The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, in Temple B'Nai Zion, Inc v. City of Sunny Isles, No. 12-12094 (Aug. 29, 2013), held that the Williamson County ripeness doctrine did not prevent the Temple from bringing its RLUIPA (and related) claims in federal court.
The right result for sure. But wait, you say, isn't Williamson County a ripeness rule for takings claims? After all, it supposedly is based in the language of the Fifth Amendment (the taking isn't unconstitutional until just compensation has not been paid, and there's been no "taking" until the government has made a final decision)? No matter, several courts have extended the Williamson County doctrine beyond takings claims, requiring plaintiffs in free speech, due process, and religious land use cases to exhaust administrative remedies before they come to federal court.
The Eleventh Circuit rejected the defense, but not because Williamson County simply doesn't apply in a RLUIPA case. The court held that the city had taken a firm stance by designating the Temple a historic landmark, and because the Temple asserted the city's actions were "motivated by discriminatory animus," the plaintiff's alleged injury was complete. See slip op. at 16.
We wish the court would have said that Williamson County just doesn't apply, and that the usual rules of article III ripeness were the right test for measuring whether the dispute was developed enough to go forward.
We look forward to more about this decision from our RLUIPA gurus.