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Litigation under the Public Records Act (PRA) (Gov. Code, sec. 6250 et seq.) is one of the rare instances where a losing party may still be deemed a prevailing party entitled to an attorney fee award. Ponani Sukumar appeals an order denying his motion for prevailing party attorney fees against the City of San Diego (City). Sukumar owns a home in San Diego (the Property). In about 1992, Sukumar's neighbors began complaining to the City about Sukumar's use of the Property. These complaints mostly involved parking issues and noise. In 2006 the City ordered Sukumar to take "immediate action to correct" municipal code violations occurring on the Property that constituted "a public nuisance." However, the City decided to not pursue the matter absent additional neighbor complaints. In 2015, Sukumar's attorney delivered a request to the City for "production of documents and information" under the PRA. The request sought 54 separate categories of documents, all relating to any neighbor's complaints about Sukumar. Twenty-four days after the request, the City wrote to Sukumar's attorney, stating that some potentially responsive documents were exempt from disclosure, and responsive, nonexempt records would be made available for Sukumar's review. Sukumar's attorney remained unconvinced that the City had produced all documents responsive to its request, and sought a writ of mandate or used other mechanisms to compel the documents' production. Though every time the City offered to certify it produced "everything," it would release additional documents. The trial court ultimately denied Sukumar's writ petition, finding that by 2016, the City had "in some fashion" produced all responsive documents. After stating Sukumar's writ petition was "moot" because all responsive documents had now been produced, the court stated, "Now, you might argue that you're the prevailing party, because the City didn't comply until after the lawsuit was filed. That's another issue." Asserting the litigation "motivated productions of a substantial amount of responsive public documents, even after the City represented to this [c]ourt there was nothing left to produce," Sukumar sought $93,695 in fees (plus $5,390 incurred in preparing the fee motion). Sukumar appealed the order denying his motion for prevailing party attorney fees against the City. The Court of Appeal reversed because the undisputed evidence established the City produced, among other things, five photographs of Sukumar's property and 146 pages of e-mails directly as a result of court-ordered depositions in this litigation. The Court remanded for the trial court to determine the amount of attorney fees to which Sukumar is entitled. View "Sukumar v. City of San Diego" on Justia Law

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The Madison County Board of Supervisors (the Board) found Arlin George Hatfield, III (who raised “chickens, guinea fowl, and ducks”) violated a Madison County Zoning Ordinance (the Ordinance) section, which did not expressly permit raising and keeping fowl in residential neighborhoods. The Board’s decision was consistent with an earlier interpretation and application of the Ordinance section. Hatfield was sued in October 2013 a little over a year after purchasing a lot in the Deer Haven Subdivision, by the Deer Haven Owners Association (DHOA). The claim stemmed from his supposed violation of subdivision covenants that prohibited keeping or raising fowl4 and constructing structures—such as pens and coops—without DHOA approval. Hatfield alleges that while this lawsuit was pending, DHOA contacted and involved Scott Weeks, an administrator with the Madison County Planning and Zoning Department. Weeks inspected Hatfield’s property on February 18, 2015, and found Hatfield was violating the “R-1 Residential District” section of the Madison County Zoning Ordinance. Hatfield filed a Notice of Appeal and Intent to File Bill of Exceptions, arguing the Board’s decision was arbitrary and capricious, not supported by substantial evidence, and was based on an unconstitutionally vague Ordinance section. After review, based on the Board’s prior treatment of a similar matter and its construction of the applicable zoning law, the Mississippi Supreme Court found the Board’s decision was neither arbitrary nor capricious. The Court also found that, in light of the entire Ordinance, Hatfield had sufficient notice that keeping or raising fowl on residential property was prohibited. View "Hatfield v. Board of Supervisors of Madison County" on Justia Law

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Before appellants purchased Martins Beach, the public was permitted to access the coast by driving down Martins Beach Road and parking along the coast, usually upon payment of a fee. Because it is sheltered by high cliffs, Martins Beach lacks lateral land access. In 2008, appellants purchased Martins Beach and adjacent land including Martins Beach Road. A year or two later, appellants closed the only public access to the coast at that site. Surfrider, a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of access for recreation, brought suit. The trial court held the California Coastal Act (Pub. Res. Code, 30000–30900) applied and the appellants were required to apply for a coastal development permit (CDP) before closing public access. The court issued an injunction that requires appellants to allow public coastal access at the same level that existed when appellants bought the Martins Beach property. The court of appeal affirmed. Appellants‘ conduct is “development” requiring a CDP under section 30106 of the Coastal Act. Appellants‘ constitutional challenge to the Coastal Act‘s permitting requirement under the state and federal takings clauses is not ripe, The injunction is not a per se taking. The court affirmed an award of attorney fees to Surfrider. View "Surfrider Foundation v. Martins Beach 1, LLC" on Justia Law

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To obtain an area variance, an applicant must show that strictly applying a zoning ordinance will cause “peculiar and exceptional practical difficulties” that deprive a property of privileges enjoyed by other similarly zoned properties. This dispute arose from the City of Phoenix Board of Adjustment’s grant of a variance on a parcel of land in Phoenix. The superior court upheld the variance, finding that the variance was an area variance and not a use variance, that the Board was authorized to consider area variances, and that sufficient evidence supported the Board’s decision. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the Board did not act within its authority in granting the variance. The Supreme Court vacated the court of appeals’ opinion and affirmed the judgment of the superior court, holding (1) the Board acted within its discretion in finding that special circumstances applied to the property; (2) the property owner did not create the special circumstances; (3) the variance required was an area variance that was necessary for the preservation and enjoyment of substantial property rights; and (4) the variance would not be materially detrimental to the surrounding area. View "Pawn 1st, LLC v. City of Phoenix" on Justia Law

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This case concerned the Douglas County Planning and Zoning Administrator’s grant of a building permit for a hog confinement unit. Landowners applied for a writ of mandamus compelling the Administrator and the Douglas County Planning and Zoning Commission to comply with the county’s zoning ordinance revoking the permit. After a trial, the circuit court denied Landowners’ request, concluding (1) the hog barn did not fall under any of the permitted uses of land for which a building permit could be granted; but (2) a writ of mandamus could not be used to undo an already completed act, and principles of equity would not entitle Landowners to relief. The Supreme Court ultimately affirmed the circuit court’s decision denying Landowners a writ of mandamus, holding (1) the circuit court erred in determining that the facility was not a permitted use under the ordinances; but (2) because construction of the facility had already been completed at the time of trial, issuing a writ a mandamus to revoke the permit now would be ineffective. View "Hoffman v. Van Wyk" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment of the superior court affirming the Cape Elizabeth Code Enforcement Officer’s (CEO) issuance of a building permit, holding that the CEO’s decision granting the permit lacked sufficient factual findings to permit meaningful review. The owner of property abutting the property at issue appealed the CEO’s grant of the building permit to the Town Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA). The ZBA affirmed the CEO’s decision. The superior court affirmed. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the superior court’s judgment and remanded the matter, holding that the COE’s grant of the building permit was the operative decision and that decision lacked sufficient factual findings to permit meaningful appellate review. View "Appletree Cottage, LLC v. Town of Cape Elizabeth" on Justia Law

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Todd Carlson, who began construction on a detached garage on his property in a subdivision without first obtaining a zoning compliance permit, requested a variance from the Yellowstone County Board of Adjustment. The board denied the variance request, noting that Carlson had not done his due diligence and had carelessly disregarded zoning regulations. The district court upheld the Board’s decision. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court properly declined to second-guess the Board’s discretionary determinations and did not abuse its discretion in affirming the Board’s denial of Carlson’s variance request. View "Carlson v. Yellowstone County Board of Adjustment" on Justia Law

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Don Sorenson Investments owned residentially-zoned property. In 2015, Don Sorenson requested a zone change for the property from residential to commercial to "conduct small commercial business." A site inspection following Sorenson's request indicated the property was being used to store semi-trucks, gooseneck flatbed trailers, bulk fuel tanks, and shipping containers. A report prepared for the Williams County Board of County Commissioners stated Sorenson had been out of compliance since October 2014 for operating a trucking oilfield business on the property without the County's permission. The Board of County Commissioners denied Sorenson's request and ordered removal of all commercial items from the property. Sorenson appealed the Board's decision, and the district court affirmed. In October 2015, Williams County sued Sorenson for violating zoning ordinances and maintaining a public nuisance. In December 2015, the County moved for a preliminary injunction, alleging the Sorensons continued to use the property for commercial purposes. The Sorensons moved for summary judgment, arguing the County did not indicate which provisions of the zoning ordinances they violated and did not provide specific details regarding the commercial business alleged to have been operated on the property. The County opposed the Sorensons' motion and filed a cross-motion for summary judgment. The County argued administrative res judicata prevented the Sorensons from challenging the zoning violations on their property because the Board of County Commissioners had already determined they were in violation. The district court granted the Sorensons' motion for summary judgment and denied the County's cross-motion for summary judgment, concluding the zoning ordinances did not define "commercial," "commercial operation," or "commercial item" so as to give the Sorensons proper notice of what constituted a zoning violation. The court concluded res judicata did not apply, denied the County's request for sanctions for spoliation of evidence, denied its request for civil penalties, and dismissed the County's complaint. "Administrative res judicata is applied more cautiously than judicial res judicata," taking into consideration the subject matter decided by the administrative agency, the purpose of the administrative action, and the reasons for the later proceeding. On appeal, the party opposing a motion for summary judgment will be given all favorable inferences that may be reasonably drawn from the evidence. The North Dakota Supreme Court reversed that part of the judgment granting summary judgment in favor of the Sorensons, denying the County's cross-motion for summary judgment, and dismissing the County's complaint. View "Williams County v. Sorenson" on Justia Law

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This lawsuit was the result of the amendments to an area master plan to prohibit surface mining in certain mineral-rich areas of the county. The amendments were made by County Council of Prince George’s County, sitting as district council. At issue before the Supreme Court was whether two mining companies and a mining trade organization (collectively, Respondents) could seek judicial review of the master plan and whether the master plan amendments were preempted by state law. The Court of Appeals held (1) Respondents can seek judicial review of the master plan under Md. Code Ann. Land Use 22-407; (2) the trial court erred in upholding the district council’s adoption of the master plan amendments as procedurally proper; but (3) the amendments are severable, and the remaining portions of the master plan still stand. View "County Council of Prince George's County v. Chaney Enterprises Ltd." on Justia Law

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This lawsuit was the result of the amendments to an area master plan to prohibit surface mining in certain mineral-rich areas of the county. The amendments were made by County Council of Prince George’s County, sitting as district council. At issue before the Supreme Court was whether two mining companies and a mining trade organization (collectively, Respondents) could seek judicial review of the master plan and whether the master plan amendments were preempted by state law. The Court of Appeals held (1) Respondents can seek judicial review of the master plan under Md. Code Ann. Land Use 22-407; (2) the trial court erred in upholding the district council’s adoption of the master plan amendments as procedurally proper; but (3) the amendments are severable, and the remaining portions of the master plan still stand. View "County Council of Prince George's County v. Chaney Enterprises Ltd." on Justia Law