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Chabad Lubavitch of Litchfield County, Inc. v. Litchfield Historic District Commission

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

August 14, 2019

CHABAD LUBAVITCH OF LITCHFIELD COUNTY, INC., Plaintiff-Appellee-Cross-Appellant,
v.
LITCHFIELD HISTORIC DISTRICT COMMISSION, BOROUGH OF LITCHFIELD, CONNECTICUT, Defendants-Appellants-Cross-Appellees.

          Argued: June 10, 2019

         Appeal and cross-appeal from an order of the District Court for the District of Connecticut (Janet C. Hall, District Judge) awarding attorney's fees to Chabad Lubavitch of Litchfield County, Inc. against Litchfield Historic District Commission and Borough of Litchfield, Connecticut in litigation successfully claiming a violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000cc et seq. Defendants-Appellants contend that Plaintiff-Appellee was not a prevailing party. Plaintiff-Appellee contends fees were improperly disallowed for time spent during administrative proceedings.

          H. James Stedronsky, Stedronsky & Meter, LLC, Litchfield, CT, and C. Scott Schwefel, Shipman, Shaiken & Schwefel, LLC, West Hartford, CT (Mark S. Shipman, Shipman, Shaiken & Schwefel, LLC, West Hartford, CT, on the brief), for Defendants- Appellants-Cross-Appellees Borough of Litchfield, Connecticut and Litchfield Historic District Commission, respectively.

          Daniel P. Dalton, Dalton & Tomich, PLC, Detroit, MI, for Plaintiff-Appellee-Cross-Appellant Chabad Lubavitch of Litchfield County, Inc.

          Before: NEWMAN, HALL, and CHIN, Circuit Judges. [1]

          JON O. NEWMAN, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         This appeal primarily requires determination of whether a plaintiff in litigation successfully claiming a violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000cc et seq. ("RLUIPA") is entitled to attorney's fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b) as a prevailing party and, if so, whether such fees may be awarded for time spent during administrative proceedings that preceded the challenged action. These issues arise on an appeal by the Borough of Litchfield, Connecticut, ("Borough") and the Litchfield Historic District Commission ("HDC") (collectively, "Defendants"), and a cross-appeal by Plaintiff Chabad Lubavitch of Litchfield County Inc. ("Chabad") from the May 23, 2018, order of the District Court for the District of Connecticut (Janet C. Hall, District Judge) awarding attorney's fees to Chabad. See Chabad Lubavitch v. Borough of Litchfield, No. 3:09-CV-1419 (JCH), 2018 WL 2332075 (D. Conn. May 23, 2018) ("Fee Opinion"). The District Court ruled that Chabad was a prevailing party in the underlying litigation, but denied fees incurred during the administrative proceedings and reduced the award further by 50 percent to reflect Plaintiff's partial success. The underlying litigation concerns Chabad's challenge to Defendants' rulings on its application for a Certificate of Appropriateness ("COA") to renovate an historic building that it owns.

         We conclude that Chabad is entitled to attorney's fees as a prevailing party, that it may not obtain fees for the administrative proceedings for failure to identify "the discrete portion of the work product from the administrative proceedings" for which fees might have been awarded, North Carolina Dep't of Transportation v. Crest Street Community Council, Inc., 479 U.S. 6, 15 (1986), and that the 50 percent reduction was appropriate. We therefore affirm.

         Background

         Facts.

         Chabad is a religious corporation that owns a building ("Chabad House") in the Litchfield Historic District. The Borough of Litchfield is an independent municipal corporation within the town of Litchfield, Connecticut. The Borough established HDC to govern aspects of the construction and modification of buildings within the Litchfield Historic District.

         Chabad planned to build an addition to its building to accommodate its rabbi's family and the needs of the Chabad community. The proposed expansion required Chabad to apply to HDC for a certificate of appropriateness ("COA"). HDC held four meetings in 2007 to consider Chabad's application. The purpose of one of the meetings was to determine "whether denial of the Chabad's application would place a 'substantial burden' on the Chabad's religious exercise." Chabad Lubavitch of Litchfield County, Inc. v. Borough of Litchfield, Connecticut, No. 3:09-cv- 1419, 2017 WL 5015624, at *9 (D. Conn. Nov. 2, 2017) ("Merits Opinion").

         In December 2007, HDC denied Chabad's application without prejudice. HDC stated that it would not approve an addition as large as that proposed by Chabad, which was "'over five times as large'" as the original structure, and "'dominate[d] the original house in every aspect'" See id. at *11 (quoting HDC decision). However, HDC said that it would approve "'an addition equal in square footage to the [original] house.'" Id. at *12 (quoting HDC decision). HDC therefore invited Chabad to submit a new proposal. HDC did not consider the religious needs of the Chabad in its decision, but analyzed Chabad's use of the proposed interior "'in an attempt to address what [the] RLUIPA required of [it].'" Id. (quoting HDC decision).

         Litigation ...


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