Guatay Christian Fellowship v. County of San Diego

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Land Use
  • Date Filed: 12-23-2011
  • Case #: 09-56541
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Hawkins for the Court; Circuit Judge Fisher and District Court Judge Wolf
  • Full Text Opinion

Claims brought under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 are not ripe for review unless the government entity implementing land use regulations has reached a final decision regarding the property at issue.

The Guatay Christian Fellowship ("Church") appealed summary judgment from the district court stating that its claims that the County of San Diego ("County") had violated its Constitutional and statutory rights were not yet ripe. The Church operated a church for 22 years in the County but did not have a valid land use permit for the land on which it held religious services. After a long period of non-enforcement, The County notified the Church and the land owner that a valid permit would be required in order for the Fellowship to continue offering religious services. The Church then filed suit, alleging that the County had violated its Constitutional rights and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). The district court ruled, and the Ninth Circuit agreed, that the "final decision requirement" of Williamson County Regional Planning Commission v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson County, 473 U.S. 172 (1985) applies. The Church's claims ripen only upon a final decision "regarding the application of the [zoning] regulations to the property at issue." The Ninth Circuit stated that a decision from the County as to whether or not the Church was currently in violation of land use regulations was not a final decision; a final decision would be one that would affect the Church's future rights to use the land. In order for the district court to have jurisdiction to hear the Church's case, the Church must either comply with the zoning permit application process and be denied, or present sufficient evidence that the financial obligations of the permit application process itself are a "substantial burden" under RLUIPA. AFFIRMED.

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