Justia Zoning, Planning & Land Use Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
by
Oakland County took title to the plaintiffs’ homes under the Michigan General Property Tax Act, which (after a redemption period) required the state court to enter a foreclosure judgment that vested “absolute title” to the property in the governmental entity upon payment of the amount of the tax delinquency or “its fair market value.” The entity could then sell it at a public auction. No matter what the sale price, the property’s former owner had no right to any of the proceeds.In February 2018, under the Act, Oakland County foreclosed on Hall’s home to collect a tax delinquency of $22,642; the County then conveyed the property to the City of Southfield for that price. Southfield conveyed the property for $1 to a for-profit entity, the Southfield Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative, which later sold it for $308,000. Other plaintiffs had similar experiences.The plaintiffs brought suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, citing the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment. The Sixth Circuit reversed the dismissal of the suit. The “Michigan statute is not only self-dealing: it is also an aberration from some 300 years of decisions.” The government may not decline to recognize long-established interests in property as a device to take them. The County took the property without just compensation. View "Hall v. Meisner" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court regarding several orders unfavorable to Plaintiff in this dispute over the development of a subdivision on property containing a floodplain within Lewis and Clark County, holding that there was no error or abuse of discretion.In its challenged orders, the district court dismissed Plaintiff's negligence and negligent misrepresentation claims, denied Plaintiff's motion for a declaratory judgment that Mont. Code Ann. 76-5-109(4) is unconstitutional, dismissed Plaintiff's claims for inverse condemnation and nuisance, and dismissed Plaintiff's suit against the Montana Department of Transportation. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court (1) did not err in dismissing Plaintiff's inverse condemnation claim; (2) did not err in dismissing Plaintiff's unjust enrichment claim; (3) did not err in finding Mont. Code Ann. 76-5-109(4) was constitutional; and (4) did not err in dismissing Plaintiff's remaining nuisance claims. View "Hamlin Construction & Development Co. v. Mont. Dep't of Transportation" on Justia Law

by
The Seventh Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court denying the motion filed by the Word Seed Church after the district court dismissed this suit for lack of standing, holding that Word Seed failed to show exceptional circumstances warranting relief from the denial of that motion.Word Seed and an organization to which it belonged (collectively, Word Seed) brought this action against the Village of Homewood, Illinois alleging violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court dismissed the suit for lack of standing after concluding that Word Seed did not suffer an injury and denied Word Seed's ensuing motions to reconsider. In the second motion, which the district court considered under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b), Word Seed raised for the first an argument that could have been raised before the district court entered judgment dismissing the case. The district court denied the motion. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that the court did not abuse its discretion in denying Word Seed's Rule 60(b) motion. View "Word Seed Church v. Village of Homewood" on Justia Law

by
The Sixth Circuit affirmed the order of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of the City of Powell, Ohio and dismissing Golf Village North LLC's claims brought under 28 U.S.C. 1983 for violating its procedural and substantive due process rights, holding that there was no error.Golf Village, a developer, sought to build a "residential hotel" on its property in Powell, Ohio but never filed the required zoning application. Instead, Golf Village requested that the City confirm the residential hotel was a permitted use of the property. The City directed Golf Village to file an appropriate application for "zoning Certificate approval" to receive an answer. Rather than reply, Golf Village sued the City. The district court granted summary judgment for the City. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, holding that Golf Village's procedural due process and substantive due process rights were not violated in this case. View "Golf Village North, LLC v. City of Powell, Ohio" on Justia Law

by
Westfield amended its ordinance governing signs within city limits. Out of a stated concern for public safety and aesthetics, the ordinance requires those wishing to install a sign or billboard to apply for a permit. The ordinance exempts directional signs, scoreboards, particular flags, and notices on gas pumps and vending machines. It prohibits signs on poles and those advertising ideas, products, or services not offered on the same premises (off-premises signs). Those seeking to install a non-compliant sign may appeal the denial of a permit or, if necessary, request a variance. GEFT applied for a permit to build a large digital billboard on private property along U.S. Highway 31 in Westfield. Because of the proposed sign’s off-premises location and use of a pole, Westfield denied GEFT’s application and subsequent variance request.GEFT sued, 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Seventh Circuit previously upheld a restraining order compelling GEFT to cease all actions to install its proposed billboard pending the outcome of the litigation. The district court later granted GEFT summary judgment and permanently enjoined Westfield from enforcing many aspects of its ordinance. The Seventh Circuit remanded for consideration in light of the Supreme Court’s recent decision in “City of Austin v. Reagan National;” the fact that the city must read a sign to evaluate its conformity with regulations is not alone determinative of whether the regulation is content-based. View "GEFT Outdoors, LLC v. City of Westfield" on Justia Law

by
Five adjacent Burtonsville, Maryland parcels are restricted from receiving sewer service. Several previous attempts to obtain approval of water and sewer category change requests were unsuccessful. The owners' alternative plan was to sell to a religious organization. They believed that land-use regulations must submit to “[c]hurch use [which] cannot be denied.” They entered into a contract with Canaan, contingent on the approval of the extension of a public sewer line for a new church. Such an extension required amendment of the Comprehensive Ten-Year Water Supply and Sewerage Systems Plan, which involves the Montgomery County Planning Board, the County Executive, the County Council, public hearings, and the Maryland Department of the Environment.Following denial of their requests, the owners sued under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the summary judgment rejection of the claims. The land has been bound by decades of regulations restricting development for both religious and non-religious purposes. The parties were aware of the difficulties in developing the property when they entered into the contract; they could not have a reasonable expectation of religious land use. The restrictions are rationally related to the government’s interest in protecting the region’s watershed. View "Canaan Christian Church v. Montgomery County" on Justia Law

by
New Harvest challenged a Salinas ordinance prohibiting religious and other assemblies from operating on the ground floor of buildings facing Main Street within the downtown area. The ordinance prohibited it from hosting worship services on the ground floor of its newly-purchased building. New Harvest claimed the ordinance substantially burdened its religious exercise and treated New Harvest on less than equal terms with nonreligious assemblies, in violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. 2000cc. The district court granted the city summary judgment. New Harvest sold the building; the Ninth Circuit treated claims for declaratory and injunctive relief as moot.Addressing claims for damages, the court reversed in part. The ordinance facially violated RLUIPA's equal terms provision. Other nonreligious assemblies, such as theatres, are permitted to operate on the first floor of the Restricted Area and are similarly situated to religious assemblies with respect to the provision’s stated purpose and criterion. New Harvest failed to demonstrate a substantial burden on its religious exercise; it could have conducted services on the second floor or by reconfiguring the first floor and was not precluded from using other available sites within Salinas. When it purchased the building, New Harvest was on notice that the ordinance prohibited services on the first floor. View "New Harvest Christian Fellowship v. City of Salinas" on Justia Law

by
The Landowners own parcels of land adjacent to a 2.45-mile strip of a Union Pacific railroad line in McLennan County, Texas. Union Pacific’s predecessor in interest, Texas Central originally acquired the Line in 1902 through multiple deeds executed by the Landowners’ predecessors in interest. The Landowners sued, seeking compensation based on a theory that their predecessors in interest had conferred only easements to Texas Central, and that the Surface Transportation Board (STB) enforcement of the National Trails System Act, 16 U.S.C. 1241, by “railbanking” amounted to a “taking” of their property. Railbanking involves the transition of unused railroad corridors into recreational hiking and biking trails, generally by a transfer of an interest in the use of a rail corridor to a third-party entity. The Claims Court interpreted the deeds as having conveyed fee simple estates, not easements.The Federal Circuit affirmed. No takings from the Landowners occurred when the government later authorized conversion of the railroad line to a recreation trail; the granting clauses of the subject deeds unambiguously conveyed fee simple interests in the land and not easements despite contradictory language elsewhere in the deeds. View "Anderson v. United States" on Justia Law

by
In Ohio, to place an advertising billboard on a highway, you must apply for a permit from the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT). Under the “compliance rule,” ODOT will not process a permit application if the applicant has outstanding fees, changes his billboard without prior approval from ODOT, or maintains an illegal advertising billboard. ODOT put Kenjoh’s billboard permits on hold under the compliance rule, alleging that Kenjoh was maintaining an illegal billboard.Kenjoh sued, asserting that the compliance rule was an unconstitutional prior restraint under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court dismissed his claims for damages and injunctive relief. The Sixth Circuit vacated. While the case was pending on appeal, the Ohio legislature amended a key definition in the statute, which changes how the regulation applies. Before the amendment, a person needed a permit from ODOT to erect a billboard that was “designed, intended, or used to advertise.” Now, a person needs a permit if he will be paid for placing a message on the billboard, regardless of the message. The court affirmed the grant of qualified immunity to an ODOT supervisor on a claim for damages despite the amendment, based on the law as it existed at the time of the official action. View "Kenjoh Outdoor, LLC v. Marchbanks" on Justia Law

by
Victory Temple, affiliated with a Nigerian evangelical church, was founded in 1996. Victory’s membership grew from about 500 to more than 2,000 members. In 2018, Victory purchased the Property, intending to build a church with a seating capacity of up to 2,000. The zoning permits a church facility as a by-right use. An engineering firm concluded that building a church on the Property was entirely feasible. The Property was in the County’s water and sewer Category 5, an area planned for a future community water and sewer system, and required an upgrade to Category 4 to be developed. Victory submitted an application for a category change; the city manager recommended approval, emphasizing that many nearby parcels were already in Category 3. The Bowie City Council recommended denial. Residents expressed concerns about traffic safety, declining property values, and “light pollution.” The Transportation Committee voted to deny the Application. The County Council denied the Application.The Fourth Circuit upheld an award of declaratory and injunctive relief in favor of Victory under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000cc, The legislative amendment to the Water and Sewer Plan sought by Victory constitutes a land-use regulation subject to RLUIPA and the denial violated RLUIPA’s substantial burden provision. The County made “individualized assessments of the proposed uses for the property involved.” Assuming traffic safety constitutes a compelling governmental interest, the County failed to show how that its denial of the Application was the least restrictive means of furthering that interest. View "Redeemed Christian Church of God v. Prince George's County" on Justia Law