Boulder County Asks U.S. Supreme Court To Review RMCC Case
By Bruce Warren
Boulder County filed a petition with the United States Supreme Court on Oct. 15. asking the court to review lower court decisions following the county’s 2006 denial of Rocky Mountain Christian Church’s application to double the size of its Niwot campus.
The church filed its application with the county in 2006, and the Boulder County Commissioners denied substantially all of the application citing criteria established under the Boulder County Land Use Code.
The church filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court challenging the denial, and the case went to trial in November, 2008. The jury found that Boulder County had violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act by treating the church less favorably than Alexander Dawson School’s application to expand.
Boulder County appealed that decision to the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which affirmed the District Court decision. The county’s latest appeal is discretionary with the U.S. Supreme Court.
The church has 30 days to respond to the county’s petition, following which the Supreme Court will decide whether or not to hear the case. That decision will likely be known by the end of the year. If the court denies the petition, the litigation will likely end.
If the Supreme Court grants the petition for review, the parties and other organizations interested in the decision will submit written briefs, followed by oral argument to the court approximately six months after the case was accepted. A decision by the U.S. Supreme Court could take another six to nine months after oral argument.
Boulder County’s primary argument is that RLUIPA creates a constitutionally impermissible double standard for review of land use decisions, making it easier for churches to obtain approval than other applicants. The county also argued that courts around the country have issued conflicting decisions in applying RLUIPA to land use decisions, making it difficult for governments to interpret the law.
The church has argued that the county has held it to more stringent standards than non-religious applicants.
Whether or not the Supreme Court accepts cases is often determined by whether the court believes that it must resolve lower court conflicts, and by whether the court perceives the case as presenting a question of constitutional law. Most of the County’s legal fees involved in the case and the appeal are covered by its insurance policy.