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Settlement Reached for Islamic Center Permit

News | January 6, 2015

Kutak Rock attorneys Tim Keane, Todd Guerrero and Douglas Peters successfully represented the Abu-Huraira Islamic Center against the City of St. Anthony Village, Minn. in obtaining a settlement agreement that will allow the Islamic Center to operate a religious assembly after the city previously rejected its conditional use permit (CUP) application.

The case stems from the city’s denial in June 2012 of the Islamic Center’s CUP application to use the basement of the Islamic Center’s 103,000 square foot office building for religious worship assembly. In denying the permit, the city alleged that religious assembly was incompatible with its light industrial district.

In Aug. 2014, Kutak Rock filed suit in federal court alleging the city violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act, and several state laws, including the state constitution freedom of conscience clause. The U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota, on behalf of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), filed a similar RLUIPA action against the city. Both the Islamic Center and the DOJ alleged the city’s denial was motivated by discrimination against the predominantly black, Somali-American, Muslim organization. The Kutak Rock lawyers worked closely and coordinated with the DOJ throughout the lawsuit.

On December 11, the parties reached a settlement agreement in a 12-hour mediation before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Keyes. Under the agreement, the city will allow the Islamic Center to convert its business office to a Planned Unit Development—an integrated development in a single location—and will allow Abu-Huraira to use the basement of its building for religious worship and related religious activities. It will also allow Abu-Huraira to use the building for businesses important to the large Somali Muslim population in the area, including medical and dental services. In addition, the agreement provides the city will not discriminate against religious groups by application of its zoning laws and specifies that city employees will receive RLUIPA educational training. The agreement also includes provision for recovery of attorneys’ fees and costs. The agreement remains subject to the city’s final approval, expected in February 2015.