asked to go back to your seat. If you do not go back to your seat, we will recess and you will be removed from the auditorium. So please don't make us do that . . . . Outbursts from the audience can be grounds for being called out of order . . . . So again, let's just please be as respectful as we can of each person. We do not need any comments about anybody's religion, that is not the purpose of ...

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