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Community meals and RLUIPA

St. Vincent de Paul Place, Norwich, Inc., (“St Vincent” or “Appellant”) is a community meal site and food pantry “that strives to meet the needs of homeless people and families with limited income in the greater Norwich[,] [Connecticut] area.” On July 9, 2012, St. Vincent obtained a temporary six-month zoning permit for use of a former religious school building (the “Property”) in which to offer food, shelter, and other services to the homeless. On September 14, 2012, St. Vincent submitted to the City of Norwich Commission on the City Plan (“Appellee”) an application for a special permit to operate permanently on the Property. However, the application was denied on December 18, 2012. On January 4, 2013, St. Vincent brought suit against Appellee, asserting that the denial of the special permit application violated its rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”).

On February 1, 2013, St. Vincent applied to the City of Norwich Zoning Board of Appeals (the “Board”) for a variance. On March 13, 2012, the district court dismissed the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction on the grounds that the action was unripe. See Williamson Cnty. Reg’l Planning Comm’n v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson City, 473 U.S. 172 (1985). The court reasoned that, because Appellant had not filed for a variance prior to bringing suit, and because the variance application submitted thereafter had not yet been denied, Appellant’s “injury [was] merely speculative and may never occur.” Importantly, the district court declined to apply the “relaxed ripeness inquiry” derived from Dougherty v. Town of North Hempstead Board of Zoning Appeals, 282 F.3d 83 (2d Cir. 2002). Appellant then sought review in the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, arguing that their claims are ripe for review under the Dougherty ripeness test.

The Second Circuit first noted that on May 14, 2013, the Board denied Appellant’s application for a variance. Thus, under the more stringent ripeness inquiry of Williamson County, Appellant’s claims were now ripe. Cf. Dougherty, 282 F.3d at 89 (“It does not appear in the record before us that Dougherty either sought, or was denied, a variance . . . . Under the circumstances, Dougherty has not received a final decision [necessary to render his claims ripe] under Williamson.”) (emphasis added). Under Dougherty, a claim is ripe if “(1) . . . the [plaintiff] experienced an immediate injury as a result of [a defendant’s] actions and (2) [if] requiring the [plaintiff] to pursue additional administrative remedies would further define their alleged injuries.” Murphy v. New Milford Zoning Comm’n, 402 F.3d 342, 351 (2d Cir. 2005) (citing Dougherty, 282 F.3d at 90)).

In reaching its holding, the court reasoned that, regardless of what ripeness standard applied to the case, it would now seem to be ripe because the injury was no longer speculative and the administrative options available had been exhausted. The court declined to rule on the merits, but vacated and remanded the case to the district court. It is clear, therefore, that claims that seemingly becoming ripe during the appeal process can be reheard.

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