MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
John J. Tharp, Jr., United States District Judge.
The Court's prior opinion in this case addressed the question "when is a church like a library?" Now the Court must address a more narrow question: "When is
I. Procedural History
The Church filed its first Complaint in February 2017, alleging that the City's parking regulations facially violate RLUIPA's equal-terms provision and deny the Church equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. See Immanuel Baptist Church v. City of Chicago, 283 F.Supp.3d 670, 670 (N.D. Ill. 2017). The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The Court granted the City's motion for summary judgment on the RLUIPA claim because the Church failed to present evidence to support its facial challenge. Id. at 681. The Court also granted the City's motion for summary judgment on the equal protection claim, but granted the Church leave to file an amended complaint asserting an as-applied RLUIPA claim.
Immanuel Baptist Church meets at 1443 W. Roosevelt Road (the "Property") in Chicago, Illinois. The Property, which the Church has rented since 2011, is approximately 3,900 square feet and consists of a worship center and classrooms. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 20, 21. The Property does not offer off-street parking, but street parking is widely available in the surrounding area and many of the Church's members choose to walk or take public transit. Id. at ¶ 25. The Church facilitates a variety of ministries and religious exercises for its 60-person congregation at the Property, including weekly worship assemblies, preaching, pastoral counseling, prayer meetings, singing and musical performances, baptisms, weddings, communion, bible studies, service projects, evangelism, and financial giving. Id. at ¶ 48.
In 2016, the Church reached an agreement to purchase the Property from its owner, but the Church's lender required a determination regarding legal parking requirements before the deal could close. Id. at ¶ 31. The City subsequently informed the Church that, while religious assemblies are a permitted use at the Property, the Church could not be established without meeting parking requirements listed in the Chicago Zoning Ordinance, section 17-10-0207.
The Church has pursued several avenues in attempting to meet the parking requirements. One possibility was to lease a nearby unused parking lot owned by the Chicago Housing Authority ("CHA"). The CHA indicated that due to regulations, any lease could be for a maximum of 364 days at a time. Id. at ¶ 35. Patrick Murphey, the City's Assistant Commissioner, told the Church that a 364-day lease would be insufficient and added that the City must "determine if a religious assembly use is something it wants to promote on a commercial corridor such as Roosevelt Road." Id. at ¶ 36. Because the Church has been unable to work out parking arrangements, its lender has not provided the financing needed to purchase the Property. Id. at ¶¶ 43, 45.
The Church alleges that the City applies its parking requirements unequally and points to two comparators in support of its claim. The first, the Rudy Lozano Branch of the Chicago Public Library, is located a few blocks from the Church at 1805 S Loomis Street. The 18,000 square foot library has two meeting rooms available to the public, one with a capacity for 60 people and another with a capacity for 20 people. Id. at ¶¶ 67, 74. The rooms have held assemblies such as public forums, community meetings, and political meetings. Id. at ¶ 74. The library also holds a number of regular assemblages throughout the week, including "Teen Tuesday," "Super-Duper Playtime," "Superhero Story Time," and "Super Experiments." Id. at ¶ 75. In addition, the library offers general seating for approximately 150 patrons. Id. at ¶ 73. According to the City's zoning code, a library of this size should provide 14 off-street parking spots.
The Church also identifies as a second comparator the Taylor Street Library, a recently approved construction project located in the same zoning district as the Church. The project will consist of the 14,000 square foot library as well as 73 residential units. The City's zoning ordinances require that a project of this size include at least 83 parking spaces, but the project is slated to have only 26 in total. Id. at ¶ 78-81.
To survive a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to `state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). A claim has "facial plausibility" where the complaint's factual content "allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. When considering a motion to dismiss, the Court construes all inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Zemeckis v. Global Credit & Collection Corp., 679 F.3d 632, 634 (7th Cir. 2012). The
The Church argues that the City has violated the "equal-terms" provision of RLUIPA by providing libraries with ample exceptions to the City's parking requirements, while refusing to provide such exceptions for the Church. Am. Compl. ¶ 86. RLUIPA's equal-terms provision bars a government from imposing or implementing "a land use regulation in a manner that treats a religious assembly or institution on less than equal terms with a nonreligious assembly or institution." 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc(b)(1). The statute is violated "whenever religious land uses are treated worse than comparable nonreligious ones, whether or not the discrimination imposes a substantial burden on the religious uses." Digrugilliers v. Consol. City of Indianapolis, 506 F.3d 612, 616 (7th Cir. 2007) (citing Vision Church, United Methodist v. Vill. of Long Grove, 468 F.3d 975, 1002-03 (7th Cir. 2006)); Primera Iglesia Bautista Hispana of Boca Raton, Inc. v. Broward Cty., 450 F.3d 1295, 1308 (11th Cir. 2006); Midrash Sephardi, Inc. v. Town of Surfside, 366 F.3d 1214, 1229-31 (11th Cir. 2004).
In River of Life Kingdom Ministries v. Village of Hazel Crest, Illinois, the Seventh Circuit held that an equal-terms violation exists if a religious land use is treated less favorably than a secular land use that is similarly situated as to the relevant zoning criterion. 611 F.3d 367, 370-372 (7th Cir. 2010) (en banc); see also Affordable Recovery Hous. v. City of Blue Island, No. 12-cv-4241, 2016 WL 5171765, at *14 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 21, 2016) ("According to the Seventh Circuit, a regulation will violate the `equal terms' provision of RLUIPA only if it treats religious assemblies or institutions less well than secular assemblies or institutions that are similarly situated as to the accepted zoning criteria.") (citing River of Life, 611 F.3d 367). A plaintiff need not demonstrate unequal treatment in all respects between two institutions, but only that they are "similarly situated in all relevant respects." Vision Church, 468 F.3d at 1003. For example, "if a church and a community center, though different in many respects, do not differ with respect to any accepted zoning criterion, then an ordinance that allows one and forbids the other denies equality and violates the equal-terms provision." River of Life, 611 F.3d at 371.
As explained in the Court's prior opinion, an equal-terms violation may occur in one of three ways. Immanuel Baptist Church, 283 F.Supp.3d at 676. First, a statute can facially differentiate between religious and nonreligious assemblies or institutions. Second, a facially neutral statute can be "gerrymandered" to place a burden solely on religious, as opposed to nonreligious, assemblies or institutions. Third, a truly neutral statute can be selectively enforced against religious, as opposed to nonreligious, assemblies or institutions. Irshad Learning Ctr. v. Cty. of DuPage, 937 F.Supp.2d 910, 932 (N.D. Ill. 2013) (citing Vision Church, 468 F.3d at 1003). Although the Church previously failed to establish a facial violation of RLUIPA, its Amended Complaint adequately alleges the third type of violation, i.e. that the City applies its parking regulations unequally by granting exemptions to libraries but not to religious assemblies.
To establish a prima facie equal-terms violation, the plaintiff must come forward with evidence of a similarly situated secular comparator that is more favorably treated.
I. Lozano Library
The Church has adequately pleaded that it is similarly situated to the Lozano Library with respect to its need for off-street parking. Drawing all inferences in favor of the plaintiff as the Court must at this stage, it is plausible that both the Church and the Lozano Library generate "groups of people coming and going at the same time" such that their respective parking needs are the same. River of Life, 611 F.3d at 373. Specifically, the Church points to the Lozano Library's public meeting rooms which allow groups of up to 60 people — the number of members in the Church's congregation — to assemble, as well as several weekly events hosted by the Library. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 74, 75. The City argues that the Church failed to allege that meetings of large groups happen with any regularity or that weekly events attract large crowds. Def.'s Memo. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss 8, ECF No. 46. As other courts have noted, however, an identical comparator is not required. See Bensalem Masjid, Inc. v. Bensalem Township, No. 14-6955, 2015 WL 5611546, at *5 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 22, 2015) (denying defendant's motion to dismiss and rejecting defendant's argument that "Plaintiff must identify an identical comparator"). Further, it is unreasonable at this stage in the litigation to expect the Church to accurately identify either the exact number of individuals attending weekly events or the precise frequency of large group meetings. A complaint need only contain "`enough fact to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence' to support liability for the wrongdoing alleged." Adams v. City of Indianapolis, 742 F.3d 720, 729 (7th Cir. 2014) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). The Church has satisfied this burden.
The City contends that the Lozano Library is nevertheless an improper
The Court is also unpersuaded by the City's argument that the Library is not a suitable comparator given its location on a street "well served by public transit" where "foot traffic is encouraged." Def.'s Memo. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss 6, ECF No. 46. Even if the Court were to follow the City's suggestion and take judicial notice of these facts (which appear outside the Church's Amended Complaint)
The analysis does not, however, end there. A plaintiff asserting a RLUIPA equal-terms violation must also establish that it is treated on "less than equal terms" with the identified comparator. 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc(b)(1). Accepting the facts in the Amended Complaint as true, it is more than plausible that the City has treated the Church less favorably than the Lozano Library. According to the Church, the City has "made ample exceptions to its parking ordinance for libraries but has refused to do so for the Church." Am. Compl. ¶ 9. The Church also alleges that the Lozano Library should have 14 parking spaces to legally operate but offers none, and that the City denied that it could legally disregard its zoning ordinance when the Church asked for similar exceptions. Id. at ¶¶ 68, 83. These factual allegations are enough to plausibly state a claim.
The City attempts to counter this showing by pointing out that the Amended Complaint states that the Lozano Library opened in 1989. Id. at ¶ 67. It appears to argue that there can be no unequal treatment challenge given that "land-use regulations change over time and once-conforming buildings may become nonconforming." Def.'s Memo. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss 7, ECF No. 46. In other words, the City argues that its requirement that the Church, but not the Library, provide parking is not the result of unequal treatment, but instead the result of equal application of parking regulations which have changed over time. If that turns out to be true, the City may prevail in its argument that the library is not a valid comparator for the Church. But at this juncture the City offers no more than the possibility that different zoning regimes may account for differences in treatment; facts about the history of the City's parking requirements lie outside the Amended Complaint and mere possibility does not defeat a motion to dismiss. Arguments about temporally distant land-use decisions are therefore premature at this stage in the litigation.
The City also relies on Third Church of Christ, Scientist v. City of New York for its statement that "organizations subject to different land-use regimes may well not be sufficiently similar to support a discriminatory-enforcement challenge." 626 F.3d 667, 671 (2d Cir. 2010). True enough, but that differences in land-use regimes
II. Taylor Street Library
On the other hand, the Church has not alleged that the Taylor Street Library has similar off-street parking needs. Its Amended Complaint is devoid of any facts pertaining to how the future library will be used. The Church notes that "the library is still under construction and there is no public information about the meeting rooms and assemblies" but that the new project will "no doubt create traffic and parking concerns." Pl.'s Response 12, 13-14, ECF No. 47. This could be true whether the project included a library or not, however, and it says nothing about whether those "concerns" are comparable to those generated by the operations of the Church. The Church must plead facts showing that "it is plausible, rather than merely speculative" that the Taylor Street Library will have similar parking needs. Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1083 (7th Cir. 2008) (citing Lang v. TCF Nat. Bank, 249 F. App'x 464, 466 (7th Cir.
* * *
For the reasons stated above, the Court denies the City's motion to dismiss. The Church's RLUIPA claim may proceed on an as-applied basis.