SOURCE: Becker & Polaikoff

Becker & Polaikoff

December 21, 2010 10:12 ET

Becker & Poliakoff Announces Filing of Religious Discrimination Lawsuit Against City of Sunny Isles Beach, Florida

FT. LAUDERDALE, FL--(Marketwire - December 21, 2010) - The law firm of Becker & Poliakoff, P.A. has filed suit on behalf of Temple B'Nai Zion, an Orthodox Jewish Synagogue located in Sunny Isles Beach, Florida, charging the City of Sunny Isles Beach, and its Mayor, Norman S. Edelcup, with violation of the synagogue's First and Fourteenth Amendment rights and Federal religious land use rights. The suit was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

The lawsuit stems from the City of Sunny Isles' Beach's 2010 designation of the Synagogue's property as a historic landmark, over the congregation's objections. According to the suit, the designation of the Temple's property as a "historic site," took place soon after the City declined to designate as "historic" several older and more historically and culturally significant properties owned by non-religious assemblies or institutions.

In designating the Temple's building as a historic landmark, and denying the Temple's requested issuance of building and demolition permits, the suit alleges the City, and its Mayor individually, engaged in religious discrimination and selective enforcement against the Synagogue in violation of the Federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). The Federal law protects religious institutions from land use regulations imposed by governmental entities that burden or restrict the institution's rights.

According to the filing, "The City has implemented a land use regulation in a manner which treats religious assemblies or institutions on less than equal terms than non-religious assemblies or institutions, and, therefore, constitutes a violation of the Equal Terms provision of RLUIPA."

Buildings in Sunny Isles Beach that were considered, but which the City declined to designate as historic include several iconic Motel Row properties such as the Ocean Palm Motel (the first two-story motel in the United States), the Golden Strand Hotel, the Sahara Motel, the Golden Nugget Motel and the Thunderbird Motel, as well as the Rascal House restaurant. These properties are an integral part of the City's storied history. 

The suit charges that the City and Mayor Edelcup have maliciously and inappropriately used the historical landmark designation powers to prevent the Synagogue from renovating its property to bring it into adherence with Orthodox Jewish practices. The suit ascribes the actions to the shift of the Synagogue in 2005 to Orthodox Judaism, a move which displeased many former members of the congregation, Mayor Edelcup included.

"The suit shows the transparent hypocrisy that government is capable of," commented Gary Rosen, Becker & Poliakoff shareholder and Chair of Litigation who is handling the suit along with shareholder Daniel Wallach. "In its first official designation, the City enshrined a building as a landmark that has no historical significance in order to serve its hidden agenda. It was willing to ignore, even destroy its own cultural and architectural history by denying other more deserving buildings of the historical designation."

"Sunny Isles Beach targeted the synagogue solely because of its identity, because it is different from what the city's powers are comfortable with. They decided to use the levers of government to stifle the growth of Temple B'Nai Zion. This is a story of abuse of power and corruption by an elected official, not for financial gain, but by using his official powers to settle a personal vendetta," said Mr. Wallach, a Becker & Poliakoff shareholder with significant experience with RLUIPA cases. 

For a copy of the Federal complaint, more information, or to speak to attorney Gary Rosen, contact Alan Penchansky at 305 529-1944 or alan@thepengroup.com

About Becker & Poliakoff

Becker & Poliakoff is a diverse commercial law firm with more than 125 attorneys in 13 Florida offices, New York City, New Jersey, Nassau (Bahamas), Prague and affiliated international offices. Celebrating its thirty-seventh (37th) year of serving clients, the firm has seven primary areas of practice: Real Estate, Construction, Community Association, Customs & International Trade, Business Litigation, Corporate & Securities, and Government Law & Lobbying. For more information, visit: www.becker-poliakoff.com.

Contact Information

  • Media Contact:
    Alan Penchansky
    The Pen Group Communications
    Tel: (305) 529-1944
    email: alan@thepengroup.com