Riverside Church’s federal lawsuit against the City of St. Michael in Federal Court is headed to settlement conference today, as lawyers with both sides meet with a magistrate judge over the matter.
During the conference, which runs from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. today, the judge – in this case, Judge Janie Mayeron – will meet with both sides to discuss the merits of the lawsuit.
According to federal court definitions, the judicial officer, usually a magistrate judge, helps the parties negotiate. Some settlement judges also use mediation techniques to improve communication among the parties, probe barriers to settlement and assist in formulating resolutions. Settlement judges might articulate views about the merits of the case or the relative strengths and weaknesses of the parties’ legal positions. Often settlement judges meet with one side at a time, and some settlement judges rely primarily on meetings with counsel.
Terms of the settlement do not have to be disclosed by the court, publicly. Both parties in the lawsuit can choose whether or not to discuss the outcome of the case, most likely through attorneys.
Riverside, court records indicate, filed its arguments against the City of St. Michael Monday, March 24 in Minneapolis District Court. The church maintains it is protected by a federal law in its quest to purchase the former Cinemagic Theater at the intersection of Highway 241 and Interstate 94 in St. Michael.
The St. Michael Planning Commission and St. Michael City Council both voted, unanimously, not to approve a zoning ordinance amendment request filed by Riverside Church and its attorneys in 2014. The city ruled on grounds the structure couldn’t accommodate traffic flows created by church services, and broke off negotiations with church attorneys when the church’s legal counsel determined St. Michael could not place limitations on the amendment request, such as building capacity limits and future intersection improvements (i.e. traffic controls), saying it was “unconstitutional.”
The city agreed to hire attorney George Hoff to represent the city, as recommended by the League of Minnesota Cities.
The theater was set to open as St. Michael Cinema in May or June, according to a social media site set up by the current owners. Owners indicate that plan is moving forward, but could change if the lawsuit is handed down in the church’s favor.
The former purchase agreement arranged between the church and the building’s current owners – who own the Woodbury 10 Theater in that community – was contingent on the outcome of the ordinance request. Once that request was denied, the owners moved forward with a plan for St. Michael Cinema only weeks later.
Work has been done inside the building – including the placement of new theater seats, masonry work, painting, cleaning and general maintenance and repair. The owners had worked with city leaders on inspections and fire codes.