Warning to Rockland County municipalities: Tread carefully when challenging RLUPIA, the Clinton-era law that grants broad protections to constitutions by the religious groups.
The Town of Greenburgh, NY, has agreed to pay $6.5 million to the Fortress Bible Church to end a 10-year litigation. The settlement follows a 206-page US District Court decision, which was affirmed to the church’s Constitutional and statutory religious exercise rights.
The settlement amount is believed to be the largest in the nation for a land use case involving intentional discrimination against a religious institution.
Law firm Keane & Beane, PC announced the settlement has been approved by the Town Board of Greenburgh to end the long-running litigation between the town and the church. The Town Board voted to approve the settlement at a public meeting held on December 16, 2013.
The church filed the litigation in 2003 after the town blocked its efforts to build a new sanctuary and religious school on vacant land it had purchased in the town. The town will pay $6.5 million to the church and all future building permit fees payable by the church will be calculated based upon historical (2002) rates.
The church won a decisive victory following a lengthy bench trial in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. In 2012, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the District Court’s decision in its entirety, rejecting every challenge posed by the town.
The appellate decision addressed issues of first impression nationally and within the Second Circuit. The Second Circuit’s opinion resolved several novel and complex issues of federal law, all in favor of the Church. At the time of the settlement, the parties have been litigating in the District Court over the amount of damages and attorney’s fees that the Town would be required to pay to the Church.
Keane & Beane, PC partners Nicholas M. Ward-Willis, Donna E. Frosco and Edward J. Phillips represented the Church from the outset of the litigation.