Church can get RLUIPA damages, but not for hypothetical lost contributions

Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

In a suit challenging the refusal to rezone land for use by a church, after a remand from the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals (see prior posting), the city of San Leandro, California sought summary judgment on whether the church is entitled to damages on its “substantial burden” claim under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.  In International Church of the Foursquare Gospel v. City of San Leandro2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 117347 (ND CA, Aug. 20, 2012), a California federal district, while finding that damages are recoverable for violations of RLUIPA’s substantial burden provisions, dismissed as too speculative the church’s claim for lost contributions from hypothetical new church members that would have attended if it had moved into a larger building. The court also rejected the argument that an award of damages would amount to unjust enrichment for the church, and that would amount to a preference for religion that would violate of the Establishment Clause.