Justia Zoning, Planning & Land Use Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Utilities 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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Consumers Energy Company filed an action against Brian and Erin Storm, and Lake Michigan Credit Union, seeking to condemn a portion of the Storms’ property for a power-line easement. The Storms challenged the necessity of the easement under the Uniform Condemnation Procedures Act (UCPA). The trial court concluded that Consumers had failed to establish the public necessity of the easement on the Storms’ property and entered an order dismissing Consumers’ action and awarding attorney fees to the Storms. Consumers appealed that order as of right to the Court of Appeals. The Storms moved to dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction, arguing that under MCL 213.56(6), Consumers could only appeal the trial court’s public-necessity determination by leave granted. The Court of Appeals initially denied the motion by order, but the order was entered without prejudice to further consideration of the jurisdictional issue by the case -call panel. The Court of Appeals case-call panel issued an opinion in which it agreed with the Storms that the Court of Appeals lacked jurisdiction; the Court of Appeals therefore dismissed the portion of Consumers’ appeal challenging the trial court’s determination of public necessity. Despite dismissing the public-necessity portion of Consumers’ appeal, the Court of Appeals addressed Consumers’ challenge to the trial court’s award of attorney fees and vacated the attorney-fee award. The Michigan Supreme Court determined the Court of Appeals should have considered the condemning agency’s appeal as of right and reached the ultimate question of whether the trial court erred by holding that there was no public necessity for the proposed acquisition. “Therefore, it is not yet apparent that the proposed acquisition was improper such that the property owners would be entitled to reimbursement so as to avoid being ‘forced to suffer because of an action that they did not initiate and that endangered, through condemnation proceedings, their right to private property.’” Accordingly, the Supreme Court vacated the analysis construing MCL 213.66(2) in Part III of the Court of Appeals’ opinion, and remanded to that court for further proceedings. View "Consumers Energy Company v. Storm" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court affirming the decision of the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approving the application filed by Crowned Ridge Wind II, LLC for a permit to construct a large-scale wind energy farm in northeast South Dakota, holding that there was no error.Several individual intervened in this case and objected to Crowned Ridge's application. After an evidentiary hearing, the PUC voted unanimously to approve Crowned Ridge's permit. The circuit court affirmed the issuance of the permit. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the intervenors failed to raise any meritorious issues upon which the PUC's final decision and order may be reversed or modified. View "Ehlebracht v. Crowned Ridge Wind II, LLC" on Justia Law

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Petitioners, the Towns of Chester and Hudson (collectively, Towns), appealed a Board of Tax and Land Appeals (BTLA) order granting respondent Public Service Company of New Hampshire d/b/a Eversource Energy (PSNH) abatements of taxes assessed against its property located in Chester for tax years 2014 and 2016 and in Hudson for tax years 2014, 2015, and 2016. PSNH submitted an appraisal report prepared by its expert, Concentric Energy Advisors, Inc., setting forth the expert’s opinion of the aggregate fair market value of PSNH’s taxable property located in each municipality for each tax year. Two appraisers employed by the Towns’ expert, George E. Sansoucy, P.E., LLC (GES), used a substantially similar methodology in appraising the fair market value of the land interests. The BTLA compared the equalized market value to the aggregate assessed value for each municipality for each tax year. The BTLA concluded that an assessment was unreasonable and granted an abatement when it determined that the difference between the equalized market value and the aggregate assessed value was greater than five percent. The Towns argued that because both GES and Concentric relied upon the assessed value of PSNH’s land interests in reaching their opinions of fair market value, the values that the BTLA incorporated into its analysis “were already proportionate” and “should not have had the equalization ratio[s] applied to them.” The BTLA denied the Towns’ motion for reconsideration, noting that it based its calculations upon values that “were supplied by the [Towns] themselves in the stipulations agreed to by them” and adopting the arguments PSNH raised in its objection. Finding no reversible error in the BTLA's order, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "Appeal of Town of Chester et al." on Justia Law

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A reverse validation action was brought by petitioners Bonnie Wolstoncroft, William Unkel, and Michael Wilkes against the County of Yolo (County) to challenge the County’s plan to continue water service to 95 residences within the North Davis Meadows County Service Area (County Service Area) by replacing two aging groundwater wells with the City of Davis’s (City) water supply. Under this plan, North Davis Meadows residents would pay substantially higher water rates to pay for the project. The County considered the increased water rates to be property-related fees and noticed a Proposition 218 (as approved by voters, Gen. Elec. (Nov. 5, 1996)) hearing. More than five months after the County adopted its resolution, but before the deadline contemplated by the parties’ tolling agreement, petitioners filed their action in superior court. The trial court rejected petitioners’ argument that the increased levy constituted an assessment for which majority approval was required by Proposition 218. The trial court also rejected petitioners’ contentions that the County wrongfully rejected protest votes it claimed not to have received or received in an untimely manner. After review of petitioners' arguments on appeal, the Court of Appeal concluded the trial court correctly determined that the levy constituted a property-related fee under Proposition 218. "The fact that maintaining adequate water supply requires switching water sources does not turn the fee into an assessment. Thus, the County properly employed the majority protest procedure under article XIII D, section 6." Further, the Court concluded that even if the trial court erred in denying petitioners’ motion to augment the record with declarations regarding two mailed protest votes, petitioners’ evidence would not prove timely compliance with the protest procedure. Without the protest votes for which only evidence of mailing was tendered, the protest lacked a majority. Accordingly, the trial court's judgment was affirmed. View "Wolstoncroft v. County of Yolo" on Justia Law

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The Antelope Valley Groundwater Cases (AVGC) proceeding litigated whether the water supply from natural and imported sources was inadequate to meet the competing annual demands of water producers, thereby creating an overdraft condition. One of the competing parties, Appellant Tapia, individually and as trustee of a trust, claimed that he owned land overlying the aquifer. Settlement discussions ultimately produced an agreement among the vast majority of parties in which they settled their competing groundwater rights claims and agreed to support the contours of a proposed plan designed to bring the Antelope Valley Adjudication Area (AVAA) basin into hydrological balance. Tapia was not among the settling parties. Accordingly, before considering whether to approve the Physical Solution for the AVAA basin, the trial court conducted a separate trial on Tapia's unsettled claims and defenses.The Court of Appeal concluded that the Physical Solution's allocation of the "native safe yield" (NSY) does not violate California's water priorities; the allocations to correlative rights holders accord with California law; the Physical Solution's allocation of the NSY does not violate California's principles promoting the reasonable and beneficial use of water; and substantial evidence supports the judgment as to Tapia, and the Physical Solution is consistent with California law governing water priorities and the constitutional reasonable and beneficial use requirement. View "Los Angeles County Waterworks District No. 40 v. Tapia" on Justia Law

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Over 20 years ago, numerous parties alleged in the Antelope Valley Groundwater Cases (AVGC) that, without a comprehensive adjudication of all competing parties' rights to produce water from and a physical solution for the aquifer, the continuing overdraft of the basin would negatively impact the health of the aquifer. In this case, the trial court was required to find a physical solution that balanced the needs of thousands of existing users, all of whom competed for the scarce water that replenished the aquifer underlying the Antelope Valley Adjudication Area (AVAA), and to craft its provisions to protect the long-term health of the aquifer and the region's residents. The trial court determined that severely reduced water usage was required of existing users, and that severely curtailed access was required for future users. On appeal, the Willis Class challenged the judgment approving the Physical Solution, a proposed plan designed to bring the AVAA basin into hydrological balance.The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment and concluded that the Physical Solution adequately balanced the competing interests of the parties within the parameters of governing California law and was not inconsistent with the terms of the Settlement. Thus, the court did not abuse its discretion when it equitably apportioned the available groundwater and placed limits and conditions on future pumping. Furthermore, the court rejected Willis's claims that the limits placed on Willis's post-Settlement participation in the litigation amounted to a denial of due process. The court explained that Willis was afforded an adequate notice and opportunity to present its contentions as part of the lengthy process of crafting the final Physical Solution. View "Willis v. Los Angeles County Waterworks District No. 40" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose from a consolidated cases filed by plaintiff Northern New England Telephone Operations, LLC d/b/a FairPoint Communications-NNE (FairPoint), against several New Hampshire towns and cities, asserting claims of ultra vires taxation and disproportionate taxation. As “representative municipalities” in the “test cases” established for this litigation, defendants, the Town of Durham and the Town of Hanover (Towns), appealed two superior court orders challenging: (1) the grant of summary judgment on the ultra vires ruling because they contended the agreements authorizing such use or occupation did not satisfy the requirements of RSA 72:23, I(b) (2012) (amended 2017, 2018, 2020); and (2) the superior court’s decision after trial, arguing that the court committed several errors in concluding that FairPoint was entitled to abatements of its tax assessments from the Town of Durham and the Town of Hanover for tax years 2013 and 2011 respectively. The New Hampshire Supreme Court agreed with the Towns that the superior court erred with respect to the tax on the value of FairPoint's use or occupation of municipal rights-of-way was ultra vires. FairPoint’s use or occupation of municipal rights-of-way was not pursuant to a perpetual lease that gave rise to an independently taxable property interest; FairPoint met its burden to prove it was taxed disproportionately by the Towns. Judgment was affirmed in part, reversed in part and consequently abating the two tax assessments at issue. View "Northern New England Telephone Operations, LLC d/b/a FairPoint Communications - NNE v. Town of Acworth" on Justia Law

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The Riverside County Transportation Commission (Commission) sought to extend its Metrolink commuter rail line from Riverside to Perris, using the route of a preexisting rail line that it had acquired. At five points, however, the new rail line would cross gas pipelines owned by the Southern California Gas Company. The Gas Company had installed these pipelines under city streets decades earlier, pursuant to franchises granted by the relevant cities and, in some instances, pursuant to licenses granted by the then-owner of the preexisting rail line. The new rail line could not be built as long as the pipelines remained in place. The Commission terminated the licenses and demanded that the Gas Company relocate its pipelines at its own expense. The parties agreed that the Gas Company would relocate its pipelines, to other points also owned by the Commission, and the Commission would pay the estimated expenses, but only provisionally; the Commission could still sue for reimbursement, and the Gas Company could then sue for any additional expenses. The trial court ruled that the Gas Company had to bear all of the costs of relocation; however, it also ruled that the Gas Company had never trespassed on the Commission’s land. Both sides appealed. After review, the Court of Appeal held the Gas Company did have to bear all of the costs of relocation. However, the Court also held that, at those points where the Gas Company held licenses for its pipelines, once the Commission terminated the licenses, the Gas Company could be held liable for trespass. View "Riverside County Transportation Comm. v. Southern Cal. Gas Co." on Justia Law

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An industrial park was built in an unincorporated area in Laurens County, South Carolina, between the City of Laurens (Laurens) and the City of Fountain Inn (Fountain Inn). Both municipalities provided natural gas service beyond their respective borders, and each sought to serve the industrial customers in the new industrial park. However, Laurens -through its subsidiary, the Laurens Commission of Public Works (LCPW) - claimed Fountain Inn could not compete for the industrial customers' business because LCPW had established a designated service area and therefore was the sole authorized natural gas provider to the industrial park. Fountain Inn believed the industrial park was not part of a designated service area, and thus LCPW did not have an exclusive right to provide natural gas to customers in the industrial park. In support of its claim, LCPW asserted it had satisfied the requirements of S.C. Code section 5-7-60 (2004) by providing natural gas in the general vicinity for twenty years pursuant to a 1992 boundary line that was informally agreed to by Laurens and Fountain Inn. Agreeing with LCPW that it had properly created a designated service area, the circuit court enjoined Fountain Inn from providing natural gas service to the industrial park, and the court of appeals affirmed. Because there was no reasonable interpretation of section 5-7-60 that would permit LCPW to claim a designated service area over the industrial park, the South Carolina Supreme Court reversed. View "Commissioners of Public Works v. City of Fountain Inn" on Justia Law