Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law
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The case involves Mojalaki Holdings, LLC and GSSG New Hampshire, LLC (the plaintiffs) who appealed a decision by the City of Franklin Planning Board (the Board) that denied their site plan application to install a solar panel array on a piece of land owned by Mojalaki. The proposed solar panel array required the installation of new utility poles and the removal of mature trees to ensure sufficient sunlight. The land, which was mostly open space and was once a golf course, did not have any specific ordinance language addressing solar panel arrays. The Board, after multiple hearings and a site visit, denied the application based on concerns raised by neighbors about the project's potential impact on the scenery, property values, and previous negative experiences with other solar projects in the city.The Board's decision was upheld by the Superior Court, which agreed with the Board's first and third reasons for denial, namely that the installation of new utility poles would create an industrial look out of place in the neighborhood, and that cutting down mature trees contradicted the purpose provisions. However, the Superior Court did not uphold the Board's second basis, that the solar panel array endangered or adversely impacted the residents, due to lack of supporting facts.The Supreme Court of New Hampshire reversed the lower court's decision, ruling that the Board could not rely solely on the purpose provisions to deny the application. The court found that the purpose provisions lacked sufficient specificity for site plan review and left the proposed project to be judged by the subjective views of the Board through ad hoc decision making. The court granted the plaintiffs a builder's remedy, allowing them to proceed with their development provided they comply with all other applicable regulations. View "Mojalaki Holdings v. City of Franklin" on Justia Law

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The case involves a dispute between a developer, Campbellton Road, Ltd., and the City of San Antonio, specifically the San Antonio Water System (SAWS). The developer entered into a contract with SAWS in 2003, which included an option for the developer to participate in and fund the construction of off-site oversized infrastructure for a municipal water system. The developer planned to develop two residential subdivisions and needed sewer service for them. The contract stated that if the developer decided to participate in the off-site oversizing project, a contract would form, and the developer would earn credits that could be used to satisfy some or all of the collection component of assessed impact fees.The Court of Appeals for the Fourth District of Texas concluded that the Local Government Contract Claims Act did not apply, and therefore did not waive immunity, because there was no agreement for providing services to the system. The court held that the system had no contractual right to receive any services and would not have “any legal recourse” if the developer “unilaterally decided not to proceed.”The Supreme Court of Texas disagreed with the lower court's decision. The Supreme Court held that the Act waived the system’s immunity from suit because the developer adduced evidence that a contract formed when the developer decided to and did participate in the off-site oversizing project. The court found that the contract stated the essential terms of an agreement for the developer to participate in that project, and the agreement was for providing a service to the system that was neither indirect nor attenuated. The Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals’ judgment and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Campbellton Road, Ltd. v. City of San Antonio" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around the Benton County Water Conservancy Board (the Board) and the Washington State Department of Ecology (the Department). The Department primarily manages the state's water resources, while the Board has coextensive authority to process voluntary water right transfers between water right holders. The dispute arose when the Board challenged a department policy (Policy 1070) concerning certain water right transfers. The Board claimed that it suffered injury-in-fact from the Department's refusal to accept certain administrative division forms pursuant to the policy.The case was first heard in the superior court, which granted summary judgment to the Board and directed the Department to accept administrative division requests from the Board. The Department appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed the decision, holding that the Board lacked standing to challenge the Department's action.The Supreme Court of the State of Washington affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals. The court held that the Board lacked standing to challenge Department Policy 1070. The Board failed to demonstrate how it suffered injury-in-fact from the Department’s refusal to accept certain administrative division forms pursuant to the policy. The Board suffered no prejudice and its interests would not be redressed by invalidating the policy. The court concluded that the Board's interests were indirect and inchoate, and it failed to establish injury-in-fact under the Administrative Procedure Act. Therefore, the Board lacked standing to pursue this challenge to the Department’s use of Policy 1070. View "Benton County Water Conservancy Board v. Department of Ecology" on Justia Law

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This case involves a dispute over approximately one acre of coastal land in Mississippi. The disagreement is between John Aldrich and the State of Mississippi, with the main point of contention being whether the land in question is privately owned by Aldrich or is State-owned tideland. The dispute originated from a map published by the secretary of state in 1994, which marked the boundaries between private property and Public Trust Tidelands. According to the map, the land in question was designated as State-owned tideland. Aldrich disagreed with this designation and challenged the boundary in Harrison County Chancery Court in 1998. The State responded with a counterclaim, asserting that it held fee simple title to the property.After more than two decades of inactivity and extended litigation, the chancellor ruled in favor of Aldrich in 2022, vesting title in him and adjusting the tideland boundary. The chancellor made five consequential findings, all of which the State labeled as error on appeal. The most significant finding was that a 1784 Spanish land grant, which is the root of Aldrich’s title, negated the State’s claim to fee simple title. This finding called into question which lands passed from the federal government to Mississippi upon statehood.The Supreme Court of Mississippi affirmed the chancery court’s decision. The court found that the 1784 Spanish land grant was valid and vested title in Aldrich. The court also found that the State failed to meet its burden of proof that the artificial filling of the land was not done pursuant to a constitutional legislative enactment and for a higher public purpose. Therefore, the court concluded that the property belongs to Aldrich. View "State v. Aldrich" on Justia Law

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The case centers around the dispute over the requirement for a supermajority vote in the Town of Bar Harbor's amendment to its Land Use Ordinance (LUO) concerning vacation rentals. Erica Brooks and Victoria Smith, both property owners in the town, argued that due to a 2-2 tie vote by the Planning Board on the proposed amendment, a two-thirds majority vote was necessary for the amendment to pass. The amendment, however, was enacted with a 60% majority vote. The Superior Court sided with the Town, asserting that the LUO language did not necessitate a supermajority vote.On appeal, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the lower court's decision but did so on different grounds. The court agreed with the argument put forth by the Maine Municipal Association in an amicus brief, which asserted that irrespective of the LUO's language, under Maine statutes 21-A M.R.S. § 723(4) (2023) and 30-A M.R.S. § 2501 (2023), only a simple majority vote was required for the amendment to take effect, unless the Town's charter provided otherwise, which it did not. Therefore, the court concluded that the amendment was lawfully enacted with a simple majority vote, rendering the Town's supermajority requirement unenforceable. View "Brooks v. Town of Bar Harbor" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed a district court's grant of summary judgment, based on qualified immunity, in favor of government attorneys Michael Spindler-Krage and Thomas Canan. The plaintiff, Michael Davitt, had brought a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against Spindler-Krage and Canan, alleging they violated his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights when they advised police that Davitt could be removed from his hotel room without eviction proceedings.During the COVID-19 pandemic, Olmsted County, Minnesota, arranged temporary, non-communal housing for elderly and vulnerable homeless individuals. Davitt, who was 69 years old and homeless, was moved into a Super 8 hotel room. When the county stopped paying for his room, Davitt refused to leave, citing a Minnesota governor's executive order temporarily prohibiting evictions. Spindler-Krage and Canan, after reviewing the relevant state law, the executive order, and the Agreement for Hotel Guests, advised the police that Davitt was a hotel guest, not a tenant protected by the executive order.In granting Spindler-Krage and Canan summary judgment based on qualified immunity, the district court found that no case law, statute, or other legal authority clearly established that Davitt was a tenant with a constitutionally protected right to his hotel room. The court also found that the advice provided to the police was objectively reasonable. The Court of Appeals agreed, ruling that Spindler-Krage and Canan did not violate Davitt’s clearly established rights and were thus entitled to qualified immunity. View "Davitt v. Krage" on Justia Law

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The case involves a dispute between the Teton County Assessor and Aspen S, LLC along with the Kelvin and Nancy Stirn Trusts. The landowners in Teton County contested the reclassification of their property from "agricultural" to "non-agricultural" by the Teton County Assessor. The Teton County Board of Equalization held a contested case hearing and found that the County Assessor's removal of the agricultural classification was incorrect. The County Assessor then appealed this decision to the State Board of Equalization.The State Board of Equalization consolidated the cases and sided with the County Assessor, stating that the County Board of Equalization had rejected the Assessor's determination without sufficient explanation. However, the State Board also assessed all the evidence independently and found that the taxpayers had not met their burden of proof. The landowners then sought judicial review of the agency's action in the district court, a portion of whose decision was adverse to the Teton County Assessor who now seeks further judicial review in the Supreme Court of Wyoming.The Supreme Court of Wyoming reversed and remanded the case, finding that the County Board of Equalization's decision lacked necessary findings of fact and conclusions of law as required by the Wyoming Administrative Procedure Act (WAPA). This lack of necessary findings and conclusions rendered the record insufficient for judicial review, causing the County Board of Equalization to act arbitrarily and capriciously. The case was remanded to the district court, with instructions to remand to the State Board of Equalization, which was instructed to remand to the Teton County Board of Equalization for findings and conclusions as required by WAPA. View "Teton County Assessor v. Aspen S, Llc" on Justia Law

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The case involves a dispute between developers of rent-restricted housing projects and the Lancaster County Board of Equalization. The Board sought permission from the Tax Equalization and Review Commission to use a different methodology than the statutorily provided income approach for assessing the value of the housing projects. The Board argued that the income approach did not result in actual value and sought to use a different, professionally accepted mass appraisal method. The developers appealed the Commission's decision to grant the Board's request.The Nebraska Supreme Court was asked to determine whether the Commission's decision was a "final decision" subject to appeal. The court concluded that the Commission's decision was not final because it did not approve a specific alternate methodology and did not determine the valuation of the properties. The court further reasoned that the decision could be rendered moot by future developments in the litigation, such as the Board's refusal to approve the County Assessor's proposed valuations. The court held that, because the developers' rights had not been substantially affected by the Commission's decision, it lacked appellate jurisdiction and dismissed the appeal. View "A & P II, LLC v. Lancaster Cty. Bd. of Equal." on Justia Law

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In this case, the Supreme Court of Nevada was tasked with determining whether a government entity, in this case Clark County, qualifies as a "person" under Nevada's anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) statute. This arose from a dispute where a property owner, 6635 W Oquendo LLC, claimed Clark County lacked the authority to impose civil penalties and to record liens against its property. Clark County, in response, filed an anti-SLAPP motion arguing that the actions forming the basis of Oquendo's claims were protected speech under the anti-SLAPP statute. The district court ruled in favor of Oquendo, stating that Clark County was not a "person" for the purposes of the anti-SLAPP statute.The Supreme Court of Nevada affirmed this decision, concluding that a government entity is not a "person" under the anti-SLAPP statute. The court rejected Clark County's arguments, stating that the statutory definition of "person" in Nevada law does not include a government, governmental agency or political subdivision of a government. The court also clarified that an earlier decision, John v. Douglas County School District, did not establish that a governmental entity is a "person" for the purpose of anti-SLAPP protections. The court concluded that Clark County was not entitled to file an anti-SLAPP motion, affirming the lower court's decision. View "Clark County v. 6635 W Oquenda LLC" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s summary judgment for the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) in a case brought by two utilities, Southern California Edison Company and Southern California Gas Company. The utilities claimed they were entitled to compensation under the Takings Clause or under state law for having to relocate their equipment from public streets to allow for the construction of a streetcar line.The court held that the utilities did not have a property interest under California law in maintaining their facilities at their specific locations in the face of OCTA’s efforts to construct a streetcar line. The California Supreme Court recognized in a previous case that a public utility accepts franchise rights in public streets subject to an implied obligation to relocate its facilities therein at its own expense when necessary to make way for a proper governmental use of the streets.The court rejected the utilities’ argument that constructing rail lines is per se a proprietary activity, not a governmental one. California common law has traditionally required utilities to bear relocation costs when governments construct subways, and there is no reason why above-ground rail lines should be treated differently.Finally, the court rejected the utilities’ supplemental state-law claim that California Public Utilities Code section 40162 places the costs of relocation on OCTA. That provision says nothing about imposing the costs of relocation on OCTA. Thus, section 40162 does not apply to OCTA’s project. View "SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA EDISON COMPANY V. ORANGE COUNTY TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY" on Justia Law