Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Zoning, Planning & Land Use
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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment of the superior court affirming the decision of the Town of Boothbay Harbor's Board of Appeals (BOA) denying 29 McKown, LLC's administrative appeal from a code enforcement officer's (CEO) decision to life a stop work order he had issued to Harbor Crossing during the construction of the building, holding that 29 McKown was deprived of administrative due process.In this case concerning a real estate office building constructed by Harbor Crossing in Boothbay Harbor, 29 McKown sought review of the denial of its McKown's appeal. The superior court affirmed the BOA's decision. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the order below, holding (1) 29 McKown was deprived of administrative due process; and (2) the CEO did not issue a judicially-reviewable decision in lifting the stop work order. View "29 McKown LLC v. Town of Boothbay Harbor" on Justia Law

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In 2008, the City of Gulfport undertook a project to replace the infrastructure associated with its water and sewer systems relating to damage caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The repair project involved federal, state, and local agencies and ultimately cost approximately $85 million to complete. The original design of the Area 3B project, the sewer infrastructure that crossed the Cowan Road property located north of U.S. Highway 90 and east of Highway 605 were to be replaced, and the new infrastructure was to be installed within the City’s existing easements across the properties. The Cowan Road property at issue was located in the Area 3B geographic zone. Robert “Kris” Riemann, P.E., then-director of the City’s department of public works, was notified that John Felsher had inquired about relocating the sewer infrastructure in Area 3B. Based on an agreement with Felsher to relocate the utilities, the City had the Area 3B design drawings redrafted to move the utilities. The City's project manager was notified that the discovery of underground telephone lines and other utilities required that the sewer line being relocated had to cut the northwest corner of the property. Cowan Road filed a complaint in the Chancery Court of Harrison County, Mississippi, advancing a claim for inverse condemnation against the City. The chancery court transferred the case to the Special Court of Eminent Domain in Harrison County. Due to the jurisdictional limits of county court, the case ended up in Harrison County Circuit Court. The circuit court entered an order granting the motion for partial summary judgment filed by the City on the issue of the date of the taking. The parties eventually settled the reverse condemnation claim, and the City agreed to pay $100,000 to Cowan Road & Hwy 90, LLC, for the improper and unlawful taking of its property. The issue before the Mississippi Supreme Court centered on the circuit court's grant of attorneys' fees and expenses: Gulfport argued that Cowan Road should not have been allowed to recover attorneys’ fees under Section 43-37-9. Finding that the statute applied and fees were appropriate, the Supreme Court affirmed. However, the Court found the trial judge abused his discretion by disallowing requests for postjudgment interest. View "City of Gulfport v. Cowan Road & Hwy 90, LLC, et al." on Justia Law

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In 2010, Houston voters approved “Proposition One,” allowing the city to create a “Pay-As-You-Go” Dedicated Drainage and Street Renewal (DDSR) Fund. Perez and others filed an election contest while the city enacted the Drainage Fee Ordinance (DFO), creating a new public utility and requiring Houston to establish drainage fees “against all real property in the city subject to such charges” and “provide drainage for all real property in the city on payment of drainage charges unless the property is exempt.” The DFO based the drainage fees on the benefited property’s type and square footage. Failure to pay drainage fees carried various penalties.In 2015, the Supreme Court held that Proposition One’s ballot language was misleading, rendering the Amendment invalid. Perez then challenged Houston’s assessment, collection, and expenditure of the drainage fee. In 2018, Houston passed a new charter amendment curing many of the defects Perez alleged in the drainage fee ordinance. Perez was left with ongoing claims for reimbursement of the drainage fees she paid before 2018 and for an injunction against the future expenditure of fees collected before 2018. The Texas Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of those claims but remanded to allow Perez to replead in light of intervening events. Perez’s claims required her to articulate a viable theory of the DFO’s illegality to overcome Houston’s governmental immunity; her only theory failed as a matter of law. View "Perez v. Turner" on Justia Law

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TexCom sought to develop a commercial-waste-disposal facility on a 27-acre site in Montgomery County, near Conroe, that had one existing nonoperative injection well. TexCom sought to operate the existing well and construct up to three additional wells. Class I underground injection-control wells manage industrial waste by injecting it thousands of feet underground but can potentially harm drinking water and petroleum, so these injection wells undergo an extensive permitting process with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). A permit application must be accompanied by a letter from the Railroad Commission (RRC) concluding that the proposed wells “will not endanger or injure any known oil or gas reservoir.” RRC issued such a letter for TexCom but rescinded it after six years of administrative hearings, around the same time TCEQ issued its final order granting the permit application.The Texas Supreme Court affirmed TCEQ’s order granting the permit application as supported by substantial evidence; a migration finding, combined with the injection zone’s geological suitability, is sufficient to support TCEQ’s ultimate finding that the wells would be protective of water. The rescission did not deprive TCEQ of jurisdiction, and, on these facts, TCEQ did not violate the Texas Administrative Procedure Act by declining to reopen the administrative record for further proceedings. View "Dyer v. Texas Commission on Environmental Quality" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court dismissing Petitioner's petition for a writ of certiorari challenging the Lake County Board's decision to grant a variance to Hodne Homes, LLC to build a facility to store and display boats, holding that the circuit court erred.In Dunham I, the Supreme Court reversed the circuit court's denial of Petitioner's challenge to the variance. On remand, the circuit court addressed a newly-raised issue about Petitioner's standing and then dismissed the petition because of a lack of standing. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Petitioner was an "aggrieved" party with standing to challenge the variance under S.D. Codified Laws 11-2. View "Dunham v. Lake County Commission" on Justia Law

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This appeal centered around the Idaho Department of Water Resources' (“IDWR”) denial of Application 83160, brought by Jeffrey and Chana Duffin (“Duffin”), to transfer the licensed ground water right 35-7667 to a different parcel of land. During the appeal of this case, 3G AG LLC (“the LLC”) “purchased from Duffin the property where water right 35-7667 - the water right subject to Transfer No. 8316 which is the subject of this appeal - is located.” As a result of the transfer of ownership, the LLC sought to substitute itself for Duffin. Because there was no objection to the substitution, it was allowed. IDWR denied the transfer because, among other reasons, approving it would cause an “enlargement” in the use of water as proscribed by Idaho Code section 42-222(1). On judicial review, the district court agreed with the denial and affirmed. Finding no error in the district court's judgment, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the district court. View "3G AG LLC v. IDWR" on Justia Law

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S Bar Ranch owned approximately 3000 acres of land in rural Elmore County, Idaho. S Bar purchased the land in 2015. There were very few structures on S Bar’s property, save for an airplane hangar that included a five-hundred square-foot apartment. S Bar’s address was listed in Sun Valley, Idaho, and its principal, Chris Stephens, used the property for recreational purposes. Cat Creek Energy, LLC, an Idaho company managed by John Faulkner, owned and managed more than 23,000 acres of land in Elmore County near Anderson Ranch reservoir. Faulkner, on behalf of his other companies, leased land to Cat Creek to develop the project at issue in this dispute. In late 2014 and early 2015, Cat Creek began the process of obtaining conditional use permits (“CUPs”) for a proposed alternative energy development (“the project”) in Elmore County. As initially proposed, the project had five components: a 50,000 acre-foot reservoir with hydroelectric turbines, up to 39 wind turbines, approximately 174,000 photovoltaic solar panels, electrical transmission lines, and an onsite power substation. Cat Creek sought to build the project on approximately 23,000 acres of land that it had leased near Anderson Ranch Reservoir. In 2019, the district court issued a Memorandum Decision and Order, affirming the Board’s decisions with respect to the CUPs. The district court found that S Bar only had standing to challenge the CUPs relating to wind turbines, electric transmission lines, and the on-site substation. The district court also reiterated its prior oral ruling that a 2017 CUP Order was a final agency action and that S Bar’s petition for judicial review of that order was untimely. With regard to the development agreement and a 2018 CUP Amendment, the district court concluded that the Board did not err in a manner specified by Idaho Code section 67-5279 and that S Bar had not shown that its substantial rights had been prejudiced. S Bar appealed, but finding no reversible error in the district court's judgment, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed judgment in favor of Cat Creek. View "S Bar Ranch v. Elmore County" on Justia Law

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In Case No. 02CW403, and Case No. 10CW306, the Colorado Water Court Division 1 determined, among other things, that the Farmers Reservoir and Irrigation Company (“FRICO”) did not have a decreed right to use seepage water accruing to a ditch known as the Beebe Seep Canal. FRICO nonetheless continued to utilize the seepage water outside the priority system to make additional water available to its shareholders for irrigation. In 2016, FRICO sought a decree confirming absolute and conditional water rights to use unappropriated: (1) water seeping from Barr Lake; and (2) natural runoff, drainage, waste, return flows, and seepage water arising in, flowing into, and accruing to the Beebe Seep Canal (the “Subject Water Rights”) to supplement water deliveries to its shareholders for irrigation. Following the culmination of stipulations with most of the twenty initial objectors and a five-day trial, the water court issued its final judgment confirming, adjudicating, approving, and decreeing FRICO’s use of the Subject Water Rights contingent upon certain terms and conditions outlined within the water court’s Amended Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, Judgment and Decree of the Court (“Amended Decree”). The issues raised by FRICO in this appeal concerned three of the specific terms and conditions that the water court placed upon FRICO’s use of the Subject Water Rights. The issue raised by three of the objectors in their cross-appeal concerned the water court’s authority to grant certain of these new rights. The Colorado Supreme Court found the water court's findings and its imposition of the challenged terms and conditions in the Amended Decree were supported by the record and did not violate FRICO's right to appropriate unappropriated water. Further, the Supreme Court held the water court was within its authority to grant FRICO the absolute rights challenged by the three objectors in their cross-appeal. View "Farmers Reservoir v. Arapahoe County" on Justia Law

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Martha owns the largest undeveloped parcel of property in the vicinity of Tiburon, 110 acres on top of a mountain, overlooking much of the town and commanding a stunning view of San Francisco Bay. For decades, Martha has sought approval from the County of Marin to develop the property. Local opposition has been intense, including federal court litigation, starting in 1975 and resulting in stipulated judgments in 1976 and 2007. The county twice publicly agreed to approve Martha building no fewer than 43 units on the property. In 2017, the county certified an environmental impact report and conditionally approved Martha’s master plan for 43 single-family residences. The county believed its actions were compelled by the stipulated judgments.The town and residents sued, claiming that the county effectively agreed it would not follow or enforce state law, specifically, the California Environmental Quality Act, to prevent the development of an anticipated project. The court of appeal upheld the approvals. Governmental powers are indefeasible and inalienable; they cannot be surrendered, suspended, contracted away, waived, or otherwise divested. Government cannot bind the hands of its successors. In this case, the county did not abdicate its authority or otherwise undertake not to comply with CEQA. “With its eyes wide open,” the county complied with a binding, final judgment; that judgment in no way anticipated or legitimated ignoring CEQA. View "Tiburon Open Space Committee v. County of Marin" on Justia Law

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Crystal Geyser Water Company bought a closed water bottling facility and sought to revive it. Both the County and the City ultimately granted the necessary permits. This appeal concerned one of two lawsuits challenging these approvals, brought pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). In one suit, Appellants We Advocate Thorough Environmental Review and Winnehem Wintu Tribe alleged that the County’s environmental review for the bottling facility was inadequate under CEQA. In another, they alleged that the City’s decision to issue the wastewater permit for the bottling plant was also improper under CEQA. In this case, the County served as the lead agency and considered the potential environmental impacts of permitting the bottling facility before it or any other public agency issued a permit for the facility. But in Appellants’ view, the County’s analysis was inadequate. Appellants alleged the County: (1) provided a misleading description of the project; (2) defined the project’s objectives in an impermissibly narrow manner; (3) improperly evaluated the project’s impacts to aesthetics, air quality, climate change, noise, and hydrology; and (4) approved the project even though it would result in violations of the County’s and the City’s general plans. The trial court rejected all Appellants’ arguments. But the Court of Appeal found two contentions had merit: (1) the County defined the project’s objectives in an overly narrow manner; and (2) the process for evaluating the project’s impacts to climate change was flawed. Relevant to this point, the County initially informed the public that the bottling project would result in greenhouse gas emissions of one amount, but, after the period for public comments had ended, the County disclosed that the project would actually result in emissions nearly double what it initially estimated. Under the circumstances of this case, the appellate court found the County should have allowed the public further opportunity to comment on the project after this late disclosure. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "We Advocate Through etc. v. County of Siskiyou" on Justia Law