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Academy of Our Lady of Peace v. City of San Diego

April 1, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hayes, Judge


The matter before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment and Plaintiff's Motion for Permanent Injunction. (Doc. # 17, 25).

I. Background

On May 5, 2009, Plaintiff Academy of Our Lady of Peace ("OLP") initiated this action by filing a Complaint in this Court against Defendant City Council of the City of San Diego ("City Council") and Defendant City of San Diego (collectively, "City"). (Doc. # 1). OLP is a nonprofit corporation which operates a Catholic, liberal arts, college-preparatory high school for young women. (Id. ¶ 3). The Complaint alleges that OLP's "existing campus facilities are woefully outdated and inadequate to meet OLP's mission" to educate and "inspire its students to grow as committed Christians." (Id. ¶¶ 12-13). OLP proposed a "Modernization Plan... that would add two new facilities to the 84-year old campus: an approximately 20,545 square foot, two-story classroom building on the west side of the campus, and a two-level, 104-space parking structure on the east side of campus." (Id. ¶ 15). OLP's "Modernization Plan would also require the demolition or removal of three single-family residences that OLP owns." (Id.) In 2007, OLP applied to the City for an amendment to its existing "Conditional Use Permit" ("CUP") and other use permits in order to implement OLP's Modernization Plan. (Id. ¶ 16). On March 3, 2009, the City Council denied the use permits necessary to implement OLP's Modernization Plan. (Id. ¶ 27). The Complaint alleges that "[t]he City's action[s] in... rejecting the Modernization Plan have effectively precluded OLP from meeting its classroom space and program needs at its current campus.... The City's decision has imposed a substantial burden on OLP's religious mission because it cannot provide the Catholic education it exists to provide." (Id. ¶ 28).

The Complaint alleges thirteen causes of action related to the City's March 3, 2009 decision to deny the Use Permits. The first cause of action alleges a violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 ("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. §2000cc, et seq. (Id. at 9). The next ten causes of action allege violations of OLP's right to free exercise of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of association, equal protection and due process, as secured by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, and Article 1, Sections 2-7 of the California Constitution. (Id. at 10-13). The first eleven causes of action seek compensatory damages, attorney fees and "an order declaring void the City's decision to reject the Modernization Plan, and instead directing that [the] City issue Use Permits allowing the Modernization Plan." (Id. at 16). The twelfth cause of action is a petition for writ of mandate pursuant to California Code of Civil Procedure § 1094.5, seeking an order directing the City to invalidate the March 3, 2009 City Council decision and issue the Use Permits necessary to implement the Modernization Plan. (Id. at 13-14). The thirteenth and final cause of action relates to the September 18, 2007 decision by an Administrative Law Judge employed by the City finding OLP in violation of the then-current CUP and ordering OLP to pay fines. (Id. at 14-16).

On May 26, 2009, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss the thirteenth cause of action of the Complaint. (Doc. # 6). On July 28, 2009, the Court granted the Motion to Dismiss and dismissed the thirteenth cause of action. (Doc. # 13).

On November 23, 2009, the Magistrate Judge conducted an Early Neutral Evaluation Conference. After the Conference, the Magistrate Judge issued an order which stated:

There are central legal issues which can be addressed early on by way of a motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff will be filing a motion for summary judgment on or before January 15, 2010. Defendant will be opposing and the Court sets a telephonic Case Management Conference for April 12, 2010 at 9:30 a.m. to set further dates and deadlines as appropriate.... The record relative to the underlying dispute is complete and there is no need for disclosures under Rule 26 or formal discovery at this time. Should the Court find triable issues of fact do exist, any needed discovery can be dealt with after the dispositive motion. (Doc. # 15 at 1).

On January 15, 2010, OLP filed the Motion for Partial Summary Judgment and the Motion for Permanent Injunction. (Doc. # 17, 25). OLP contends that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law as to the Complaint's first cause of action that "the City violated... RLUIPA... when it rejected OLP's application for its 'Modernization Plan'... in that the rejection imposed a substantial burden on the exercise of religion by OLP and its students and faculty." (Doc. # 17 at 1-2). According to OLP, "[i]f the Court grants summary judgment as requested, the [proposed permanent] injunction would command the City... to approve the Modernization Plan in the form approved by the City's Planning Commission." (Id. at 2; see also Doc. # 25 at 1-2). OLP submitted numerous affidavits and exhibits in support of its motions. (Doc. # 17-26).

On February 17, 2010, the City filed an opposition to OLP's motions. (Doc. # 29). The City stated that "[d]ue to the limited nature of discovery and scope of this motion, Defendants rely exclusively on declarations and supporting documents submitted by Plaintiff." (Id. at 1).

On February 25, 2010, OLP filed a reply in support of its motions. (Doc. # 30).

On March 22, 2010, the Court conducted oral argument on OLP's pending motions. (Doc. # 31).

II. Facts

A. OLP and Religion

OLP is a Catholic high school for girls, the only single gender high school for girls in San Diego County. (Mahadevan Dec., ¶ 3, 2:23-24). OLP was founded in 1882 by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, an order of nuns dating back to France in 1650. (Anchondo Dec., ¶ 2, 2:3-8). OLP purchased its present location, in the North Park area of San Diego, in 1925 and moved its campus there in 1926. (Anchondo Dec., ¶ 2, 2:13-14, Ex. A:9-20). OLP's facilities have been consecrated and have long been used, and continue to be used, for religious services and activities. (Anchondo Dec., ¶ 2, 2:9--3:1, ¶ 4, 3:21-27). OLP's official Mission is "twofold: to assist and enable parents to fulfill their role as the primary educators, and to inspire its students to grow as committed Christians who are building Christ's kingdom of justice, love and peace" through a college-preparatory program. (Anchondo Dec., ¶ 3, 3:4-10). Crucifixes are present in every classroom. (Anchondo Dec., ¶ 5, 4:6). OLP requires students to pass a religious studies class each year to graduate. (Anchondo Dec., ¶ 4, 3:12-14). Each day begins with a prayer broadcast over the school's public address system, with additional prayers offered throughout the day. (Anchondo Dec., ¶ 5, 4:4-10). OLP's individual departments and classes are required to reflect OLP's religious purposes. (Anchondo Dec., ¶¶ 5-6). The City Council has repeatedly recognized OLP's religious nature and praised its value. (Mahadevan Dec., Ex. E:35--G:49).

B. OLP's Facilities

OLP's Principal stated in a declaration:

OLP's facilities are inadequate, both in themselves and in comparison to standards, to be able to provide this Catholic education. Meeting these standards and having facilities comparable to other schools are important because about 98% of our graduates enroll in college.... I do not believe that OLP... would be able to survive at all if we could not offer a competitive college-preparatory curriculum, for which we need the facilities in the Modernization Plan. (Anchondo Dec., ¶ 7, 5:2-5; Ex. E:42).

OLP's Chief Financial Officer submitted a declaration outlining the following "specific problems" with OLP's current facilities:

(a) Religion teachers must float between classrooms, rather than having a dedicated religion classroom. (Mahadevan Dec., ¶ 9a, 5:3-6).

(b) There are fewer science labs than needed for OLP's students. (Mahadevan Dec., ¶ 9b, 5:7-18).

(c) The existing computer room is inadequately small and contains view-blocking pillars. (Mahadevan Dec., ¶ 9c, 5:19-23, Ex. D:32).

(d) OLP's arts studios are too small and subject to physical constraints such as structural pillars in the way. (Mahadevan Dec., ¶ 9d, 5:24--6:11, Ex. D:30, D:33). (e) OLP's administrative offices are small and scattered from each other and the activities being supervised. (Mahadevan Dec., ¶ 9e, 6:12-17, Ex. D:31).

(f) OLP's library is smaller than OLP's students need. (Mahadevan Dec., ¶ 9f, 6:18-22).

OLP's Chief Financial Officer stated that the Modernization Plan would have solved these specific problems, and "would have provided an integral campus with all parking, classroom and administrative space within a securable perimeter while preserving the historical areas of the campus and meeting our religious and operational needs for the foreseeable future." (Mahadevan Dec., ¶ 9, 4:27--5:2).

OLP submitted declarations indicating that OLP's current campus is subject to unusual site constraints, including steep slopes, restricted fire access, and historic, architecturally-valuable buildings. (Lia Dec., ¶ 8, 6:9-22; Mahadevan Dec., ¶ 2, 2:9-11, 14-15; Marshall Dec., ¶ 6, 4:6-10; McArdle Dec., ¶ 3a, 2:23-27; 3c--3f, 3:9--4:7). An architect submitted a declaration indicating that "OLP asked [his firm] to evaluate the merits of potential adaptive reuse of several existing buildings on campus, to convert current spaces into classroom and support uses so as not to need something like the Modernization Plan." (McArdle Dec., ¶ 4, 4:8-10). The architect stated that OLP's existing buildings do not meet structural standards for the proposed reuse, such as for height of classrooms, load bearing ability, ventilation, and compliance with disabled access requirements, and upgrades would be extensive and expensive. (McArdle Dec., ¶ 4a-4e, 4:21--6:12).

C. City Planning Commission Decision

OLP submitted its application for the Modernization Plan to the City in 2007. (Tunney Dec., ¶ 2-3, 2:5-22, Exs. A:8--F:45). The project went through extensive City review lasting over a year. (Tunney Dec., ¶ 4-6, 2:23--3:26, Exs. G:47--O:442). City staff determined that the Modernization Plan needed four use permits: a planned development permit for height, setback and use of tandem parking; a site development permit because part of the property contained steep slopes; an amendment to OLP's existing CUP to allow the school to have 750 students; and a neighborhood development permit, also for tandem parking. (Tunney Dec., ¶ 6, 3:14-23, Ex. N:206-207). OLP made frequent efforts to engage the community about the Modernization Plan. (Mahadevan Dec., ¶ 6, 3:15-24). ...

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