St. Vincent de Paul Place, Norwich, Inc. v. City of Norwich
Article III of the United States Constitution requires federal courts to decide only actual cases and controversies, and a claim may not yet be "ripe" for litigation, if the claim rests on contingent future events that may not occur and that have not yet matured into a substantial controversy that merits judicial intervention. The plaintiff, St. Vincent de Paul Place, is a ministry of the Roman Catholic Diocese that operates a soup kitchen and provides shelter to the homeless. In July 2012, St. Vincent was evicted from its former Railroad Place premises in Norwich and obtained a temporary, six-month permit to occupy property adjacent to a church on Cliff Street. St. Vincent requested a special permit, which the municipal plan commission denied in December 2012. The zoning enforcement officer informed St. Vincent that its occupation of Cliff Street violated the building code. St. Vincent appealed to the zoning board of appeals and requested a variance. St. Vincent sued the city, alleging that the city's burdensome, discriminatory and unreasonable land-use regulations barred the free exercise of religion, in violation of RLUIPA, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. The city moved to dismiss and argued that St. Vincent's claims were not yet ripe for review. The District Court, Eginton, J., found that because the plaintiff did not request a variance prior to filing a complaint in District Court, and the application for a variance had not yet been denied, the plaintiff's injury was conjectural and might not take place. "[Plaintiff's] injury is merely speculative and may never occur," wrote the court, "depending on the final administrative resolution of [plaintiff's] variance application." The District Court granted the city's motion to dismiss on the basis that the plaintiff's claim was not yet ripe for review, and the plaintiff appealed. In May 2013, the zoning board denied the plaintiff's request for a variance. Consequently, it appears that the plaintiff's claims have become ripe. The 2nd Circuit vacated and remanded to the District Court. Brian Smith, Timothy Bates, Kathleen Dion and Evan Seeman represented the plaintiffs. Joseph Schwartz and Michael Zizka represented the defendants.