United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Harrisonburg Division
MICHAEL F. URBANSKI CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Church ("Afresh") filed this lawsuit on December 3,
2018, alleging that defendants, the City of Winchester,
Virginia ("the City") and Aaron Grigsdale, the
director of zoning and inspections for the City, are
violating Afresh's rights under the Religious Land Use
and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, 42 U.S.C. §
2000cc, et seq. (RLUIPA). Pending are the City's motion
for abstention and motion to dismiss, ECF Nos. 9, 11;
Afresh's motion for summary judgment, ECF No. 13; and the
City's motion to defer consideration of the motion for
summary judgment, ECF No. 17. The parties have briefed the
issues and a hearing was held in this matter on April 10,
2019. As discussed more fully below, defendants' motion
for abstention is DENIED; defendants'
motion to dismiss is DENIED; Afresh's
motion for summary judgment is DENIED without
prejudice; and defendants' motion to defer
consideration of the motion for summary judgment is
DENIED as moot.
complaint alleges that Afresh has a leasehold interest in a
building ("the Building") owned by Fairmont Avenue
Holdings, LLC ("the Owner"). Compl., ECF No. 12,
¶ 7. The Building is located in an area of Winchester
designated as a "limited industrial district."
Approximately 200 members of the Afresh congregation have
been meeting at the Building on Sundays since April 2017. The
City has cited the Owner of the Building several times for
allowing the church services to be held at the Building
because the area in which it is located is not zoned for
churches. At the time the complaint was filed, the City had
filed a summons for civil penalty in the City of Winchester
General District Court seeking $2, 200 in fines from the
Owner for violations of the zoning ordinance.
zoning ordinance allows for a wide variety of light
industrial uses, such as the production of food products and
toiletries, assembly of some textiles not employing a boiling
process, manufacture of ceramic products, electric and neon
signs, and musical instruments, and assembly of electrical
appliances and automobiles. Article 11 - Limited Industrial
District-M-1, ECF No. 10-1. In addition, it allows for some
uses with a conditional permit, such as gymnastics studios,
youth activity centers, bus terminals, animal shelters,
arenas, amphitheaters, or stadiums, albeit with restrictions
on how close some structures can be to residential districts.
ECF No. 10-1 at 1-4. While church uses are not expressly
prohibited by the ordinance, they are not included in the
list of allowed businesses and activities.
Building's main tenant is the National Fruit Product
Company, Inc. The company uses the Building as its corporate
event center and meeting hall. Since 2014, the Owner also has
allowed numerous non-profit groups to use the Building at no
cost for events, gatherings, fundraisers, and other
functions. The number of people in attendance at these events
has ranged from 30 people to more than 2, 000
people. ECF No. 14-1 ¶ 9.
complaint, Afresh states that it has a leasehold interest in
the building. Compl, ECF No. 12, ¶ 7. Afresh produced a
copy of a lease on February 29, 2019, attached to the second
declaration of Aaron Brewer. ECF No. 22-1 at 4-12. The timing
of the lease is subject to some question. While the lease
states that it "is made effective April 1, 2017,"
and is signed and dated as of that date, it states in a
recital that "[t]his lease is being executed on November
of 2018 to memorialize the agreement of the parties entered
into on the Commencement Date." Id. at 4. The
lease term is for five years, but "[e]ither party may
terminate this Lease at any time for any reason by giving
thirty days written notice to the other." Id.,
¶ 6. The lessee has an obligation to indemnify the
lessor for, among other things, failure to comply with any
and all governmental ordinances and regulations applicable to
the condition or use of the property or its occupancy.
Id., ¶ 15.1.c.
seeks a declaratory judgment that the City's zoning
ordinance and its enforcement action against the Owner is
violating Afresh's rights under RLUIPA. Afresh also seeks
to enjoin the City from pursuing any enforcement or other
action against the Owner of the property that would affect
Afresh's ability to continue to use the Building.
provides in relevant part the following:
(a) Substantial burdens
(1) General rule
No government shall impose or implement a land use regulation
in a manner that imposes a substantial burden on the
religious exercise of a person, including a religious
assembly or institution, unless the government demonstrates
that imposition of the burden on that person, assembly, or
(A) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest;
(B) is the least restrictive means of furthering that
compelling governmental interest.
(2) Scope of application
This subsection applies in any case in which-
(C) the substantial burden is imposed in the implementation
of a land use regulation or system of land use regulations,
under which a government makes, or has in place formal
procedures or practices that permit the government to make,