City not liable for takings claim because of alleged failure to enforce ordinances against neighboring property owner/developer

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City of Mason v. William Robin Lee, et al.  04-18-00275-CV (Tex. App. – San Antonio, Nov. 7, 2018).

This is an interlocutory appeal in a regulatory takings case where the Fourth Court of Appeals reversed the denial of the City’s plea to the jurisdiction and dismissed the takings claims.

The Zeschs’ trust asserted they owned property adjacent to or downhill from property owned by Tyler and Reyeses. The City approved a minor plat and Reyeses began constructing a single-family residence. The Zeschs assert the development caused increase water runoff damaging the property. Additionally, the Zeschs assert the construction generated nuisance level noise and dust. They assert the City committed a regulatory taking by approving the plat, then refusing to enforce various City ordinances against Reyeses. The City filed a plea to the jurisdiction, which was denied. The City took this interlocutory appeal.

The court first noted a justiciable controversy still exists even though the Zeschs settled with Tyler and Reyes and now own the property since a question remains as to whether the Zeschs’ property was damaged due to the City’s actions. Next, to state a valid takings claim, a plaintiff generally must allege: (1) an intentional governmental act; (2) that resulted in his property being taken; (3) for public use. The crux of the Zeschs claims is that the City failed to impose applicable regulations to the subdivision and to the property owned by the Reyeses. The Texas Supreme Court and the Fourth Court have recognized “the law does not recognize takings liability for a failure to” act. A municipality’s failure to enforce applicable zoning ordinances and special permit restrictions does not constitute a regulatory taking.  The court also cited to precedent noting that if the government’s alleged affirmative conduct is nothing beyond allowing private developers to use their property as they wish, the more appropriate remedy is a claim against the private developers rather than a novel taking claim against the government.  Interestingly, in a footnote, the court held that the Penn Central analysis (applicable when a regulation unreasonably interferes with a property owner’s use and enjoyment of the property) does not apply in this type of case because the Zeschs were not complaining of regulations applied to them, but of the lack of regulations applied to others. No intentional conduct occurred so the plea should have been granted.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Justice Martinez, Justice Chapa and Justice Rios.  Memorandum Opinion by Justice Rios.  The docket page with attorney information can be found here.

City’s denial of plat application citing inconsistencies with “general plan” of city, without more, is insufficient and therefore vested rights are implicated

 

The Village of Tiki Island, et al.  v. Premier Tierra Holdings Inc., 14-18-00014-CV (Tex. App. – Houston [14th Dist.], July 10, 2018)

This is an interlocutory appeal in a land-use case were the 14th Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of the City’s plea to the jurisdiction.

This case has gone up and down the appellate ladder already.  Prior summary found here. Premier sought to develop property for a mixed-use marina project. Premier submitted a plat application which included up to one hundred residential units and up to 250 dry stack enclosed boat slips. The City had no meaningful land-use regulations or platting or subdivision regulations. Five days later the city enacted a zoning ordinance prohibiting dry boat storage, limiting heights and set-backs, and restricting rental dates and parking. The City then rejected the plat application as being inconsistent with the new ordinance. Premier next sought a rezoning application as a planned unit district, which was denied.  It also sought several plat amendments which were denied. Premier filed a mandamus and sought declaratory relief asking the court to approve the original plat application and successive plat applications based on vested rights under chapter 245 of the Texas Local Government Code. It further brought a takings claim. The City Defendants filed a plea to the jurisdiction which was denied. The City Defendants appealed.

Chapter 245 creates a system by which property developers can rely on a municipality’s regulations in effect at the time the original application for a permit is filed. It freezes” the rules at the time the original application for a permit is filed, and limits the rights of a city to “change the rules in the middle of the game.” Chapter 212 of the Texas Local Government Code deals with plat approval and requires plats to conform to the “general plan” of the city and for extensions of utilities and roadways. The City’s assertion that it relied on a pre-existing “general plan” of the City in denying the original plat application was rejected as the City did not provide, in the record, evidence of such a plan or what its framework would have been. Chapter 212 plans must be adopted after public hearings, which is not evident in the record. A vague reference to a general plan of the city is insufficient for plea purposes and a fact question exists preventing the plea. Further, Chapter 245 expressly authorized a declaratory judgment suit to establish Chapter 245 rights. As to the takings claim, the court held Premier alleged facts to support a takings claim based on the denial of its vested rights in the project.

If you would like to read this legal opinion, click here. Justice Christopher, Justice Donovan and Justice Wise. Opinion by Justice Wise.

Zoning amendment was not retroactive and property owner had no vested interest in perpetual use of his property for a specific purpose says Dallas Court of Appeals

 

Hinga Mbogo, et al. v. City of Dallas, et al. 05-17-00879-CV (Tex. App. – Dallas, June 19, 2018)

This is an appeal from an order granting the City Defendants’ plea to the jurisdiction in a constitutional challenge to zoning laws. The Dallas Court of Appeals affirmed the granting of the plea.

Hinga leased land and opened a general repair shop on Ross Avenue in Dallas, Texas, in 1986. At that time, the City’s zoning ordinances allowed automobile-related businesses on Ross Avenue. After performing a study which found automobile-repair shops were a concern in the area based on the connected roads and services in the area, the City amended its zoning ordinance in 1988 prohibiting such uses. At that time, Hinga was fully aware that continuing his business became a “nonconforming use.” In 1991, Hinga purchased the property, expanded and upgraded knowing the property was nonconforming. In 2005 the City again amended the zoning ordinance and codified specific provisions related to non-conforming uses and provided deadlines. A property owner could appeal to the board of adjustment to extend deadlines to comply with the requirements. The BOA gave Hinga a new compliance date of April 13, 2013. Hinga then received a zoning change and SUP which expired in 2015. Hinga applied for a new SUP in February 2016, which was denied. The City filed suit seeking a permanent injunction to prevent operations and sought fines of $1,000 per day. Hinga counterclaimed and brought in various City officials. The City defendants filed a plea to the jurisdiction, which was granted. Hinga appealed.

Hinga argues the City’s ordinances, as applied to him, are unconstitutionally retroactive. A retroactive law is one that extends to matters that occurred in the past. Hinga asserted in 2005 and 2013 he had no notice the City would at some point make his use illegal. However, a law is not retroactive because it upsets expectations based in prior law.  Further, there are strong policy arguments and a demonstrable public need for the fair and reasonable termination of nonconforming property uses. In 2005 the City’s ordinance change allowed the owner of a nonconforming use to apply for a later compliance date if the owner would not be able to recover his investment in the use by the designated conformance date. The ordinance did not change any use but rather, it prospectively altered a property owner’s future use of the property. The 2013 ordinance likewise set a deadline for when it expired. As a result, the ordinances are not retroactive. Additionally, the court noted not all retroactive laws are unconstitutional. Here, any interest that Hinga had in the use of his property is not “firmly vested.” There is no bright-line rule and, generally speaking, an individual has no protected property interest in the continued use of his property for a particular purpose. The process provided likewise did not deprive Hinga of due process or single him out in any respect. The City allowed Hinga to run a business from 1991 through 2015 as either a nonconforming use or under a SUP; however, his use became illegal once his SUP expired. Hinga’s position under his takings argument appears to be that any restriction on his desired use of the property results in unconstitutional damage or destruction to his property. That is simply not the case as he had no vested right to perpetual, guaranteed use of his property in a specific way. As a result the plea was properly granted.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel consists of Justice Bridges, Justice Myers and Justice Schenck. Memorandum Opinion by Justice Bridges. The docket page with attorney information can be found here.

City immune from claims it misapplied its own ordinances or procedures, but not for TOMA claims

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Peter Schmitz, et al v. Town of Ponder, Texas, et al. 02-16-00114-CV, (Tex. App. – Fort Worth, May 10, 2018).

This is a substituted opinion. Summary of original opinion found here. This is an appeal from a final judgment against the Plaintiffs who attempted to force the Town to enforce its zoning laws against other property owners.

In 2014 the Denton County Cowboy Church (“Church”) purchased property zoned single family residential under the Town of Ponder’s zoning ordinance.  The Church’s property is adjacent to the Plaintiffs’ property. According to Ponder’s comprehensive plan, the Plaintiffs’ properties are designated for future low-density residential zoning. In 2015 the Church began construction of an arena. The Town issued a building permit for an open arena. Plaintiffs sued the Church and Town of Ponder, seeking injunctions prohibiting the Church from continuing construction. They also brought claims under §1983 for due process, takings, and equal protection violations. The Town and Church both filed pleas to the jurisdiction which the trial court granted. The Plaintiff appealed.

The Uniform Declaratory Judgment Act (“UDJA”) does not waive immunity of a governmental entity when no ordinance is being challenged. The City maintains immunity for claims seeking a declaration of the claimant’s statutory rights or over a claim that government actors have acted outside the law—ultra vires. However, the majority of the Plaintiff’s requested declarations would establish that the Town, not the individual committee or council members, violated or misapplied its own ordinances or procedures, rendering its actions arbitrary and unreasonable. The Town maintains immunity from such claims. The ordinances further did not waive the Town’s immunity by authorizing suit for enforcement.  With no UDJA claim, requests for permanent injunction are also not viable. Liability against a governmental unit for private-nuisance injuries arises only when governmental immunity is clearly and unambiguously waived, which is not the case here. However, immunity is waived under the Texas Open Meetings Act (“TOMA”) so the TOMA claims are remanded. The court stressed that the waiver of immunity under TOMA does not apply to the extent Plaintiffs seek more than injunctive relief or a declaration that the Town’s actions were voidable under TOMA only. Under Plaintiffs’ §1983 claims, a regulatory taking can occur when governmental action unreasonably interferes with a landowner’s use and enjoyment of his property. However, the Plaintiffs claims challenge the process in which the Town enforced its ordinances, not the substance of the enforcement. Plaintiffs have no protected property interest in the manner in which the Town enforced or failed to enforce its ordinances against the Church, rendering their claim under § 1983 not viable. And while the Town argued RLUIPA preempted their enforcement of certain matters of the ordinances, RLUIPA does not implicate jurisdiction so is not proper to raise in a plea. The court then analyzed the claims against the Church and ultimately held some claims survived and were remanded.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel consists of Justice Gabriel and Justice Pittman. Memorandum Opinion by Justice Gabriel. The attorneys listed for the Plaintiffs are Gregory Sawko and Robert E. Hager.  The attorneys listed for the Town are Matthew Butler and John F. Boyle Jr.

Trial court abused its discretion in awarding attorney’s fees to City in vested rights and declaratory judgment case

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Patsy B. Anderton, et al. v. City of Cedar Hill, 05-17-00138-CV (Tex. App. – Dallas, May 25, 2018)

The Dallas Court of Appeals affirmed-in-part and reversed-in-part a judgment for the City of Cedar Hill (“City”) in a case involving a non-conforming use in a specific zoning district.

This case went up and down the appellate latter in one appeal already. The Andertons purchased an existing landscaping and building materials business—a commercial rather than local retail business—that operated on Lots 5 and 6, about the time the City rezoned the area to a retail zone. The Andertons requested a zoning change to make their legal non-conforming use a legal conforming use, which the City denied. Several years later the City filed a declaratory petition and sought civil penalties against the Andertons prohibiting them from operating the existing business on the lots. The Andertons counterclaimed under Tex. Loc. Gov’t Code Chapter 245 for vested rights and inverse condemnation. Both parties moved for summary judgment. The trial court granted the City’s summary judgment motions and denied the Andertons’ motions. The Andertons appealed the first time and won a partial remand. However, afterwards, the City passed two zoning amendments making the lots lawful. The City sought attorney’s fees for the claims it won in the first appeal and filed a plea to the jurisdiction on the Andertons’ remaining counterclaims. The trial court denied the plea and went to trial on the attorney’s fee issue. The trial court later entered a final judgment on remand, dismissing the Andertons’ claims for non-conforming use rights in Lots 5 and 6 as moot and awarding the City its attorney’s fees. The Andertons appealed.

The court first held, given the zoning amendments, at the time it rendered judgment, the trial court had no practical ability to alter the legal relationship between the parties. As a result, the Andertons’ claim as to the non-conforming use status was moot and the trial court was obliged to dismiss barring some valid exception. There are two exceptions that confer jurisdiction regardless of mootness: (1) the issue is capable of repetition, yet evading review; and (2) the collateral consequences doctrine. The record did not reflect any evidence indicating the City was likely to rezone the property back to retail only, so the first exception does not apply. Theoretical possibility is not sufficient to satisfy the test.  The “collateral consequences” doctrine applies to the narrow circumstances when vacating the underlying judgment will not cure the adverse consequences suffered by the party seeking to appeal that judgment.  The Andertons, however, do not argue, and the record does not reflect, any concrete disadvantages or disabilities that will persist should their claim be dismissed as moot. So, the judgement is affirmed as to the Andertons’ counterclaims. As to the award of attorney’s fees, the UDJA does not condition the entitlement to fees on prevailing party status. The trial court’s findings of fact and conclusions of law affirmatively indicate the trial court awarded the City its attorney’s fees as “equitable and just based on the claims asserted in this case, the objectives sought by the parties and the outcome of this case” and not as a “prevailing party.” However, not withstanding, the extent of a plaintiff’s success is a crucial factor in determining the proper amount of an award of attorney’s fees. As in cases involving only a modicum of success in the context of the prevailing party statute, even fees supported by uncontradicted testimony may be “unreasonable” in light of the amount involved, the results obtained, and in the absence of evidence that such fees were warranted due to circumstances unique to the case. After going through the win/loss points and going through each lot in the case, the appellate court held the trial court abused its discretion in awarding attorney’s fees.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel consists of Justice Lang, Justice Fillmore and Justice Schenck. Opinion by Justice Schenck. The attorney listed for Patsy Anderton is Arthur J. Anderson. The attorneys listed for the City are Ronald G. Macfarlane Jr., James W. Morris Jr., and Terry D. Morgan.

Water District property entitled to tax exempt status even though District rents to private business on river front

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Tarrant Appraisal District v. Tarrant Regional Water District 02-17-00042-CV (Tex. App— Fort Worth, January 25, 2018)

The Tarrant Appraisal District (“TAD”) asserted part of the property owned by the Tarrant Regional Water District (“TRWD”) was not “used for public purposes” and therefore was not tax exempt. The Fort Worth Court of Appeals affirmed the order dismissing TAD’s suit. [This is a 37 page opinion, but has excellent language on “public purpose” definitions applicable to governmental entities. Sorry, but long opinion equals long summary in comparison.]

TRWD acquired property in connection with a federal control project. Undertaken in concert with the United States Army Corps of Engineers, the program’s purpose was to control flooding on the Clear Fork Trinity River. A portion of the property was not used directly for flood control but was used for public trails, common areas, and river access. In an effort to counteract a lack of use outside of certain areas along the trails and “to encourage development of river-facing businesses on TRWD’s property and adjoining properties,” TRWD determined it would improve and lease to chef Tim Love’s River Shack, LLC to run a restaurant on the river front property. River Shack pays TRWD rent based on a percentage of its annual sales and “[a]ll income received by TRWD from the [lease] is deposited into the general fund of TRWD and used exclusively for [] TRWD’s public purposes.” TAD asserted the property was not exempt from taxation. TRWD followed the procedures in the Tax Code to challenge the decision, ending in district court. TRWD filed a motion for summary judgment which the trial court granted. TAD appealed.

TRWD is a governmental entity created under statute. TRWD is authorized to make and enforce reasonable rules that are necessary to accomplish TRWD’s “authorized purposes,” which include (i) regulating “all recreational and business privileges on any . . . body of land . . . owned . . . by the district,” (ii) promoting “state or local economic development,” and (iii) stimulating “business and commercial activity in the district.” TRWD is further permitted to provide for or participate in the acquisition, construction, development, operation, or maintenance of recreational facilities intended to promote economic development. TAD contends the Tax Code should control over the TRWD authorization statutes and applies only when public property is used exclusively for the use and benefit of the public.  TRWD asserts its creation is dictated by the Texas Constitution and it serves a public purpose as a matter of law. Interestingly, the court, after going through a detailed analysis of the Texas Constitution, statutory construction principles, and the Tax Code, held the Tax Code controls, but the property is exempt as a matter of law.

The court ends up holding unconstitutional, as a local law, a portion of the uncodified statute authorizing TRWD’s creation and authority. The result being the Tax Code controls for purposes of determining the exemption. Under §11.11(a) of the Texas Tax Code, a property is exempt from taxation if it is used for a public purpose. The court declined to adopt TAD’s interpretation that it must be used “exclusively” for public purposes with no simultaneous use benefiting an individual private business. The court compared other statutes and constitutional provisions where the legislature expressly inserted  “exclusive-use” language. TAD’s argument “has no basis in the text” of either the Tax Code or its constitutional counterpart for exclusivity. Whether property is used for public purposes is a highly fact-specific question that must be answered on a case-by-case basis. The court held “[c]ontrary to TAD’s overly-narrow characterization, the Property is not some run-of-the-mill strip mall that TRWD developed merely for retail purposes. River Shack no doubt operates a business for profit, but that is only one facet of a larger project that, at its core, unquestionably has a public purpose.” TRWD entered into the lease with River Shack “to encourage development of river-facing businesses on TRWD’s property and adjoining properties.” The property “was intended and designed as a trail amenity to provide the public with recreational enhancements ancillary to the public’s use of the Trinity Trails system.” Thus, the evidence conclusively demonstrates, TRWD leased the property to River Shack in connection with its optimistic plan to develop it for economic and recreational purposes. With its pavilion, common areas, and location adjacent to the Trinity Trails, and developed and leased for economic and recreational purposes, the property is used for public purposes as a matter of law.

If you would like to read the opinion click here. Panel consists of Chief Justice Walker, Justice Meier and  Justice Gabriel. Memorandum opinion by Justice Meier. The attorney listed for Tarrant Regional Water District is Steven K. Hayes. The attorneys listed for Tarrant Appraisal District of Harris is Catherine Jane Alder and Todd A. Clark.

Trial court properly denied injunctive request to prohibit City from relocating administrative offices

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Leslie E. Barras and Historic Orange Preservation Empowerment, Inc. v. The City of Orange, Texas, et al, 09-16-00073-CV (Tex. App— Beaumont, November 17,2016)

This is an appeal from the denial of an injunctive request to prevent the City from relocating its administrative offices.

In 1996, within the City’s Comprehensive Master Plan, the City determined its administrative offices should be centralized in the Old Town Center of the City. In 2016 the City purchased and made plans to move some of its offices outside of the Old Town Center. Historic Orange Preservation Empowerment, Inc. (“HOPE”) sued for injunctive relief to prevent the move. The trial court denied the injunctive relief and HOPE appealed.

HOPE argues the CITY is required to amend the City Charter because it requires that “[n]o subdivision, street, park, or any public way, ground or space, public building or structure or public utility, whether publicly or privately owned which is in conflict with the comprehensive plan shall be constructed or authorized by the City.” HOPE asserts this makes the comprehensive Plan mandatory and not simply a guide. However, the Plan expressly provides that it is “a guide to the physical development of Orange[,]” and it states that it is “a tool for elected and appointed officials and city staff to guide decision making for growth and development issues.”  After analyzing the Plan, the court held it is a guiding document only. Additionally, the parts of the Plan relating to the location of the City’s administrative offices were never adopted by ordinance.  The Charter applies only to legislation through ordinance, not resolution.  The resolution passed by City Council to move its facilities is therefore not in conflict with the Comprehensive Master Plan. As a result, the trial court properly denied the injunctive relief.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. The panel includes Chief Justice Mckeithen, Justice Horton, and Justice Johnson.  Justice Horton delivered the opinion of the court. Attorneys for HOPE are listed as Jamie Matuska, Leslie Barras and David W. Starnes. Attorneys for the City are listed as Guy Goodson, John Cash Smith, and Kate Leverett.

City immune from delay in zoning approval due to City Attorney’s mistaken understanding of municipal boundary line

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City of Floresville, et al.  v. Starnes Investment Group, LLC, 04-16-00038 (Tex.App— San Antonio, September 28,2016)

This is an interlocutory appeal from the denial of a plea to the jurisdiction in a case where a city employee mistakenly informed a property developer they were outside city limits.  The San Antonio Court of Appeals reversed the denial and dismissed the claims.

Starnes Investment Group, LLC (“Starnes”) began looking at property to develop as a commercial recreational vehicle park. Starnes filed a rezoning application to allow for the RV park. The City Attorney advised the property was outside of the City limits and not subject to zoning restrictions. However, after Starnes purchased the property and the City completed a map digitization initiative, it discovered the property was partially inside and partially outside of the City limits. The City ultimately approved a zoning change application to allow the RV park. However, Starnes still sued. The premise of Starnes’s lawsuit is that it was harmed by the City’s delay in approving its zoning application and delay in providing water and sewage due to the misunderstanding. The City filed a plea to the jurisdiction which the trial court denied. The City appealed.

The first issue the court resolved was procedurally, the trial court granted the City’s special exceptions and denied the plea in the same order. While Starnes filed an amended petition, it did so after the denial of the plea.  However, since the plea is jurisdictional, the court considers all of the matters during the appeal, including those which were not before the trial court at the time of the original order.  Next, a governmental entity does not have immunity from a valid takings claim. In a takings case, “the requisite intent is present when a governmental entity knows that a specific act is causing identifiable harm or knows that the harm is substantially certain to result.” A taking cannot rest on the mere negligence of the government. Moreover, “[w]hen damage is merely the accidental result of the government’s intentional act, there is no public benefit and the property cannot be said to have been taken or damaged for public use.” Starnes’s amended petition alleges no facts that the information was the result of anything more than either a mistake or negligence on the City Attorney’s part. As a result, there is no takings claim. Next, to state a valid due process or due course of law claim, a plaintiff must first allege the existence of a protected right. Starnes’s zoning application merely sought a governmental benefit to which it was not already entitled. As such, Starnes only had an expectation of the governmental benefit which is not a protected property right. To assert an equal protection claim, the deprived party must establish two elements: (1) that it was treated differently than other similarly-situated parties; and (2) it was treated differently without a reasonable basis. Other than a conclusory statement that it was treated differently from others similarly situated, Starnes failed to allege any facts describing similarly situated parties. As a result, there is no equal protection violation. Chapter 245 of the Texas Local Government Code (often referred to as a vested rights/grandfather statute) creates a narrow exception enforcing changing regulations stating, after receiving a development application or plan, a regulatory agency changes its land-use regulations, the agency cannot enforce such a change. Starnes does not point to any change in the City’s existing “orders, regulations, ordinances, rules, expiration dates, or other properly adopted requirements” that occurred after Starnes filed its zoning application.  The property was always partially in and partially outside of the City limits. An employee’s mistaken belief of the location of the boundary line is not a change in adopted regulation. Additionally, Chapter 245 is enforceable only through mandamus, injunctive or declaratory relief, none of which Starnes sought. Finally, Starnes had the opportunity to, and did in fact, amend its pleadings in the trial court after the City filed its special exceptions.  The court need not provide any further opportunity to amend. The court reversed and rendered in favor of the City.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. The Panel includes Chief Justice Marion, Justice Barnard and Justice Pulliam. Chief Justice Marion delivered the opinion of the court. Attorneys representing the parties can be found on the docket page  here.

 

City’s billboard registration fee determined to be unconstitutional tax

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Reagan National Advertising of Austin, Inc. d/b/a Reagan National Advertising v. City of Austin, Texas; and Marc A. Ott, being sued in his Official Capacity 03-15-00370-CV (Tex. App.- Austin, June 15, 2016)

This is a case to determine whether a billboard registration fee was a unconstitutional tax. The court held the fee was an fact a tax and unconstitutional.

Reagon owns and operates various billboards subject to the City’s registration requirements. The City raised the registration fee from $110 per year to $200 per year but had no studies or surveys to support the increase. Afterwards, several City employees conducted surveys and determined the costs could be covered in a range from $140 per year to $352, although Reagan had an expert opinion noting the proper costs should be closer to $42 per year. Reagon sued in federal court. However, the federal judge determined that since the fee actually qualified as a “tax” the federal court lacked jurisdiction to rule on a state tax under the Tax Injunction Act. After the federal judge dismissed the case, Reagon sued in state court. After a bench trial the trial court dismissed Reagon’s claims and Reagon appealed.

The first issue addressed was whether Reagon was precluded by the statute of limitations to bring suit. The Court of Appeals held under Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Sec. 16.064 Reagon filed suit 60 days after the federal judgment “became final.” While the federal court signed the judgment in 2011, the City’s motion for new trial extended the deadline to determine finality. Once the motion for new trial was denied, the judgment became final 30 days afterwards, which then started the 60 day deadline (i.e 90 days after motion for new trial is denied). Therefore the limitations is tolled. Next the court determined that since the federal judge had to make a determination as a matter of law that the registration fee was a tax in order to determine jurisdiction, that issue was fully and vigorously litigated in federal court. Therefore, the state court is precluded by res judicata from reconsidering that issue. And since no statute authorizes such a tax, the tax is unconstitutional.

To read the opinion click here. Panel consists of Chief Justice Rose, Justice Pemberton and Justice Field. Justice Field issued the Memorandum Opinion. Attorney for Marc A. Ott, being sued in his Official Capacity is Ms. Patricia L. Link. Attorneys for Reagan National Advertising of Austin, Inc. d/b/a Reagan National Advertising are Ms. Elizabeth Von Kreisler, Mr. B. Russell Horton and Ms. Taline Manassian. Attorneys for the City of Austin are Mr. Henry Gray Laird III and Ms. Patricia L. Link.

If you have a case involving Chapter 245 vested rights, zoning changes, and distance restrictions on alcohol sales read this 71 page opinion

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FLCT, Ltd. and Field Street Development I, Ltd. v. City of Frisco, Texas, 02-14-00335-CV (Tex. App.- Fort Worth, May 26th 2016)

Owners are two partnerships that own adjacent property in Frisco. FLCT’s tract is located on the actual corner; Field’s tract is located directly east of FLCT’s. In both 2006 and 2007, the City’s zoning ordinance permitted property owners in the C-1 district to sell beer and wine “by right.” However, no public school was located within three hundred feet.  After Owners submitted a preliminary site plan for an expanded facility, Frisco ISD began negotiating with Owners to purchase the southernmost part of FLCT’s and Field’s tracts for an elementary school. Before Owners closed on the sale to Frisco ISD in 2009, they filed an amended preliminary site plan application with the City. The City Council then amended the zoning ordinance. Owners then sold a portion of the property to 7-Eleven which conditioned the sale on the ability to obtain all permits (including selling beer and wine). The City asserted 7-Eleven could not sell alcohol at that location. The City then went through several ordinance amendments to adjust and prohibit alcohol sales near churches, schools, and hospitals. 7-Eleven eventually sued under §11.37(d) of the alcoholic beverage code seeking an order requiring the City Secretary to make the statutory certification. Tex. Alco. Bev. Code Ann. § 11.37(d) (West Supp. 2015). However, the City Secretary certified the area was in a dry region. Owners submitted a vested rights petition to the City under Chapter 245 of the Texas Local Government Code asserting they began developing the property at time alcohol sales were permitted so their rights vested at that moment to forever be able to sell alcohol at that location. The trial court granted the City’s plea to the jurisdiction and the Owners appealed.

First, the court held Chapter 245 provides the authority for a declaratory judgment action to enforce a landowner’s rights. Owners are seeking a determination of the existence and extent of their rights to develop and use the Property.  As a result, the plea should not have been granted as to the Chapter 245 claims. Next the court analyzed the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code and held not only does it permit a city to enact distance regulations it also allows the city to grant variances as to enforcement of those distance requirements. Accordingly, the code does not pre-empt the City’s enactment and enforcement of the distance requirements, which means the Owners are not limited to the relief under the TABC. Here, Owners have raised both a constitutional claim and a vested property rights claim in the form of a declaratory judgment, which is specifically authorized by statute. They are not seeking to appeal any action by the TABC or any action in connection with a pending permit, so again, no pre-emption. The TABC does not provide the exclusive remedy for Owners’ claims based on the City’s enforcement of the distance requirements with respect to the Property. Next, the Owners contend the City’s zoning changes are void as they did not provide individual notice to property owners. However, such notice is only applicable for changes in zoning classifications, not other types of zoning changes. The court analyzed the term “classification” and held the legislature intended that if a city (either through its zoning commission or city government) wishes to consider a zoning district or boundary change to a discrete piece of property, it is to ensure that owners of surrounding properties that would be affected by the change have notice and an opportunity to participate in any hearing regarding that change. Here, the City’s December 2012 zoning ordinance purported to place restrictions on the types and places where businesses could sell alcohol within five different districts where alcohol sales were then permitted. Thus, this was not a rezoning of classification applicable only to the Property itself; the Property was still included in the C-1 district after the passage of the ordinance. In other words, the City’s interpretation is correct and this was not a “classification” change requiring individual notice. Next, the City contended that it could not issue a “permit” for alcohol so no vested right applies to its sale. However, Chapter 245 also applies to certificates. The certificate required by the City Secretary qualifies. Further, the Owner’s claims are not predicated on the continued operation of a particular type of business but on use restrictions and, thus, they are not excluded on that basis from §245.001’s definition of project. The court agreed with Owners’ contention that the amended ordinance affected the C-1 district by imposing additional restrictions on alcohol sales that had not previously been imposed. Accordingly, the Owners’ pleadings and evidentiary facts show that the exemption in §245.004(2)(i.e. no vested right for certain zoning classifications) does not preclude their remaining Chapter 245 claims. Next the court concluded that the preliminary site plan originally applied for contained sufficient notice it intended to include alcohol sales. Further, a regulatory taking can occur when government action unreasonably interferes with a landowner’s use and enjoyment of the property. After analyzing the facts and a detailed analysis of the legal standards, the court held facts were sufficiently pled and established to confer jurisdiction for a regulatory taking claim. As a result, the trial court order granting the plea is affirmed-in-part, reversed-in-part and remanded.

To read the opinion click here. Panel consists of Chief Justice Livingston, Justice Walker and Justice Sudderth. Opinion issued by Chief Justice Livingston. Attorney for FLCT, Ltd. Is Arthur J. Anderson. Attorney for City of Frisco is Richard Abernathy and Field Street Development I, Ltd. is represented by Arthur J. Anderson.

 

Texas Supreme Court holds the accommodation doctrine applies to groundwater leases

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Coyote Lake Ranch, LLC v City of Lubbock, 14-0572 (Tex. May 27, 2016)

This is a dispute over a groundwater lease owned by the City and whether the accommodation doctrine (which is founded in oil and gas law) applies. The Texas Supreme Court held that it does.

Coyote Lake Ranch is used primarily for agriculture, raising cattle, and recreational hunting. In 1953, the Ranch sold a groundwater lease to the City of Lubbock to help it combat a massive drought. In 2012, the City announced plans to increase water-extraction efforts on the Ranch, possibly drilling as many as 20 test wells. The Ranch objected noting that mowing or removing vegetation from the surface causes destructive wind erosion, exacerbated by cattle tromping over mowed paths. According to the Ranch, wind, drought, and grazing cattle prevent grass from growing back, particularly in the areas the City mowed. The trial court enjoined the City from further efforts to drill wells. The Court of Appeals reversed holding the accommodation doctrine did not apply.

An oil-and-gas lessee has an implied right to use the land but must exercise that right with due regard for the landowner’s rights. This is the accommodation doctrine. It has never before been extended to a groundwater lease. The Court analyzed the lease language and noted that the different interpretations presented by the parties provide extremes on both sides. The Ranches interpretation could severely restrict the City’s drilling activities if the City could only drill where the Ranch deemed appropriate. The City’s interpretation would mean it has an all but an absolute right to use the surface heedless of avoidable injury, although it must answer for damages caused to the surface. Going back to the concept of mineral separation interests the Court held the mineral and surface estates must exercise their respective rights with due regard for the other’s rights. After going through the history of the accommodation doctrine, the Court held the doctrine should be applied to groundwater leases. The Court then noted the injunction was too prohibitive, however, and remanded the case for further processing in the trial court.

Chief Justice Hecht delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Justice Green, Justice Johnson, Justice Guzman, Justice Devine and Justice Brown joined. Justice Boyd delivered a concurring opinion, in which Justice Willett and Justice Lehrmann joined.

 

Trial court properly dismissed various claims brought against Board of Adjustment

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Glen Sumner v. Board of Adjustments of City of Spring Valley Village, Texas; The City of Spring Valley Village Texas, Art Flores, and Rickie Prichard 14-15-00149-CV (Tex. App- Houston [14th Dist.], May 17th 2016).

This is a board of adjustment and takings case where the 14th Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of all Plaintiff’s claims.

Spring Valley Village adopted a zoning ordinance which states “[i]t shall be the responsibility of each owner . . . to maintain the drainage patterns of adjacent property owners or landowners caused either by direct diversion of water on the land or by failure to adequately accommodate new or changed drainage patterns…” Sumner owns a home in Spring Valley. Sumner asserts Prichard bought the adjoining property with the intent to build a new house. The plans called for the elevation of Prichard’s property and changed the drainage.  Sumner believed Prichard’s plans would change the natural flow of surface water onto his property in violation of the zoning ordinance. The City’s building official issued a permit for an irrigation system to Prichard consistent with the site plans. Sumner filed an application with the Board of Adjustment relating to the building official’s permit. The Board unanimously rejected Sumner’s protest. Sumner sued the building inspector and the City. The trial court signed a single order dismissing all claims against the building inspector; dismissing Sumner’s petition for writ of certiorari; and granting the City’s motion for summary judgment. The trial court granted the severance to separate the City Defendant’s from Prichard, making its order final.  Sumner appealed.

The Court of Appeals first held the trial court did not abuse its discretion in granting the severance. The claims could have been asserted as an independent lawsuit and they are not so interwoven that they involve identical facts and issues. Next the court held Sumner did not exhaust his administrative remedies regarding the building inspector because the pleadings show Sumner was complaining about a certificate of occupancy, not an irrigation permit. Since Sumner did not timely challenge the certificate with the Board, the trial court was without jurisdiction to consider it. Regarding the takings claim, although district courts typically are courts of general jurisdiction, the Legislature has vested exclusive jurisdiction over inverse condemnation claims in the Harris County Courts at Law for this particular area of the State. Tex. Gov’t Code Ann. §25.1032(c) (West Supp. 2015).  The Court next held Sumner did not properly allege an ultra vires claim under his plead facts. Sumner claims monetary damages for past acts which is not allowed. He further seeks control of future actions, however, such claims are not ripe as there is no indication Prichard intends or will submit any future plans. As a result, the trial court properly dismissed all claims, although the mechanism it uses was adjusted by the Court of Appeals (i.e. certain claims should have been dismissed under the plea, not the MSJ).

For the full opinion click here. Panel consists of Justices Boyce, Busby and Brown. Memorandum Opinion issued by Justice Busby. Attorneys listed for the City defendants are Dennis S. Dresden and Andrea Chan. Glen Sumner represented himself.

Court orders ZBOA to issue certificate of occupancy since “[t]he proposed use of the property in question looked, swam, and quacked like a ‘Hospital’ and ‘Convalescent Center'”

City of Glen Rose, Texas and the Zoning Board of Adjustments of the City of Glen Rose, Texas v. Ernest and Shirley Reinke, 07-15-00266-CV (Tex. App. – Amarillo, February 8, 2016),

This is an appeal from a ZBOA decision regarding the denial of a certificate of occupancy. The Amarillo Court of Appeals affirmed the granting of the petitioner’s appeal of the ZBOA.

Reinkes sought but were denied a certificate of occupancy to operate a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center as either a “hospital” or “convalescent center” under a City zoning ordinance. The City Administrator denied the request  noting the application was more akin to a sanitarium and such denial was affirmed by the ZBOA.  The Reinkes appealed to district court, which granted their motion for summary judgment and ordered the ZBOA to issue a certificate of occupancy. The City and ZBOA appealed.

The court first determined the ZBOA appeal was on the certificate of occupancy (“CofO”), not the Reinkes’ application for special use permit, which was denied previously. As a result, the only issue is the CofO.  Next, under Tex. Loc. Gov’t Code §211.011 the only question the trial court has in such a proceeding is deciding “the legality of the zoning board’s order.” And, discretion is abused when the board acted “. . . without reference to any guiding rules and principles or clearly fails to analyze or apply the law correctly.” After analyzing the City’s zoning code, the court determined the proposed business had the characteristics of both a “Convalescent Center” and “Hospital” as expressly defined by the City. Given that, the Reinkes property was eligible for the desired certificate of occupancy should have been issued. Strike a bit of humor the court noted “[w]e are reminded of that old idiom that if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it is a duck. The proposed use of the property in question looked, swam, and quacked like a ‘Hospital’ and ‘Convalescent Center[.]’” Unlike the terms “Hospital” and “Convalescent Center,” though, the City had not defined the word “Sanitarium.” Due to this circumstance, the City Administrator turned to the internet to garner a definition of the word. After applying various cannons of statutory construction, the court determined the Administrator’s definitions were inconsistent with the ordinance. The summary judgement for the Reinkes was therefore affirmed.

If you would like to read this opinion, click here.  Panel Chief Justice Quinn, Justice Campbell, and Justice Hancock.  Opinion given by Chief Justice Quinn.  Attorney for the Appellee is Stuart V. Neal.  Attorneys for the Appellant are Wayne K. Olson, Brady Pendleton, Ashley Dierker, and Fredric

Property owners cannot sue on City’s right to amend deed restrictions on lots it owns or create City park; increased traffic and noise cannot be basis for inverse condemnation claim

The City of Friendswood and Kevin Holland v. Paul and Carolyn Horn, et al., 01-15-00436-CV (Tex. App. – Houston [1st Dist.], February 11, 2016).

This is essentially an inverse condemnation case where the First Court of Appeals reversed the denial of a plea to the jurisdiction and dismissed the Plaintiff’s claims involving converting adjoining property to a city park.

After Tropical Storm Allison destroyed the Imperial Estates Section One subdivision, the City of Friendswood acquired most of the subdivision’s 42 lots through a federally-subsidized flooding mitigation program from FEMA.  The program required the City to leave the lots open for flood control, but the lots could be used for specific purposes, including a park.  Four property owners did not sell and rebuilt their homes. Ten years later, the City decided to develop the lots (consistent with federal guidelines) into a park and the home owners sued asserting the park was inconsistent with deed restrictions, was an inverse condemnation, and a nuisance. The trial court denied the City’s plea to the jurisdiction and the City appealed.

The 1958 deed restrictions dictated that lots were dedicated “for residential purposes only.” Since the City owned 38 lots, it had the ability to amend the restrictions under the express terms of the deeds and did so through a properly posted meeting. The City’s actions were in furtherance of flood control and public park development, which are governmental functions as a matter of law, not proprietary. As a result, immunity applies. Under the takings analysis, the court determined the City did not enter onto the Plaintiff’s property, but merely moved forward with developing the lots it already owns. The homeowners’ live pleadings does not allege that any diminution in the value of their lots occurred when the City acquired lots in 2001. Rather, the homeowners allege that the City’s decision to place a park adjacent to their property 10 years later impairs the peaceable use and enjoyment of their property. These allegations cannot support an inverse condemnation claim for compensation. “[I]ncreased traffic and noise to a community do not give rise to a compensable taking.” The homeowners’ nuisance claim is premised on the same allegations as their inverse condemnation claim and is also insupportable. Further, the City is immune from any declaratory judgment claims or contract claims arising out of its right to amend the covenants. To the extent the homeowners seek injunctive relief or specific performance to enforce the deed restrictions, these claims for relief may not be brought against a governmental unit. The City is immune from misrepresentation claims as such are intentional torts. Finally, the undisputed evidence established properly Texas Open Meetings Act postings, so the ultra vires claims against the Mayor are dismissed.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel: Chief Justice Radack, Justice Bland and Justice Huddle. Opinion by Justice Bland. The attorneys listed for the Plaintiffs are Aaron Mark Pool and James T. Sunosky. The attorneys listed for the City are William S. Helfand and Charles T. Jeremiah.

BOA had authority to grant hardship variance after neighbor found survey discrepancy

Glen Sumner v. Board of Adjustments of the City of Spring Valley Village, et al, 01-14-00888-CV (Tex. App. – Houston [14th Dist.] October 20, 2015)

This is an appeal from a Board of Adjustment (“BOA”) order granting a variance in which the Houston Court of Appeals for the 14th District affirmed the granting of the City’s Plea to the Jurisdiction in a very long opinion.

Sumner’s neighbors, the Khans, purchased an adjacent lot and sought a variance to construct a second story onto the existing house, which the City granted. Sumner then discovered an apparent error in the conveyance history resulting in a one-foot strip of land discrepancy. This meant the second story addition was approximately six inches closer to the property line than the eight feet permitted by the Building Setback Ordinance. As a result, the Khans applied to the BOA for a variance, which was granted. Sumner also complained about various other alleged problems with the Khans including complaints about their air conditioner location and roof height restrictions.  Sumner requested a hearing in front of the BOA on his height restriction complaint.  He was told the measurements for the heights were only to certain points on the roof and the Khans were in compliance. Sumner sued appealing the BOA’s decisions including the original set-back variance and the subsequent hearing on the height restrictions. The suit went up and down from state to federal court and back again. Upon return to state court the City and BOA filed a motion for summary judgment, motion to dismiss and plea to the jurisdiction, which the trial court granted. Sumner appealed.

The court first determined Sumner waived his argument on the finality of the trial court’s order since he did not properly brief it. Sumner had the burden of proof to establish the illegality of the Board’s order. Whether a hardship exists is a question of fact to be determined by the Board. The Board heard testimony the six-inch discrepancy was inadvertent in the surveys and allowing the variance did not harm the public. Testimony confirmed the setback violation remained undiscovered until construction of the Khans’ addition was substantially complete. As a result, the BOA was within its authority to grant a hardship variance. Additionally, the court incorporated the federal judge’s holding that “[t]here is simply no protected property interest in having a zoning ordinance enforced against one’s neighbors.” Sumner also did not have a right to cross-examine witnesses at the BOA meetings. He was not a party and did not take advantage of the BOA procedure entitling him to submit questions the Board would ask of applicants. Finally, the City was well within its authority to amend its ordinances after Sumner began his complaints. It is settled law that a city may rezone or amend its ordinances “as long as the action is not arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable.” Sumner presented no evidence to meet this burden. The trial courts order was affirmed.

If you would like to read this opinion click here.  Panel: Justice Jennings, Justice Higley and Justice Brown. Memorandum Opinion by Justice Brown.  The attorneys listed for the City and BOA are Scott Bounds, John H. Hightower, and Andrea Chan.  The attorneys listed for Sumner are William R. Sudela, J. Daniel Long, and Elizabeth Harris