Justia Zoning, Planning & Land Use Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Personal Injury
Knezovich, et al. v. United States
Victims of the 2018 Roosevelt Fire in Wyoming sued the United States Forest Service, alleging it negligently delayed its suppression response. The Forest Service moved to dismiss the complaint on the grounds that it was not liable for the way it handled the response to the fire. Under the Federal Tort Claims Act, a government actor could not be sued for conducting a so-called “discretionary function,” where the official must employ an element of judgment or choice in responding to a situation. The government contended that responding to a wildfire required judgment or choice, and its decisions in fighting the fire at issue here met the discretionary function exception to the Act. The district court agreed and dismissed the suit. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals also concluded the Forest Service was entitled to the discretionary function exception to suit, and the district court lacked jurisdiction to hear the complaint. View "Knezovich, et al. v. United States" on Justia Law
Altizer v. Coachella Valley Conservation Com.
Appellant Tanner Altizer suffered serious injuries when he ran into a suspended cable fence while riding his off-road motorcycle on an unpaved area in an unoccupied area of the desert. The owner of the property, respondent Coachella Valley Conservation Commission (the Commission), placed the cable fence around its property to stop illegal dumping and off-road vehicles in order to protect the sensitive habitat. Altizer sued the Commission, alleging that the cable fence created a dangerous condition on public property. The trial court granted summary judgment for the Commission, and Altizer appealed. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded the Commission was entitled to hazardous recreational activity immunity under Government Code section 831.71 and affirmed. View "Altizer v. Coachella Valley Conservation Com." on Justia Law
MICHELLE SCHURG, ET AL V. USA
The United States Forest Service, together with the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, managed the rapidly changing fire conditions and actively communicated with the public about the Lolo Peak Fire. After the fire, various affected landowners sued the federal government. They claim that the Forest Service is liable under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”) for failing to comply with its duty to consult with them about fire-suppression activities on and near their properties. Specifically, they argued that the Forest Service was required to consult with landowners through individualized—rather than public—communication channels. The district court granted summary judgment for the Forest Service, holding that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction because the property owners’ claims were barred by the discretionary function exception. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s summary judgment in favor of the United States. The panel applied the requisite two-step test to determine whether the discretionary function exception applied. First, the panel examined whether there was a federal statute, regulation, or policy that prescribed the Forest Service’s course of action regarding the agency’s communications with the landowners during the Lolo Peak fire in the Bitterroot Mountains in Montana in July 2017. The panel held that the Forest Service’s specific communications with the landowners exceeded the incident decision’s instruction and involved an element of judgment or choice sufficient to satisfy the first step of the discretionary function exception. The panel held that the Forest Service’s decisions about notifying the landowners about fire-suppression activities likely to occur on and near their properties were susceptible to a policy analysis. View "MICHELLE SCHURG, ET AL V. USA" on Justia Law
Civetti v.Town of Isle La Motte, et al.
A Vermont trial court determined that both the Town of Isle La Motte and the road commissioner Shelby Turner were entitled to qualified immunity and granted their motions for summary judgment after concluding that decisions regarding road alterations were discretionary, “involv[ing] an element of judgment or choice,” rather than ministerial, meaning “prescribe[d].” The underlying tort action in this appeal followed an August 2016 motor vehicle accident in the Town: Plaintiff Paul Civetti was driving a propane truck on Main Street when he lost control of the vehicle causing it to roll over and come to rest on its roof. Plaintiff argued defendants were negligent in failing to widen Main Street in accordance with Vermont Town Road and Bridge Standards, causing his accident. The State of Vermont promulgated Town Road and Bridge Standards to serve as guidance for municipalities when they decide to construct or alter a town highway. Plaintiff filed a negligence claim against defendants the Town of Isle La Motte and Turner, in his capacity as road commissioner, seeking damages for plaintiff’s injuries. The parties disputed what authority, if any, the Town Selectboard delegated to the road commissioner to construct, lay out, and alter Town roadways. The Vermont Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that deciding whether to widen Main Street was discretionary, thus entitling both the Town and the road commissioner to qualified immunity. The Court therefore affirmed. View "Civetti v.Town of Isle La Motte, et al." on Justia Law
Yankton County v. McAllister
The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the decision of the circuit court granting summary judgment dismissing claims brought by Luke McAllister, McAllister TD, LLC (MTD), and B-Y Internet, LLC (B-Y) (collectively, McAllisters) against Yankton County, holding that the circuit court erred in part.Yankton County brought an action seeking an injunction against the McAllisters to cease a business that the County alleged was operating in violation of a zoning ordinance. The McAllisters asserted counterclaims for barratry and abuse of process, filed a third-party complaint asserting an abuse of process claim against Yankton County entities, and added a claim against the County's attorney and zoning administrator. The circuit court dismissed all of the McAllisters' claims. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding that the circuit court erred in granting summary judgment for Yankton County as to barratry counterclaims filed by Luke and MTD. View "Yankton County v. McAllister" on Justia Law
Egan v. County of Lancaster
The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the district court finding that E. Jane Egan lacked standing to challenge the Lancaster County Board of Commissioners' issuance of a special use permit allowing Randy Essink to construct and operate a poultry production facility on land within the county's agricultural zoning district and that the permit was appropriately issued, holding that the district court did not err.Egan and Janis Howlett challenged the Board's decision in the district court, asserting that the proposed poultry production facility would lead to adverse effects on the environment, properly values, public health, and local infrastructure. The district court affirmed the issuance of the special use permit, concluding that Egan did not have standing and that the permit was appropriately issued. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err by failing to find that Egan had standing and finding that the special use permit was properly approved. View "Egan v. County of Lancaster" on Justia Law
Nanouk v. United States
Nanouk uses her 160-acre Alaska Native allotment for traditional subsistence activities. In the 1980s, Nanouk built a small cabin, which she and her family reached by using a trail that runs from the main road through the U.S. Air Force North River Radio Relay Station, which closed in 1978. In 1981, the General Accounting Office criticized the Air Force’s failure to maintain shuttered sites, including North River, which contained hazardous chemicals. The Air Force and the Army Corps of Engineers began remediation, removing 500 gallons of transformer oil containing PCBs and PCB-contaminated soil. Surveys taken in 1987 and 1989 revealed that 6,700 cubic yards of contaminated soil remained. The Air Force and the Corps released a new plan in 2001; clean-up resumed. The trail that Nanouk used ran through a “hot spot” where PCB-contaminated soil was picked up by her vehicles. Nanouk did not learn about the PCBs on her property until 2003 when she reported a strong chemical odor. The Air Force then undertook extensive environmental remediation at the Station and Nanouk’s allotment. Nanouk sued, alleging trespass and nuisance. She and several family members have experienced serious health problems.The Ninth Circuit vacated the dismissal of her suit. The Federal Tort Claims Act's discretionary exception barred claims predicated on two of the acts she challenged as negligent--the government’s alleged failure to supervise contractors during the Station’s operation, and its abandonment of the property between the 1978 closure and 1990. The government did not establish that the exception barred the claims relating to the failure to identify and remediate the hot spot in a timely manner after 1990. View "Nanouk v. United States" on Justia Law
McCormick v. Oregon Parks & Recreation Dept.
Plaintiff Benjamin McCormick brought this action against the State of Oregon for injuries he sustained while recreating in Lake Billy Chinook. The State moved for summary judgment, asserting that it was entitled to recreational immunity under ORS 105.682. In response, plaintiff contended that the state did not “directly or indirectly permit” the public to use the lake for recreational purposes. Specifically, he contended that, under both the public trust doctrine and the public use doctrine, the public already had a right to use the lake for recreational purposes and, therefore, the State did not “permit” that use. The trial court granted the State summary judgment, but the Court of Appeals reversed. On review, the Oregon Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals decision. For the purposes of the recreational immunity statute, the Supreme Court held an owner could “permit” public recreational use of its land, even if it could not completely prohibit that use. More specifically, an owner could “permit” public recreational use of its land if, among other alternatives, it made that use possible by creating access to and developing the land for that use. View "McCormick v. Oregon Parks & Recreation Dept." on Justia Law
Civetti v. Turner
The trial court dismissed plaintiff Paul Civetti's negligence action against the Town of Isle La Motte and the Town Road Commissioner on grounds that: (1) because the Road Commissioner was an “appointed or elected municipal officer,” plaintiff was required by 24 V.S.A. section 901(a) to bring his action against the Town, rather than the Road Commissioner; and (2) the Town was, in turn, immune from suit based on municipal immunity. In his complaint, plaintiff alleged that: the Town has formally adopted road standards for its town roads; the Road Commissioner is responsible for assuring that the Town’s roads meet those standards; Main Street did not comply with those standards, including standards relating to the “width and shoulder”; the Road Commissioner knew or should have known that Main Street did not comply; and plaintiff was injured in a motor vehicle accident because of the non-compliant road. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court concluded that if the Road Commissioner was negligent in performing a ministerial function, the Town assumes the Road Commissioner’s place in defending the action and therefore may not assert municipal immunity from the claim pursuant to section 901(a) or § 901a, and that dismissal of this claim on the basis of qualified immunity was premature. Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Civetti v. Turner" on Justia Law
Mercer University v. Stofer
Mercer University sought immunity from liability for claims by the estate and family of Sally Stofer, who was fatally injured when she fell at a free concert hosted by the university at Washington Park in Macon, Georgia in July 2014. The park was owned by Macon-Bibb County, but Mercer had a permit to use the park for its concert series. The concert series was planned, promoted, and hosted by Mercer’s College Hill Alliance, a division of Mercer whose stated mission is to foster neighborhood revitalization for Macon’s College Hill Corridor. The trial court concluded, and the Court of Appeals agreed, that defendant was not entitled to summary judgment on its claim of immunity under Georgia’s Recreational Property Act, given evidence that Mercer hosted the concert and it might (at least indirectly) benefit financially from the event. In arriving at this conclusion, the Georgia Supreme Court surmised the Court of Appeals was led astray by language in the Supreme Court’s most recent relevant decision that was inconsistent with previous case law. After careful consideration of the statutory text and a thorough review of the case law, the Georgia Supreme Court concluded that whether immunity was available under this provision requires a determination of the true scope and nature of the landowner’s invitation to use its property, and this determination properly is informed by two related considerations: (1) the nature of the activity that constitutes the use of the property in which people have been invited to engage, and (2) the nature of the property that people have been invited to use. Clarifying that considerations of evidence of Mercer’s subjective motivations in hosting the concert and some speculation of the indirect benefits Mercer might have received as a result of the concert were generally improper, the Supreme Court vacated the Court of Appeals’ decision and remanded the case with direction that the court revisit its analysis consistent with the standard that was clarified here. View "Mercer University v. Stofer" on Justia Law