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How to Select an Attorney for a RLUIPA / Religious Land Use Case

Religious leaders who are unable to use a building or land they purchased because of a land use or zoning issue can easily become frustrated. Picking the right attorney to help navigate the process for what happens next is a critical decision.

Not every attorney handles every area of the law. Even the most accomplished general practicing attorneys limit themselves to areas of law in which they are comfortable and competent. So how does a religious organization find an attorney who is equipped with the knowledge and experience needed to successfully handle their religious land use matter in and out of court?

Religious land use is an area of law that is extremely narrow, complicated and specialized. It is an area in which the professionals at Dalton & Tomich PLC have worked for over a decade handling hundreds of matters for clients, some of which have resulted in litigation and most of which have been resolved at the planning commission local level. It is not an area of the law that one can dabble in.

We find that most every religious organization has an attorney in its congregation who helps with the “closing” or the “purchase” of the land. These local attorneys may be able to work through the administrative hearings, but they often miss the crucial opportunity to challenge local land use decisions in court. Soon thereafter, they run into zoning issues and find that the municipality will not let their client occupy the land. They then search out solutions, find our firm and ask to consult with us. When we enter we find that many problems could have been avoided and matters resolved at the planning stage if the religious organization had reached out to us first, rather than relying on the lawyer from within the congregation who may have volunteered his or her services.

Should the religious organization turn to free, pro-bono or a subscription service to help them in the litigation process or use a professional law firm experienced in this area of the law? To give your organization the best chance to win your religious land use case, we recommend you ask a number of questions before hiring a law firm:

  1. What is your experience in this area of the law and how many RLUIPA cases has the attorney who will be assigned to the case worked on? Many “free” or “subscription” services assign attorneys who have no experience in these cases, and if they have, never won a case. Daniel Dalton, a founding member of Dalton & Tomich PLC, wrote the book on Litigating Religious Land Use cases; do you want to rely on an attorney who wrote the book or one who may, or may not, have read the book? Dan also collaborated with fellow attorney Noel Sterrett to write the free download, “Leveling the Playing Field: A Guide for Churches Navigating the Religious Land Use and Zoning Process.”
  2. What is your win rate in past religious land use cases? The professionals at Dalton & Tomich, PLC have over a decade of experience with hundreds of cases, winning 98% in all litigation files. The national average win rate on litigation matters for others is 18%. Are you willing to risk your ministry for a free or reduced price service that does not win?
  3. What cases do you handle and where? Many law firms are familiar with only one religion or one area of the country. If the attorneys at the firm you are considering have not worked with your religion in the past, they may have difficulty understanding or appreciating your congregation’s unique needs. And if they have only worked in one area of the country, they may not be able to adapt to working with governing bodies in new communities. The law firm of Dalton & Tomich, PLC litigates land use cases for every major religion. Its members have litigated cases from coast to coast and with its offices in Detroit and the Chicago area, are able to jump in quickly, take your case and give you the best opportunity to win.
  4. Can you recover damages and attorney fees? While the program has highly qualified attorneys, recovering damages and attorney fees is not an option through the Department of Justice, which can only receive injunctive relief. The law firm of Dalton & Tomich, PLC is able to recover damages and attorney fees when you prevail in a case.
  5. How quickly can you start? Many free programs can take up to 18 months to begin working on a case. If your religious organization cannot handle the financial responsibility of holding on to land or property without being able to use it for this long, you may want to find another option. The professionals of Dalton & Tomich, PLC can often accept a case within just a few months, expediting your timeline and working toward a victory as quickly as possible.

The professionals at Dalton & Tomich PLC, stand ready to assist you in the litigation process of your religious land use case. We have the experience, we are ready to move quickly and we can secure not only your land use permits, but damages and attorney fees.

To learn more about the religious land use land use cases, please download our free guide to the litigation process as a first step. When you’re ready, please contact one of our professionals to assist you with your case.




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