HIRA Educational Services North America v. Augustine, No. 18-2377 (3d Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
The Pennsylvania Department of General Services (DGS) solicited bids for a Shenango Township Youth Development Center, closed since 2013. HIRA, a consultant for Islamic educational groups, submitted the highest bid, $400,000, planning to establish a youth intervention center and Islamic boarding school. DGS and HIRA entered into a contract. Legislators sent a letter to Governor Wolf, claiming HIRA was not in a financial position to turn the property into an economic driver, that New Jersey had revoked HIRA’s corporate status, that HIRA reported low income, that HIRA had not returned their phone calls, and that contract paperwork remained incomplete. When Governor Wolf did not act, the Legislators spoke with the press and at a community meeting where some participants made comments about Muslims. Lawrence County opened a criminal investigation into the bidding process. The Legislators tried, unsuccessfully, to pass a law divesting DGS of authority to sell the property, then tried to persuade DGS to halt the sale. Shenango Township rezoned the property.
The sale fell through. DGS solicited new bids. HIRA offered $500,000; another group offered $2,000,000. Legislators promised to ensure the new purchaser secured funding. HIRA sued the officials, including the Legislators in their individual capacities, citing the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, the Pennsylvania Religious Freedom Protection Act, and 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court denied the Legislators’ motions to dismiss.
The Third Circuit reversed in part. Whether HIRA alleged conduct outside the sphere of legitimate legislative activities or that violates clearly established law is a question of law over which it had jurisdiction. Some of the allegations concerned “quintessentially legislative activities” for purposes of absolute immunity. Other allegations fell “well short of showing that the rights [HIRA] seeks to vindicate here were clearly established” for purposes of qualified immunity.