NORWALK, Conn. – A federal judge ruled Tuesday against Norwalk’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the Al Madany Islamic Center in its quest to build a mosque in West Norwalk.
U.S. District Court Judge Michael P. Shea dismissed one of nine counts in the motion, denied seven and reserved comment on one, according to mosque spokesman Farhan Memon.
“The decision vindicates our case for the mosque,” Memon said. “The judge found the mosque adequately pleaded its case that the city violated the religious land use act. It means we asserted enough facts that it is plausible” that Norwalk is in violation of the act by denying the application to build on Fillow Street in West Norwalk.
Memon said about two dozen lawyers for both sides were in the courtroom, including Marci Hamilton, a professor at the Cardozo Law School at Yeshiva University in New York and nationally renowned Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act expert, who is representing the city.
“This was just a procedural debate about whether they should have appealed to the Connecticut court,” Hamilton said. “Now the court ruled that they have alleged enough to go forward. They bear the burden of proving their case.”
Hamilton said no one should read too much into the decision.
“The judge looked out into the courtroom before things got started and said this is not a predictor of who will win or lose this case,” she said.
Memon said the city now has an opportunity to sit down with the representatives of the mosque and discuss “how to build the mosque on Fillow Street, or continue to fight it and risk incurring a larger debt” for legal expenses.
The city is paying outside legal experts, including Hamilton, to defend against the suit. Should the Al Madany Islamic Center prevail, the city could be on the hook for millions of dollars in legal expenses for the mosque.
“This can be laid squarely at the feet of Richard Moccia,” Memon said of the former mayor. “Moccia rejected a reasonable settlement because he listened to members of his own party who were ideologically in opposition to the mosque. He decided to roll the dice with Norwalk taxpayer dollars, rather than settle and pay $100,000” and allow the mosque to be built.
Hamilton said the next step will be for the city to prepare its case and ask for a summary judgment by mid-June.
“The ball is back in the city’s court,” Memon said. “Norwalk’s reputation and financial resources are on the line.”
Said Hamilton, “The city is confident in its position.”
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