Justia Zoning, Planning & Land Use Opinion Summaries

by
The application called for a “tennis cabaña” with a guest room and bathroom, next to a tennis court on a 2.38-acre residential property. Neighbors objected that the cabaña was inconsistent with the neighborhood; was too close to an adjacent home: was an illegal second unit; violated a landscape condition imposed when the tennis court was approved; was too large, too close to neighboring residences; was inconsistent with the general plan and municipal code; that the hearing notices violated the Brown Act; and that the applicants had an unfair advantage because their architect was a Planning Commission member. The applicants cut the size to 1,100 square feet and increased the distance from the cabaña to a neighboring project, and improved landscaping. The Commission approved the project subject to conditions, including a landscape agreement and the prohibition on use as a secondary dwelling unit. The City Council denied an appeal. While approval was pending, the applicants’ attorney threatened to sue if the city denied the project; the Council discussed the threat of litigation during closed sessions. That a threat of litigation had been made was not noted in the agenda for any of the public meetings. Plaintiffs did not learn about the litigation threat or the discussions until after the project had been approved. The court of appeal affirmed. While the city improperly considered the application in closed sessions in violation of Gov. Code 54950 (Brown Act), there was no prejudice. View "Fowler v. City of Lafayette" on Justia Law

by
Appellants Baldwin & Sons, Inc.; Baldwin & Sons, LLC; Sunranch Capital Partners, LLC; USA Portola Properties, LLC; Sunrise Pacific Construction; USA Portola East, LLC; USA Portola West, LLC; and SRC-PH Investments, LLC, all appealed an order compelling compliance with administrative subpoenas issued by the State Water Resources Control Board. Appellants were involved (or believed to be involved) in the construction of a large-scale development in the Portola Hills Community in Lake Forest, California. The State Board initiated an investigation into alleged violations of the federal Clean Water Act and California's Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act occurring during construction activities. In connection with its investigation, the State Board issued subpoenas seeking Appellants' financial records. When Appellants refused to produce the requested financial records, the State Board sought a court order compelling compliance with the subpoenas. With the exception of tax returns, the trial court concluded that the information sought was relevant to the State Board's investigation and subject to disclosure pursuant to the investigative subpoenas. Appellants argued on appeal: (1) their financial records were not reasonably relevant to the State Board's investigation; (2) compelling production of their financial records violated their right to privacy; and (3) the protective order did not adequately protect against disclosure of their private financial information to third parties. The Court of Appeal rejected these claims and affirmed the challenged order compelling production of the Appellants' financial records subject to a protective order. View "State Water Resources Control Bd. v. Baldwin & Sons, Inc." on Justia Law

by
City of Atlanta (“the City”) and the Atlanta Independent School System (“APS”) were involved in a dispute over the City’s annexing property in Fulton County, while it expressly prohibiting the co-expansion of APS’s territory. The Georgia Supreme Court granted the City’s application for interlocutory appeal challenging the trial court’s denial of its motion to dismiss. The Court concluded this matter did not amount to an actual, justiciable controversy; consequently, it vacated the trial court’s order and remanded for this case to be dismissed by the trial court. “These parties have appeared before this Court numerous times, and the instant dispute is part of a larger, ongoing disagreement between the City and APS. … Mere disagreement about the ‘abstract meaning or validity of a statute [or ordinance]’ does not constitute an actual controversy within the meaning of the Declaratory Judgment Act. … APS has failed to establish the existence of an actual controversy, for purposes of declaratory relief, because it has failed to demonstrate that a ruling in its favor would have any immediate legal consequence.” View "City of Atlanta v. Atlanta Indep. Sch. Sys." on Justia Law

by
Thomas Alpern claimed the United States Forest Service improperly charges him a fee when he entered Maroon Valley to park and hike. He cited an provision of the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (REA) he claimed prohibited charging a fee "solely for parking." He argued that this prohibition overrode another REA provision that allowed agencies to charge a fee when certain listed amenities were present, like picnic tables, security patrols, trash bins, and interpretive signs. The Tenth Circuit disagreed, finding section 6802(d)(1)(A) prohibited charging fees “[s]olely for parking . . . along roads or trailsides[,]” something Alpern did not do. The Court found Alpern parked in a developed parking lot featuring all the amenities listed in section 6802(f)(4), not along a road or trailside. So it affirmed the district court’s decision to reject Alpern’s as-applied challenge to the Maroon Valley fee program. View "Alpern v. Ferebee" on Justia Law

by
Appellant Michael Guiney challenged a superior court declaratory judgment ruling the road between Guiney’s house and barn became a public highway by prescription. Guiney also appealed the trial court’s decision on his cross-claim against appellees David Nault, Joshua Nault, and Leigh Nault (the Naults), which upheld boundary lines and a 50-foot wide right-of-way (50-foot ROW) that appeared in a 1988 boundary line agreement (BLA) under the doctrines of boundary by acquiescence and estoppel by recitals in instruments. The relevant properties and Kelsea Road were located in Dunbarton. Guiney acquired his property (Lot 5) by deed dated March 30, 1999. David Nault purchased three lots (Lots 7, 8, and 9) to the west and north of Lot 5 between 1990 and 1998, and had a home on Lot 7. When Guiney purchased Lot 5, the deed described the boundaries of the property using the language that appeared in the BLA, including the 50-foot ROW in favor of Lot 7. In 2015, Guiney recorded a plan which illustrated the boundary lines of his property as they were described in the BLA. Nault was also aware of the BLA prior to purchasing Lot 7 and understood it to be binding upon him and all future owners of the affected pieces of property. Although he observed very little traffic near his house, Guiney observed plow trucks for the Town of Dunbarton (Town) plowing the disputed area during the winter and using space next to his barn to turn around and go back down Kelsea Road. Although Town trucks never graded the disputed area between Guiney’s house and barn, they used the space next to the barn to turn their trucks around when grading Kelsea Road. The present action was set in motion in 2006, when Guiney filed a petition against Nault to quiet title to a “driveway” Nault had constructed over Lot 5, and outside of the disputed area, to access Lots 8 and 9. The New Hampshire Supreme Court determined the evidence presented to the trial court supported a finding of public use, but not adverse public use, therefore, insufficient to support a finding of a public highway by prescription. The Supreme Court vacated the trial court’s finding that Kelsea Road spurred west between Guiney’s house and barn; affirmed the trial court’s finding that the boundaries between Lot 5 and Lot 7 were established by acquiescence; and affirmed the trial court’s finding that Guiney was judicially estopped from denying the existence of the 50-foot ROW outlined in the BLA. View "Town of Dunbarton v. Guiney" on Justia Law

by
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Riverside County in an action brought by Calvary Chapel, alleging a facial challenge to a county zoning ordinance under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). The panel held that Calvary Chapel has failed to establish a prima facie violation of RLUIPA's equal terms provision on a facial challenge. The panel stated that, consistent with Riverside County's representations both in its briefs and at oral argument, Calvary Chapel was not prohibited from pursuing its religious practices under the zoning ordinance. In this case, Riverside County's zoning ordinance permits religious assemblies as special occasion facilities, and thus the ordinance does not treat religious assemblies on less than equal terms with secular assemblies. Finally, the panel declined to consider Calvary Chapel's new nondiscrimination claim on appeal in the first instance. View "Calvary Chapel Bible Fellowship v. County of Riverside" on Justia Law

by
In 1962, the United States began constructing various structures in and around the Catahoula Basin pursuant to a congressionally-approved navigation project under the River and Harbor Act of 1960 to promote navigation on the Ouachita and Black Rivers. In conjunction with that project, the State of Louisiana signed an “Act of Assurances,” which obligated the State to provide the federal government with all lands and property interests necessary to the project free of charge, and to indemnify the federal government from any damages resulting from the project. In 2006, plaintiffs Steve Crooks and Era Lea Crooks filed a “Class Action Petition to Fix Boundary, For Damages and For Declaration [sic] Judgment.” The Crookses alleged they represented a class of landowners in the Catahoula Basin whose property was affected by increased water levels from the project. Ultimately, the trial court certified the plaintiffs as one class, but subdivided that class into two groups – the “Lake Plaintiffs” and the “Swamp Plaintiffs” – depending on the location of the properties affected. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to determine whether the plaintiffs’ inverse condemnation claims for compensation against the State were prescribed under La. R.S. 13:5111 and/or 28 U.S.C. 2501. The lower courts relied on the decision in Cooper v. Louisiana Department of Public Works, 870 So. 2d 315 (2004), to conclude the one-year prescriptive period for damage to immovable property found in La. C.C. art. 3493 governed, and the continuing tort doctrine applied to prevent the running of prescription on the plaintiffs’ claims. The Supreme Court found the lower courts erred in relying on Cooper and held that the three-year prescriptive period for actions for compensation for property taken by the state set forth in La. R. S. 13:5111 governed and the plaintiffs’ inverse condemnation claims were prescribed. View "Crooks v. Dept. of Natural Res." on Justia Law

by
Gerald Aftem and Aftem Lake Developments Inc. (Aftem) appealed a district court judgment dismissing its lawsuit against the Riverview Homeowners Association. In 1998, Aftem purchased 10.69 acres of real property in Mountrail County. Aftem subdivided part of the property into three platted subdivisions; Arrowhead Point, Bridgeview, and Riverview Estates, collectively referred to as the Riverview Subdivisions. Each subdivision plat stated the roads and public rights of way were dedicated to the public. In 2015, the Riverview HOA developed and built a water utility system for the subdivisions. Portions of the water system were located underneath the platted subdivision roads. Aftem sued the Riverview HOA for trespass and negligence, alleging it did not have permission to run its water lines underneath the subdivision roads to which Aftem claimed ownership. Aftem claimed it owned the roads within the subdivision because, although the County Commission approved the plats, the County did not maintain the roads. Riverview HOA denied the allegations, claiming the County Commission’s approval of the subdivision plats divested Aftem of ownership in the subdivision roads. The district court granted Riverview HOA’s motion and concluded Aftem had no ownership interest in the subdivision roads. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed, finding Aftem’s subdivision plats satisfied N.D.C.C. section§ 40-50.1-01, 40-50.1-03, and 40-50.1-04. "The plats dedicated the use of the subdivision roads and public rights of way to the public forever. Thus, under N.D.C.C. 40-50.1-05, Aftem’s dedication of the subdivision roads and public rights of way divested Aftem of ownership in the roads." View "Aftem Lake Developments Inc. v. Riverview Homeowners Assoc." on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff-Appellant Roger Hill appealed a district court's dismissal of his complaint for failure to state a claim (Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6)) -- specifically for lack of prudential standing. Hill was a fly fisherman who preferred to fish at a favorite spot in the Arkansas River. Defendants-Appellees Mark Everett Warsewa and Linda Joseph (Landowners) contended they owned the Arkansas riverbed up to its centerline at the spot at which Hill preferred to fish. Hill contended this segment of the river was navigable for title at the time Colorado was admitted to the United States and that title to the riverbed consequently vested in the state at admission under Article IV of the Constitution and the Equal Footing Doctrine. According to Hill, the state holds this title in trust for the public, subject to an easement for public uses such as fishing. Defendant-Appellee State of Colorado agreed with the Landowner-Appellees that this segment of the river was non-navigable for title at statehood and was privately owned. The district court found that Hill lacked prudential standing because he asserted a generalized grievance and rested his claims on the rights of the state. The Tenth Circuit reversed. Hill alleged he had a specific, legally protected right to fish resulting from alleged facts and law. "The other parties and amici may ultimately be correct that Colorado law does not actually afford Mr. Hill the right to fish that he asserts, even if he can prove navigability as a factual matter. But in this regard 'far-fetchedness is a question to be determined on the merits.'" The Court assumed Hill’s claim had “legal validity” and concluded that he asserted his own rights, not those of Colorado, for prudential standing purposes. View "Hill v. Warsewa" on Justia Law

by
At issue was whether the rule of capture immunized an energy developer from liability in trespass, where the developer used hydraulic fracturing on the property it owned or leased, and such activities allowed it to obtain oil or gas that migrated from beneath the surface of another person’s land. Plaintiffs’ property was adjacent to a tract of land leased by Appellant Southwestern Energy Production Company for natural gas extraction. Plaintiffs alleged that Southwestern “has and continues to extract natural gas from under the land of the Plaintiffs,” and that such extraction was “willful[], unlawful[], outrageous[] and in complete conscious disregard of the rights and title of the Plaintiffs in said land and the natural gas thereunder.” Southwestern alleged that Plaintiffs’ claims were barred by, inter alia, the rule of capture, and sought declaratory relief confirming its immunity from liability. The court of common pleas court granted Southwestern’s motion for summary judgment, denied Plaintiffs’ motion for partial summary judgment, and denied the motion to compel as moot. The court agreed with Southwestern’s position that the rule of capture applied in the circumstances and, as such, Plaintiffs could not recover under theories of trespass or conversion even if some of the gas harvested by Southwestern had drained from under Plaintiffs’ property. The Superior Court reversed, holding that hydraulic fracturing could give rise to liability in trespass, particularly if subsurface fractures ... crossed boundary lines. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected the concept that the rule of capture was inapplicable to drilling and hydraulic fracturing that occurred entirely within the developer’s property solely because drainage was the direct or indirect result of hydraulic fracturing. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court found the Superior Court panel’s opinion "to suffer from multiple infirmities," reversed and remanded with directions. View "Briggs, et al v. Southwestern Energy" on Justia Law