Court Order Cuts Attorneys’ Fees in Jacksonville Beach Case
Earlier this year, we reported that the dispute between Jacksonville Beach, Florida and the Church of Our Savior continued to boil in mediation, with attorneys’ fees nearing $700K. After finding that Jacksonville violated RLUIPA’s equal terms provision and that the city should have issued a conditional use permit (CUP), the Middle District Court of Florida ordered that the parties meet and discuss what “reasonable” conditions might be appropriate in the Church’s CUP.
In February, the parties’ discussions reportedly reached an impasse. In March, the City Council issued a CUP to Our Savior, which included several provisions that the Church found unacceptable. Law of the Land reports that last month, the court considered the various remaining issues between the parties:
On April 10, 2015, the Court conducted a hearing on three issues: the City’s motion for reconsideration of the Court’s original ruling finding the City to be in violation of the Equal Terms provision of RLUIPA, the Church’s objections to some of the conditions imposed by the City on the CUP, and the Church’s motion for attorneys’ fees and costs.
The motion of reconsideration was denied by the court since the City acknowledged there was no newly-discovered evidence and pointed to no intervening change in controlling law ….
As to the objections to the CUP, however, the court found some of the Church’s objections to have merit. The court agreed that there should be no provision prohibiting future variance applications, nor a condition mandating the Church to secure development plan approval of its proposed facilities “within twelve months of issuance of the conditional use permit …” Other conditions, such as imposing a pedestrian only easement, and requiring the erection of a fence, were permitted.
The Church sought $851,352.59 in attorney’s fees and costs…. the court found the amount of hours and fees charged to be excessive of the median, and therefore found that an across-the-board reduction of 50% appropriately accounted for all of the factors the Court has considered in this Order. Consequently, the Court awarded $281,535.68 in fees and $23,612.08 in expenses, for a total of $305,147.76.
The court’s final judgment is available here and the court’s order and opinion is available here. Our December, 2014 post, provides a detailed discussion of the case facts and all RLUIPA claims considered by the court. As we then noted, this case is important because it provides guidance on what it means to be a “similarly situated” comparator under RLUIPA’s equal terms provision.