COSTA MESA – In a closely watched decision, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals today upheld the city of Morgan Hills’ denial of a re-zoning application by San Jose Christian College. The college had challenged the city’s action in court, contending it violated the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and the Constitution. Morgan Hill was represented by Rutan & Tucker attorneys John Ramirez and Jeffrey Melching, of the firm’s Municipal and Government Law Section. The college sued over the City Council’s denial of a re-zoning request to allow an expansion of the college in an area designated for public use and originally envisioned for a hospital complex. The three-judge panel said the city’s action “did not violate [the] College’s right to the free exercise of religion, or otherwise run afoul of the Constitution” and “did not violate RLUIPA.” It upheld a lower court’s dismissal of the case. RLUIPA was enacted in 2000, and this is the first Ninth Circuit decision interpreting the act, intended to prevent government from “burdening” religious exercise, in a land use context. It was closely watched by cities and counties throughout the West – 61 California cities and one county joined in an amicus brief urging the court to uphold Morgan Hill. Rutan and Tucker is in the forefront of this rapidly developing area of the law, having represented several public entities in these types of disputes (and in attempting to defuse potential disputes), including Sutter County and the cities of San Buenaventura and La Habra.