Murphy v. Zoning Com'n of Town of New Milford, No. CIV.3:00CV2297(HBF).

CourtUnited States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Connecticut)
Writing for the CourtFitzsimmons
Citation289 F.Supp.2d 87
PartiesRobert MURPHY and Mary Murphy, Plaintiffs, v. ZONING COMMISSION OF THE TOWN OF NEW MILFORD, et al, Defendants
Docket NumberNo. CIV.3:00CV2297(HBF).
Decision Date30 September 2003
289 F.Supp.2d 87
Robert MURPHY and Mary Murphy, Plaintiffs,
v.
ZONING COMMISSION OF THE TOWN OF NEW MILFORD, et al, Defendants
No. CIV.3:00CV2297(HBF).
United States District Court, D. Connecticut.
September 30, 2003.

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Vincent P. McCarthy, McCarthy Law Offices, New Milford, CT, for Plaintiffs.

Steven E. Byrne, Law Offices of Thomas P. Byrne, Farmington, CT, for Defendants.

John B. Hughes, U.S. Attorney's Office, New Haven, CT, Tamara Ulrich, U.S. Dept. of Justice Civil Division, Federal Programs, Washington, DC, for Intervenor-Defendant.

Howard M. Wood, III, Phelon, Fitzgerald & Wood, Manchester, CT, for Amicus.

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RULING ON CROSS MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

FITZSIMMONS, United States Magistrate Judge.


I. INTRODUCTION

This case involves the very important issue of whether a cease and desist order issued by the defendant Zoning Enforcement Officer ("ZEO"), at the request of the defendant Zoning Commission of the Town of New Milford ("NMZC"), violates plaintiffs' rights under the United States Constitution, the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 ("RLUIPA"), the Constitution of the State of Connecticut, and/or Connecticut's Act Concerning Religious Freedom ("ACRF"). Also at issue, if they have been violated, is the constitutionality of RLUIPA and ACRF. The parties have filed cross motions for summary judgment on all claims and defenses; and the United States, as intervenor, and The Becket Fund, as amicus curiae, have filed briefs in support of RLUIPA's constitutionality. The court has reviewed each of these briefs, as well as the relevant authorities, before arriving at the court's decision.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

"One of the principal purposes of the summary judgment rule is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims or defenses." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). In a motion for summary judgment, the burden is on the moving party to establish that there are no genuine issues of material fact in dispute and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed.R.Civ.P. Rule 56(c); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). A court must grant summary judgment "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact." Miner v. City of Glens Falls, 999 F.2d 655, 661 (2d Cir. 1993) (citation omitted). A dispute regarding a material fact is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Aldrich v. Randolph Cent. Sch. Dist., 963 F.2d 520, 523 (2d Cir.1992) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505.) The court resolves "all ambiguities and draw[s] all inferences in favor of the nonmoving party in order to determine how a reasonable jury would decide." Aldrich, 963 F.2d at 523. Thus, "[o]nly when reasonable minds could not differ as to the import of the evidence is summary judgment proper." Bryant v. Maffucci, 923 F.2d 979, 982 (2d Cir.1991). See also Suburban Propane v. Proctor Gas, Inc., 953 F.2d 780, 788 (2d Cir.1992).

In the context of a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56(c), disputed issues of fact are not material if the moving party would be entitled to judgment as a matter of law even if the disputed issues were resolved in favor of the non-moving party. Such factual disputes, however genuine, are not material, and their presence will not preclude summary judgment. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); see also Cartier v. Lussier, 955 F.2d 841, 845 (2d Cir.1992).

When a summary judgment motion is supported by documentary evidence and sworn affidavits, the nonmoving party must present "significant probative evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact." McCarthy v. Armstrong, 2 F.Supp.2d 231, 231 (D.Conn.1998) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Moreover, summary judgment should be entered "against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence

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of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548. Thus, "[a] motion for summary judgment is an appropriate mechanism to challenge an affirmative defense." FDIC v. Haines, 3 F.Supp.2d 155, 159 (D.Conn.1997) (citation omitted). "Where a plaintiff uses a summary judgment motion ... to challenge the legal sufficiency of an affirmative defense ... a plaintiff may satisfy its Rule 56 burden by showing that there is an absence of evidence to support [an essential element of] the [non-moving party's] case." FDIC v. Giammettei, 34 F.3d 51, 54 (2d Cir.1994) (alterations in original; citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

III. FACTS

On July 5, 2001, this court issued its Ruling on Plaintiffs' Motion for Preliminary Injunction ("Preliminary Injunction Ruling"), in which the court, inter alia, made forty-nine findings of fact. The parties have also filed, pursuant to this court's local rules, statements of each material fact as to which the moving party contends there is no genuine issue to be tried, and which the opposing party either admits or denies. See D. Conn. L. Civ. R. 9(c) (2002).1 The relevant facts which follow are not in dispute.2

1. Plaintiffs Robert Murphy and Mary Murphy are the owners of, and have resided at, 25 Jefferson Street, New Milford, Connecticut for approximately twenty-eight (28) years.

2. Plaintiff's home is in a single-family residential neighborhood, at the end of a cul-de-sac, on which seven (7) houses are located.

3. Plaintiffs started hosting prayer group meetings in their home on Sunday afternoons in 1994, after Mr. Murphy became ill.

4. Mr. Murphy testified that he and his wife and six children had always hosted various social gatherings in their home and would often have fifty (50) to sixty (60) guests, depending on the event.

5. The prayer meetings generally last from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. on Sunday afternoons.

6. Some people who attend the prayer meetings come earlier than 4:30 for other matters, such as fund-raising or clothing or food donation drives, and many people stay after 6:30 p.m. for dinner.

7. Plaintiffs do not limit the number of people they invite to the prayer group meetings.

8. Plaintiffs' meetings are not open to the general public.

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9. The number of people attending the prayer group varies, but is never less than ten to twelve people.

10. The prayer group meetings generally take place on an enclosed porch at the back of the house.

11. The number of people attending the weekly prayer group meeting has declined, in part because of the enforcement action taken by the ZEO and NMZC, and a fear or belief maintained by some invitees that they will be arrested for attending.3

12. Mr. Murphy testified at the hearing on plaintiffs' motion for preliminary injunction (the "Preliminary Injunction Hearing") that the weekly prayer group meetings are an important part of his faith because of the way he was raised and, for him, did not take the place of church. He testified that the prayer meetings brought "him closer to God" and changed his life after he became ill.

13. Mr. Murphy testified at the Preliminary Injunction Hearing that his religious beliefs required him to hold the prayer group meetings on Sunday and that the enforcement of the Cease and Desist Order would impede his ability to practice his beliefs.

14. Plaintiffs built an addition to their home in August 2000, creating a new garage with an upstairs living area. At that time, the existing driveway stopped at the addition. Plaintiffs then built a roughed-in driveway to a handicapped-parking area at the back of the addition, although it is apparently used for more than handicapped parking. [Compare Pl.s' L.R. 9(c)(1) Statement with Def.s' L.R. 9(c)(2) Statement.]

15. Plaintiffs obtained a permit to pave the rough portion of the driveway and the handicapped parking area in November 2000. Plaintiffs did not pave the driveway during the fall because it was too late in the year, but indicated that they planned to do so in the future.

16. The NMZC and the ZEO have no authority to issue or revoke driveway permits. Rather, this authority is vested in the Mayor's office, and in the public works department.

17. Around August 2000, the zoning office began receiving complaints about plaintiffs' meetings because of traffic concerns, parking on the street, and parking in the rear yard.

18. After complaining to the zoning office, the neighbors then began expressing their concerns at the public participation sessions before the NMZC.

19. Once the NMZC began receiving these complaints from plaintiffs' neighbors, it instructed the ZEO to investigate the situation and to speak with plaintiffs.

20. Plaintiffs' neighbors submitted letters to the commissioners detailing their concerns. Specifically, the neighbors'

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concerns stemmed from the increased flow of traffic on the street and fear that, in the event of an accident, emergency personnel would be unable to maneuver around the vehicles. The neighbors also expressed concerns about the safety of children playing in the cul-de-sac.

21. The police have been called to plaintiffs' home on several occasions due to complaints about the number of parked cars, but plaintiffs have not been cited for any violation.

22. After her investigation of the neighbors' complaints, the ZEO requested that the NMZC issue an opinion on whether plaintiffs' use of their property conformed with the town's zoning regulations.

23. On November 28, 2000, the NMZC issued an opinion regarding whether the Sunday meetings were a permitted...

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9 practice notes
  • Konikov v. Orange County, Florida, No. 6:02-CV-376-ORL-28-JGG.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Florida
    • January 2, 2004
    ...721 F.2d at 733. A government's interest in zoning is indeed compelling. See Murphy v. Zoning Comm'n of the Town of New Milford, 289 F.Supp.2d 87, 108-09 (D.Conn.2003) (finding that zoning commission had established "a compelling interest in `enforcing the town's zoning regulations and ensu......
  • Church of Scientology of Ga., Inc. v. City of Sandy Springs, Ga., No. 1:10–CV–00082–AT.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Northern District of Georgia
    • February 10, 2012
    ...may attend a church would result in “turning people away” from religious services. See Murphy v. Zoning Com'n of Town of New Milford, 289 F.Supp.2d 87, 113–14 (D.Conn.2003), vac'd on other grounds in 402 F.3d 342 (2d Cir.2005)(holding that because plaintiff's claims were never ripe for judi......
  • Murphy v. New Milford Zoning Com'n, Docket No. 03-9329.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit
    • March 25, 2005
    ...CACRF and the Murphys' First Amendment rights to freely exercise their religion and to peaceably assemble. See Murphy v. Zoning Comm'n, 289 F.Supp.2d 87, 102-09, 114-15, 126 (D.Conn.2003). The district court also denied New Milford's affirmative defenses that: (1) both RLUIPA and the CACRF ......
  • Christman v. Kick, No. CIV.A.3:02 CV 1405 C.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Connecticut)
    • October 28, 2004
    ...accord Lisa's Party City, Inc. v. Town of Henrietta, 185 F.3d 12, 16 (2d Cir.1999); Murphy v. Zoning Com'n of Town of New Milford, 289 F.Supp.2d 87, 111 Page 93 Trooper Kick contends that Christman has failed to identify any other individuals that are "similarly situated," and, therefore, h......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
10 cases
  • Konikov v. Orange County, Florida, No. 6:02-CV-376-ORL-28-JGG.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Florida
    • January 2, 2004
    ...721 F.2d at 733. A government's interest in zoning is indeed compelling. See Murphy v. Zoning Comm'n of the Town of New Milford, 289 F.Supp.2d 87, 108-09 (D.Conn.2003) (finding that zoning commission had established "a compelling interest in `enforcing the town's zoning regulations and ensu......
  • Church of Scientology of Ga., Inc. v. City of Sandy Springs, Ga., No. 1:10–CV–00082–AT.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Northern District of Georgia
    • February 10, 2012
    ...may attend a church would result in “turning people away” from religious services. See Murphy v. Zoning Com'n of Town of New Milford, 289 F.Supp.2d 87, 113–14 (D.Conn.2003), vac'd on other grounds in 402 F.3d 342 (2d Cir.2005)(holding that because plaintiff's claims were never ripe for judi......
  • Murphy v. New Milford Zoning Com'n, Docket No. 03-9329.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit
    • March 25, 2005
    ...CACRF and the Murphys' First Amendment rights to freely exercise their religion and to peaceably assemble. See Murphy v. Zoning Comm'n, 289 F.Supp.2d 87, 102-09, 114-15, 126 (D.Conn.2003). The district court also denied New Milford's affirmative defenses that: (1) both RLUIPA and the CACRF ......
  • Christman v. Kick, No. CIV.A.3:02 CV 1405 C.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Connecticut)
    • October 28, 2004
    ...accord Lisa's Party City, Inc. v. Town of Henrietta, 185 F.3d 12, 16 (2d Cir.1999); Murphy v. Zoning Com'n of Town of New Milford, 289 F.Supp.2d 87, 111 Page 93 Trooper Kick contends that Christman has failed to identify any other individuals that are "similarly situated," and, therefore, h......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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