Thai Meditation Association of Alabama, Inc., v. City of Mobile: Eleventh Circuit Finds District Court Improperly Dismissed Plaintiff’s Claims that City Violated State and Federal Religions Protection Laws

Hannah Cassady*

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In Thai Meditation Ass’n of Alabama, Inc., v. City of Mobile, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit addressed whether the district court erred in its dismissal of claims brought by the Thai Meditation Association of Alabama (“the Association”) against the city of Mobile, Alabama (“the City”) for the denial of a permit.  The Association applied to the City for permits to build a “Buddhist meditation and retreat center,” the prospect of which was not received well by the public.  Due to the Association’s religious affiliation and the subsequent public outrage, the permit denial led the Association to believe that the City violated the U.S. Constitution, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), the Alabama Constitution, and state common law.  The Eleventh Circuit declined to decide whether the City committed these violations but held that the district court improperly dismissed the Association’s federal constitutional, RLUIPA, and state constitutional claims. Going forward, the Eleventh Circuit’s opinion in this case will likely be considered by similarly situated plaintiffs in determining whether to bring claims under federal or state law—especially plaintiffs in Alabama who are members of a religious minority.

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