Tree of Life Christian Scool. v. City of Upper Arlington, No. 17-4190 (6th Cir. 2018)Annotate this Case
Upper Arlington's Master Plan guides its zoning decisions, emphasizing the need to increase the city’s revenue by attracting business development in the small portion of the city’s land that is devoted to commercial use. To further the Plan’s goals, the Unified Development Ordinance restricts the use of areas zoned "office district" to specific uses that are primarily commercial. The operation of schools, both secular and religious, is prohibited within the office district. Nonetheless, Tree of Life decided to purchase a large office building on a 16-acre tract within the office district for the operation of a pre-K through 12th-grade school. After failing to secure authorization to operate the school, Tree filed suit, citing the “equal terms” provision of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. 2000cc(b)(1). After two prior appeals, the district court granted Upper Arlington judgment, holding that the Ordinance is no more onerous to Tree than to non-religious entities that generate comparably small amounts of revenue for the city. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Revenue maximization is a legitimate regulatory purpose. Upper Arlington’s assertion of revenue maximization as the purpose of the Ordinance is not pretextual. Daycares are the only potentially valid comparator put forward by Tree, which presented no evidence suggesting that nonprofit daycares are similarly situated to its proposed school in terms of their capacity to generate revenue.