November 19, 2012

Maine lawsuit claiming religious discrimination is dismissed

A Brewer property owner said the city would not give his tenant a permit to expand Rock Church.

By Scott Dolan sdolan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND – A lawsuit filed by the owner of a Brewer shopping plaza against the city of Brewer, in which he claimed the city violated the religious rights of his church tenant, was dismissed Monday in U.S. District Court.

Federal Judge D. Brock Hornby said in his decision that Dana Cassidy, owner of North Brewer Shopping Plaza, did not meet the requirements to bring a legal challenge against the city, although the tenant, Rock Church, was a religious entity.

Cassidy filed his complaint in federal court in April after the Rock Church, a tenant for several years, applied for a permit in February to expand its space from 4,500 square feet to 14,000 square feet. The request was denied, and the church moved out of Cassidy's plaza at the end of March and merged with another congregation in Bangor.

The city's code enforcement officer, Ben Breadmore, denied the church's application because the use of a church in the strip mall zoning was not permitted. The city had not previously enforced the code while the church occupied the existing space.

The church chose not to expand after Breadmore's denial of the permit, Hornby said in his written decision, leaving Brewer by its own volition.

Cassidy's attorney, Edmond Bearor, argued in court Thursday during a hearing that Brewer had run the church out of town and that Cassidy had suffered economic damages as a result.

"The church fled the city of Brewer much like Moses," Bearor said, appearing on a video conference call.

The attorney for the city of Brewer, Heidi Hart, argued on Thursday that the complaint filed by Cassidy does not fall in the jurisdiction of the federal court, since his complaint addresses only Rock Church's proposed development and use of the strip plaza, not Cassidy's ability to use and develop his property.

Hornby also said during the hearing Thursday before issuing his final decision that the city had acted to change its land use code after the issue with the church arose. It now allows religious entities to operate in North Brewer Shopping Plaza's current zoning.

"The city has actually changed the code to allow religious use in that district," Hornby said. "The city may have acted to address the problem before it became necessary to sue in federal court."

Staff Writer Scott Dolan can be contacted at: 791-6304 or at

sdolan@mainetoday.com

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