Church Discrimination Lawsuit Costs Burbank Taxpayers $172,000

CHICAGO—Monday, the City of Burbank and the church Rios De Agua Viva entered into a settlement for $172,000 for damages resulting from Burbank’s blocking the church from purchasing the Old Barn banquet facility in 2010. The church attempted to get a special use permit to purchase the building at 8100 South Parkside Avenue, which is zoned commercial, but in the process, the city amended its law to prohibit non-tax generating groups from moving into commercial districts, preventing the church from moving to the property. “I hope that the settlement demonstrates that there’s a new, more culturally-welcoming Burbank. We are thankful that our ministry continues to grow at the location we purchased in Oak Lawn, where all are welcome,” said Pastor Luis Ruiz of Rios De Agua Viva. In addition to the $172,000 payment, the settlement also provides that Burbank will reimburse the church for its legal fees in federal court litigation.

In December 2010 the church filed a lawsuit in federal court against Burbank after seeing the proposed amendment the city was sneaking through in a newspaper notice. The lawsuit alleged that Burbank’s special use permit requirement was a violation of the Federal Religious Land Use Act, RLUIPA, and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; because the prior ordinance permitted nonreligious assemblies, such as theaters, but not religious assemblies in the commercial district without that special use permit. Then, in February 2017, Federal Judge Ellis entered a summary judgement for liability against Burbank and in favor of the church and the parties agreed to the amount of $172,000 damages inflicted on the church.

Christian Assembly Rios de Agua Viva was originally looking for a new home to support the church’s growth. It had plans to renovate the property to accommodate 428 seats in a sanctuary, expand its youth outreach, and offer more classes. Due to the unlikelihood of the city ever granting the special use permit, the church eventually purchased a property in Oak Lawn in November 2015. Burbank eventually tore the Old Barn building down. The property is a large, vacant lot. “It was a long hard legal fight, but we are pleased that Rios De Agua Viva ultimately prevailed,” said John Mauck, the church’s attorney from the law firm, Mauck & Baker, LLC.