Obtaining Mandamus Relief to Allow Church Development

A Holland & Knight litigator and public policy attorney successfully represented the Southern Baptist Convention's North American Mission Board (NAMB) in a lawsuit that found a metropolitan suburb unconstitutionally denied a permit that would allow NAMB's multimillion-dollar development to move forward.
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A Holland & Knight litigation attorney successfully represented the Southern Baptist Convention's North American Mission Board (NAMB) in a lawsuit against a Metro Atlanta city over the city's refusal to process and issue permits needed for NAMB's development. After extensive discovery, briefing and oral argument, Public Policy Attorney and Litigator Jake Evans successfully argued before a Superior Court judge, who issued a writ of mandamus ordering the city to process and issue the permits as well as find that the city's actions unconstitutionally took NAMB's property rights in the permits. The city ultimately issued the permits and paid NAMB's legal fees to get the remaining claims in the case dismissed.

NAMB sought to build a $15 million complex and ministry center, complete with missionary housing, a training hub, gym, playground, pavilion, parking lots and soccer fields in the city that is home to a large number of refugees, with more than 40 nationalities represented and 60 languages spoken in its 1.4 square miles. NAMB selected the location because of the large refugee and low-income population. The U.S. Census estimates that more than half of the city's population of about 13,000 people are foreign-born.

The controversy centered around two vacant homes that would have to be demolished for the project to move forward. The church applied for demolition permits for the homes. A few days later, the city passed a six-month moratorium, precluding all demolition applications from being possessed and permits from being issued. Mr. Evans went to work immediately, filing a petition on NAMB's behalf for 1) a writ of mandamus ordering the city to process and issue the demolition permits, 2) a declaratory judgment declaring that the moratorium be found unconstitutional and 3) damages for the harm caused by the city depriving NAMB of its constitutional rights. The lawsuit alleged that the city of acting unconstitutionally by retroactively taking NAMB's vested property rights in the demolition permits.

The city fought against the NAMB lawsuit. After depositions, written discovery and briefing on dueling Motions for Summary Judgment, the superior court ruled in favor of NAMB and granted its Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. The court held that the moratorium on demolitions was unconstitutional and ordered the city to process the demolition permits for the two homes.

The city appealed the order, but after discussions with Mr. Evans, Holland & Knight's litigation team and NAMB, the parties settled the case. In exchange for NAMB agreeing to dismiss its claim for damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the city agreed to pay NAMB $25,000, dismiss the appeal and issue the demolition permits.

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