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World Outreach Conference Center v. City of Chicago

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

June 1, 2015

CITY OF CHICAGO, Defendant-Appellee/Cross-Appellant

Argued: March 31, 2015.

Appeals from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 6 C 2891 -- Joan Humphrey Lefkow, Judge.

For WORLD OUTREACH CONFERENCE CENTER, an Illinois not-for-profit Corporation, Pamela Blossom (13-3669, 13-3728), Plaintiffs - Appellees: Andy Robert Norman, Senior Counsel, John W. Mauck, Attorney, Noel W. Sterett, Attorney, Mauck & Baker, Chicago, IL.

For City of Chicago (13-3669, 13-3728), Defendant - Appellant: Justin A. Houppert, Attorney, City of Chicago Law Department, Chicago, IL.

Before CUDAHY, POSNER, and ROVNER, Circuit Judges. CUDAHY, Circuit Judge, concurring.


Page 840

Posner, Circuit Judge.

This appeal (actually appeal and cross-appeal) from a district court decision that attempted to resolve a messy and protracted litigation is a sequel to an appeal that we decided five and a half years ago in World Outreach Conference Center v. City of Chicago, 591 F.3d 531 (7th Cir. 2009); the reader's familiarity with our earlier opinion is assumed, enabling us to abbreviate our discussion.

The former appeal was brought primarily (and for the sake of simplicity we'll assume only) by the World Outreach Conference Center, a Christian religious organization in Chicago. (We'll call it, for the sake of brevity, " World Outreach," but the reader should understand that the World Outreach Conference Center is only one World Outreach religious organization.) It challenged the district court's dismissal of the suit on the pleadings. We agreed with the challenge, and reversed the district court's decision and remanded the case. World Outreach's current appeal is from the grant of summary judgment (by a different district judge, her predecessor having resigned) in favor of the City on all but one of World Outreach's claims. The City's cross-appeal is from the judge's grant of partial summary judgment in favor of World Outreach on that claim. The effect of the two partial grants of summary judgment was to terminate the litigation, begun nine years ago.

The only basis for the suit that requires discussion (it is duplicated by the other grounds alleged) is the provision in the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. § § 2000cc et seq., that a land-use regulation " that imposes a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a ... religious assembly or institution" is unlawful " unless the government demonstrates that imposition of the burden ... is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest." 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc(a)(1). We can ignore the " unless" clause, as the City's argument is limited to denying that it imposed a substantial burden on World Outreach's religious activities; it does not assert " a compelling governmental interest" in doing so or deny that World Outreach is indeed a religious institution.

Page 841

World Outreach (which remember is our abbreviation of World Outreach Conference Center) emphasizes assistance to the poor. See World Outreach Conference Center, " Mission Statement," view=article& id=47& Itemid=53 (visited May 8, 2015). Its only facility is a building that it bought from the YMCA in July 2005, located in a poor area on Chicago's south side. The building has several floors. The first floor has a swimming pool, two gyms, and several meeting rooms sometimes used for religious services. The upper floors have a total of 168 single-room apartments called single-room occupancy--SRO--units. As the YMCA had done, World Outreach rents these apartments on a temporary basis to needy persons.

The YMCA needed to get a license every year, as did its successor as owner of the building, World Outreach, to permit it to rent rooms. The YMCA had had no trouble getting the license year after year even after the area in which its building was located had been rezoned as a community shopping district, in which residential use would not be permitted. For the YMCA's residential use of the 168 rooms was what is called a " legal nonconforming use" --nonconforming because it didn't conform to the new zoning ordinance but legal because its nonconforming use was grandfathered; a " nonconforming status runs with the land and is not affected by changes of tenancy, ownership, or management." Chicago Zoning Ordinance § 17-15-0106 (emphasis added). So World Outreach's use of the building for the same basic purposes as the YMCA (which is also of course a religious organization) was legal.

The passage we just quoted from the zoning ordinance has a further significance. A change in ownership as such has no effect on a building's status as a legal nonconforming use. And the City's zoning department had no reason to think that the change of ownership in this case would significantly change the use to which the building was put. World Outreach wasn't intending to tear the building down, consolidate the 168 single rooms into a dozen luxury suites, or fill the swimming pool with golden carp; it intended to use the building as the YMCA had used it. It is true that at first Pastor Blossom, the director of World Outreach, was unclear whether she would continue to rent the SROs. She thought she might replace them with a conference center, office ...

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