Williams County v. Sorenson

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