United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Charlottesville Division
K. MOON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
law grants religious institutions rights against religious
discrimination. 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc(a)-(b). That law also
gives the United States Government authority to
“enforce” those rights by filing a lawsuit for
injunctive or declaratory relief. Id. §
2000cc-2(f). The Government did so here. The Complaint's
first paragraph avers that the Government filed suit
“based on” the County of Culpeper's
“discriminatory denial of a sewage permit to an Islamic
congregation, ” the ICC. The Government neither styled
its Complaint as a class action nor challenged any policy or
custom. Rather, its claims related to a single incident: the
County's denial of the ICC's permit.
itself later sued the County. It negotiated a settlement,
over which this Court retains jurisdiction and pursuant to
which the County granted the permit and paid $10, 000 to the
ICC. The County took added remedial steps of its own
volition: It posted nondiscrimination notices, created a
complaint process, and trained employees about religious
County now says the Government's case is moot. The
Government (despite resolution of the ICC's rights as to
the permit, despite filing a complaint about only those
rights, despite its ability to pursue only injunctive and
declaratory relief for those rights, and despite the
County's extra prophylactic actions) disagrees, due to
its professed ability to seek “broader” relief
and an unproven assumption of the County's bad faith. But
this case is moot and will be dismissed.
motion to dismiss is made pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), the
plaintiff bears the burden of proving its assertion of
subject matter jurisdiction. See The Piney Run Pres.
Ass'n v. The Cty. Comm'rs Of Carroll Cty., 523
F.3d 453, 459 (4th Cir. 2008). The County's motion does
not rely solely on the Complaint's allegations, but also
on facts outside of the Complaint that postdate it.
Accordingly, the County presents a factual challenge to
jurisdiction, and the Court may “go beyond” the
Complaint and consider the parties' submissions. Beck
v. McDonald, 848 F.3d 262, 270 (4th Cir. 2017);
Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R. Co. v. United
States, 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991).
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Complaint's facts are recounted in my prior opinion
denying the County's Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss.
United States v. Cty. of Culpeper, Va., No.
3:16-CV-00083, 2017 WL 1169767 (W.D. Va. Mar. 29, 2017).
Briefly, they are as follows. See also id. at *2-4.
wanted to build a mosque. The only property it could afford
would not support traditional septic methods, so it sought a
pump-and-haul permit in February 2016. Initially, the
permit advanced towards routine administrative approval, but
after a local “civic leader” objected to it, the
County's Board of Supervisors delayed a vote. The ICC was
required to resubmit a new application, which the County
Attorney reviewed. All of this departed from the County's
alleged historical practice of granting permits effectively
as a matter of course.
to and during an ensuing vote on the permit, there was
anti-Muslim sentiment expressed to government officials by
some members of the public opposing the permit. The alleged
content of certain emails also provided an inference that at
least some county officials believed that the ICC's
application had garnered unfair scrutiny based on its
religious views. Ultimately, and notwithstanding the County
Administrator's determination that the ICC was qualified
for a permit, the Board of Supervisors voted 4-to-3 to deny
it in April 2016.
Government instituted this two-count lawsuit seeking to
vindicate the ICC's rights under RLUIPA, the Religious
Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. The crux of the
Government's lawsuit was stated up front and clearly:
“This is a civil action brought by the United States
under [RLUIPA] based on the [County's] discriminatory
denial of a sewage permit to an Islamic congregation . . .
.” (Complaint ¶ 1). The Government alleged in
Count 1 that it was the County's “treatment and
denial of the ICC's pump and haul permit” that
“imposed a substantial burden on the ICC's
religious exercise.” (Id. ¶ 60).
Additionally, the County's differential treatment of the
ICC and “its application for a pump and haul
permit” on religious grounds amounted to discrimination
in Count 2. (Id. ¶ 62).
Government did not assert that the County had violated other
individuals' or groups' RLUIPA rights, nor did it
style the case as a class action. In fact, the Complaint does
not address the RLUIPA rights of anyone but the ICC, and even
then it implicated the ICC only to the permit denial.
(See generally Complaint).
absent from the Complaint was any assertion that the County
maintained a policy, pattern, or custom violating
RLUIPA. Indeed, it was the County's
departure from its prior, allegedly lenient approach
that gave the Government's case particular force: The
Complaint maintained that the County singled out the ICC for
special, adverse treatment not in line with the County's
historical practice. (Complaint ¶¶ 21, 40-41, 47,
50). The Court refused to dismiss the Complaint in part
because of the County's one-time decision in
this particular instance-the only one involving Muslims-to
abandon its traditionally low bar and minimal scrutiny
applied to pump-and-haul applications. Culpeper
Cnty., 2017 WL 1169767, at *1, 3, 5, 8-9 & n.8.
weeks before I entered that memorandum opinion, the ICC filed
its own RLUIPA lawsuit, which was assigned to me as a related
case. Islamic Center of Culpeper v. Cnty. of Culpeper,
Va., No. 3:17-cv-19 (W.D. Va. Mar. 9, 2017). A
nationally renowned private law firm and a Muslim legal
advocacy organization represented the ICC.
April 2017, the ICC settled its case with the County. (Dkt.
95-2, hereinafter “Settlement Agreement”). The
Settlement Agreement required the County to “approve
ICC's original Application” without resubmission of
the ICC's materials, and to pay $10, 000 to the ICC for
“direct, out-of-pocket expenses arising” from the
permit denial. (Id. §§ II.A, D). The
County also agreed to “not delay or hinder expeditious
approval of any further applications” relating to
construction of the ICC's mosque. (Id. §
II.B). Finally, the Settlement Agreement called for dismissal
of the ICC's case with prejudice, with retention of
jurisdiction by the Court to resolve “any dispute
between the Parties with respect to the terms of, or
enforcement of, ” the agreement. I.C.C. v. Culpeper
Cnty., No. 3:17-cv-19 (W.D. Va. May 16, 2017);
see Settlement Agreement § II.E. The evidence
reveals, and the parties do not dispute, that these terms
have been fulfilled, including the grant of the permit.
(See dkt. 95-3, 95-4).
County has presented evidence of other steps beyond the
Settlement Agreement that it has taken to ensure it does not
violate RLUIPA in the future. It publically displayed a
RLUIPA nondiscrimination notice in its Planning and Zoning
Department. (Dkt. 95-5). It now places a page-long insert
into all land use application packets that explains the
County's RLUIPA obligations. (Dkt. 95-6). It developed a
RLUIPA complaint procedure and complaint form. (Dkt. 95-7).
It posted a RLUIPA notice and the complaint form on the
Planning and Zoning Department's website. (Dkt. 95-8).
And it held a presentation (handouts of which were provided
to the Board of Supervisors) on RLUIPA for County staff and
the public, modeled after presentations made by Department of
Justice attorneys. (Dkt. 108 at 11-12; dkt. 108-1).
evidence is undisputed. The Government instead insists that
the facts and circumstances here do not evince mootness as a
matter of law.
“case is moot when the issues presented are no longer
‘live' or the parties lack a legally cognizable
interest in the outcome.” Porter v. Clarke,
852 F.3d 358, 363 (4th Cir. 2017). Mootness is sometimes
conceptualized as “standing set in a time frame,
” such that, to be moot, a case “must lack at
least one of the three required elements of Article III
standing: (1) injury in fact, (2) causation, or (3)
redressability.” Townes v. Jarvis, 577 F.3d
543, 546-47 (4th Cir. 2009). One “circumstance mooting
a claim arises when the claimant receives the relief he or
she sought to obtain through the claim.” Simmons v.
United Mortg. & Loan Inv., LLC, 634 F.3d 754, 763
(4th Cir. 2011).
1 and 2 of the Complaint no longer appear live. The
Complaint's two claims alleged violations of RLUIPA based
on the County's discriminatory denial of the
pump-and-haul permit. (Complaint ¶¶ 60, 62; see
id. ¶¶ 1, 13-58). The Government cannot obtain
damages in a RLUPA suit, but may sue only for injunctive or
declaratory relief. 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-2(f). Because the
ICC has now obtained the permit, there is simply no RLUIPA
right left to adjudicate. Retrospective relief is not
available, and prospective relief is not available because
the alleged violation has been cured. See Centro Familiar
Cristiano Buenas Nuevas v. City ofYuma, 651
F.3d 1163, 1168 (9th Cir. 2011) (observing, in ...