Community Update: American Islamic Center’s Lawsuit Against Des Plaines Proceeding

Community Update

American Islamic Center’s Lawsuit Against Des Plaines Proceeding
CAIR-Chicago Opposes City Council Members’ Attempts to Escape Liability

American Islamic Center’s zoning relief case against Des Plaines continues to be prosecuted in court. CAIR-Chicago has partnered with the law offices of Anthony J. Peraica & Associates, Ltd. in representing the Center in the case. Earlier this week, Litigation Director Kevin Vodak filed a brief opposing the Des Plaines City Council Members’ Motion to Dismiss, arguing that they have misinterpreted the applicable law when seeking to escape liability in the matter.

American Islamic Center (AIC), a Bosnian community organization, has been seeking a permanent location for its educational and religious activities since March of 2011. After investigating numerous properties in areas convenient for its 160 members, AIC secured property, former commercial office space that had been vacant for more than two years, located at 1645 Birchwood Avenue.

AIC presented Des Plaines with detailed proposals regarding the planned use of the property, including extensive traffic studies which found that Birchwood Avenue carries a low volume of traffic and has adequate capacity to accommodate AIC’s activities. AIC intended to use the property for prayer services, Saturday religious education classes, and related community meetings. Based on the evidence presented by AIC and its experts, on June 10, 2013, the Des Plaines Plan Commission unanimously recommended that AIC’s map amendment be approved.

On July 15, 2013, however, the City Council reviewed the zoning map amendment request and, in a 5-3 vote, denied the amendment. AIC’s lawsuit alleges that Des Plaines violated the Religious Land Use & Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) by imposing a substantial burden on the Center’s religious exercise, as well as discriminating against the Center as a religious institution and based on its Muslim affiliation.

Counsel for the Defendants initially sought to dismiss AIC’s entire lawsuit, but Judge Kennelly ruled prior to any briefing from AIC that some of the arguments were improper. As a result, CAIR-Chicago’s brief primarily addresses the City Council Members’ arguments that they cannot be individually liable. Contrary to these arguments, in 2009 another federal district court judge held that Village of Broadview trustees could be found liable for their refusal to grant a zoning permit due to the lack of constitutional safeguards in place outside of judicial intervention. Based on this decision and the applicable law, CAIR-Chicago argues that the Des Plaines City Council Members can be held personally responsible for violating AIC’s rights to religious exercise and equal protection of the laws.

“We are hopeful that the court will fully reject Defendants’ arguments and allow AIC’s case against the City Council Members to proceed, in addition to holding the City itself responsible for the violation of AIC’s rights,” said Litigation Director Kevin Vodak. The claims against the City Council Members would entitle AIC to seek punitive damages, relief not available from municipalities.

The next status hearing on the case is scheduled for March 17, 2014 at 9:30 a.m. before Judge Kennelly. CAIR-Chicago hopes that the court will rule on Defendants’ motion at or prior to this hearing.