Fort Worth Court of Appeals holds Plaintiffs properly plead constitutional challenges to City’s short-term rental ordinance

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City of Grapevine v. Ludmilla B. Muns, et al, 02-19-00257-CV (Tex. App. – Fort Worth, Dec. 23, 2021)

This is an opinion on rehearing where the Fort Worth Court of Appeals reversed in part and affirmed in part the trial court’s order regarding the validity of the City’s short-term rental ordinance. [Comment: warning, this is a long opinion – 50 pages.]

The City asserted its zoning ordinance was written in a way that prevented short-term rentals (STRs), but some “bed and breakfasts” were allowed.  However, there was sporadic enforcement. After an increase in complaints about negative effects from STRs, the City conducted a study.  At the end of the study, the City passed an ordinance banning short-term rentals (STRs) in the entire city. The City provided a 45-day grace period before enforcement would begin. Several property owners and commercial real estate services sued to invalidate the ordinance. The City filed a plea to the jurisdiction and motion for summary judgment, which were denied. The City appealed.

The City first contended the Plaintiffs failed to appeal any decisions to the board of adjustment and therefore failed to exhaust their administrative remedies. Generally, a party must exhaust the administrative remedies available under Chapter 211 of the Local Government Code before seeking judicial review of an administrative official’s decision. However, the Plaintiffs did not apply for permits or otherwise receive any enforcement notification to which they must appeal. Statements made about the City’s intent to enforce an ordinance, without more, is not the type of administrative action over which an appeal is triggered. Appealable actions are those actual determinations made in the act or process of compelling a property owner’s compliance with a City ordinance. Information-only statements are not appealable administrative determinations.  Further, the Plaintiffs challenged the constitutionality of the ordinance, which does not always require exhaustion. Generally, administrative bodies do not have the authority to rule on the constitutionality of statutes and ordinances. And while constitutional challenges are not “globally exempted” from the exhaustion requirement, if the administrative body lacked the ability to “render a relief that would moot the claim” then no exhaustion is required.  The board of adjustment lacked the authority to grant the Plaintiffs’ the right to conduct an STR, so no exhaustion is required. Next, the City argued that STRs do not fit within the definition of a “single-family detached dwelling” under its zoning code because STRs are not occupied by a single-family but are occupied by groups of people. However, the City’s code defines the word “family” in such a way that it does not require that the people living as a “single housekeeping unit” be related by blood or marriage. It also has no duration of occupancy limit. As a result, by its own wording, the code does not prohibit STRs as long as the occupancy fall within the common and ordinary meaning of “family.”  The City next argued the Plaintiffs did not directly challenge the validity of the STR ordinance (only an interpretation of whether it applied to them) so no declaratory relief can be granted.  However, the court found their retroactivity, due-course-of-law, and takings claims turn on whether the existing code allowed STRs. To that extent, they have a valid justiciable controversy. Under the takings analysis, the court held that although a property owner generally has no vested right to use his property in a certain way without restriction, they have a vested right in the real property, which includes the ability to lease. From a constitutional standpoint, that is sufficient to trigger a protected property right interest for jurisdictional purposes. This, along with the fact the court found that STRs were not expressly prohibited by the wording of the ordinance,  creates a fact issue as to whether the Plaintiffs suffered a taking. The court also noted that, contrary to the City’s arguments, lost profits are a relevant factor to consider in assessing the property’s value and the severity of the economic impact on a property owner. The Plaintiffs pled and submitted evidence to support that STRs “generate higher average rent than long-term leases, even after expenses” and that the STR Ordinance prevents them from “participating in an active, lucrative market for [STRs].” Next, the court did agree with the City that the regulation of STRs is not preempted by the Tax Code, as alleged by the Plaintiffs. Plaintiffs did not point to any provision in either the Tax Code or the Property Code that implies that the legislature meant to limit or forbid local regulations banning STRs. The court then addressed the retroactive law arguments, holding that a “settled” right is different than a vested right and the Plaintiffs asserted the STR ordinance impaired their settled property rights under the common law and under the City’s code to lease their properties on a short-term basis. The issue is not about the “property owners’ right to use their property in a certain way,” but about the owners’ “retaining their well-settled right to lease their property.” Next, in the substantive-due-process context, a constitutionally protected right must be a vested right that has some definitive, rather than merely potential existence. Property owners do not acquire a constitutionally protected vested right in property uses once commenced or in zoning classifications once made. Thus, although the Homeowners have a vested right in their properties, they do not have a vested right under the Zoning Ordinance to use them as STRs.  However, the court found they do have a fundamental leasing right, which is sufficient to plead, jurisdictionally, a due-course-of-law claim. The court clarified in this rehearing opinion, that its holding on this point is limited to the fact a property owner has a fundamental right to lease, but the durational limits may be valid or may be invalid depending on the extent of the regulatory intrusion into that right. The intrusion goes to the merits of the case, which the court declined to address as part of the interlocutory appeal.  In short, the Plaintiffs properly plead all claims for jurisdictional purposes, except a claim under a preemption theory.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel consisted of Chief Justice Sudderth and Justices Kerr and Gabriel.  Opinion on rehearing by Justice Kerr.

Texarkana holds city properly supported its summary judgment to permanently enjoin mobile home park

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Polecat Hill, LLC, et al. v. City of Longview, Texas, et al. 06-20-00062-CV (Tex. App. – Texarkana, December 2, 2021).

This is a nuisance/permit case brought under Chapter 54 of the Texas Local Government Code where the Texarkana Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment entered on behalf of the City.  [Comment: this is a long, 39-page opinion].

Polecat owned 5 acres of land within the City limits. Polecat received a notice of violation from the City asserting the property violated several health and safety ordinances and needed to be repaired. After receiving the notice, Polecat sued the City. The city counterclaimed against the corporate owners and sued the property in rem. Polecat asserted the property had operated as a location for manufactured dwellings to affix to real property and obtain connections since the 1960s. Polecat argued that the City refused to allow it to proceed with its plans to prepare the Property to be on public sewer service. Polecat argued that, instead, the City was requiring it to apply for a mobile home park license and comply with city ordinances by dedicating property to install fire hydrants, dedicating a turnaround space for fire trucks, and absorbing the cost of water flowing through the fire hydrants. The City asserted Polecat was illegally operating an unlicensed mobile home park and unlicensed travel trailer park in violation of the City’s code of ordinances.  The trial court granted the City’s traditional and no-evidence motions for summary judgment, resulting in a final judgment in favor of the City. The trial court’s order specifically found that the Polecat Defendants’ violations of city ordinances created a substantial danger of injury or adverse health impact and that a permanent injunction was necessary to prohibit the specific conduct that violated the ordinances and to require conduct necessary to comply with them. Polecat appealed.

The summary judgment evidence showed that the Property was continuously operated as a mobile home and travel trailer park. Polecat testified that the Property was a residential property that was eighty percent occupied, but admitted it housed rental mobile homes since the 1960s, as well as seven travel trailers.  The City’s appraisal district had labeled the Property as a mobile home park, and Polecat had never challenged that designation. Even the TNRCC sent notices of violations to Polecat related to improperly hooked up septic lines. The summary judgment evidence showed that the City was willing to work with the Polecat Defendants to obtain mobile home and travel trailer park licenses and would consider a site plan that complied with city ordinances, however, Polecat did not agree to comply with the ordinances.  During discovery, numerous other violations became apparent, including violations preventing fire trucks from being able to properly access or service the Property.  Polecat’s testimony established it never applied for a license to operate a mobile home park or travel trailer park.  The City’s traditional summary judgment motion established various violations of the City’s ordinances. The City also filed a no-evidence motion for summary judgment asserting that because the City was not requesting the dedication or transfer of any portion of the Property to the public for public use; the City had not deprived the Polecat Defendants of all viable use of the Property. Further, it was Polecat’s failure to apply for a site plan permit and a license that prevented the City from extending sewer services. Polecat also admitted it was not challenging the validity of any ordinances.

The court found Polecat failed to preserve its appellate points objecting to the City’s summary judgment evidence as they complained of only procedural defects and failed to obtain a ruling. Next, the court held the City was not required to prove continuing violations in order to be entitled to injunctive relief under Chapter 54. Polecat’s petition did not contain any challenge to the city ordinances themselves or allege that the ordinances did not apply to them and therefore was not entitled to any declaratory relief. The court also noted that there were multiple defendants, including the property in rem, but only Polecat responded to the summary judgment on behalf of itself alone. As a result, the other defendants could only attack the granting of the summary judgment by asserting the City failed to carry its burden of proof. The City met its burden to establish entitlement to summary judgment and permanent injunctive relief. Further, “[i]n a regulatory taking, it is the passage of the ordinance that injures a property’s value or usefulness.” Polecat does not challenge the passage of any ordinance. Instead, the petition focused on whether the City’s intentional actions resulted in inverse condemnation.  However, since the City did not destroy all economically viable use of the property, there can be no taking. Additionally, Polecat’s summary judgment evidence (which Polecat argued created a fact issue) contained mainly affidavits that were unsigned and unnotarized. As a result, Polecat failed to create a fact issue with proper summary judgment evidence. The trial court properly entered judgment for the City.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel consists of Chief Justice Morris and Justices Burgess and Carter. Opinion by Justice Burgess.

Dallas Court of Appeals holds trial court had jurisdiction for BOA appeal only, but no monetary or constitutional claims could survive the board’s plea

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City of Dallas, et al v. PDT Holdings, Inc., et al. 05-21-00018-CV  (Tex. App. – Dallas, August 24, 2021).

This is an appeal from a board of adjustment decision where the Dallas Court of Appeals reversed in part and affirmed in part.

PDT Holdings, Inc (“PDT”) applied for a permit from the City to build a duplex on its property in Dallas.  PDT submitted building plans, which were approved and began construction. However, a City inspector cited PDT and issued a stop work order on the grounds that the structure did not comply with the thirty-six-foot height restriction. PDT adjusted the plans down to 36 feet, but was then told the actual height restriction was twenty-six feet due to the residential proximity slope (RPS) ordinance after it had completed 90% of the construction.  PDT sought a variance for the height restriction (three story duplex) but the variance was denied by the board of adjustment (“BOA”).  PDT appealed to district court but also sought a variety of monetary damages caused to the project. The matter was temporarily abated by agreement and the parties resubmitted to the BOA (with all new members), which again denied the request. The BOA filed a plea to the jurisdiction which was denied. The BOA appealed.

A district court has subject matter jurisdiction only to decide whether the Board’s decision was illegal under section 211.011.  The BOA argued the original appeal to district court was timely but attempted to assert PDT had to appeal the 2nd denial and failed to do so. The Board cites no authority for this requirement other than the general requirement that a petition for writ of certiorari must be filed within ten days of the Board’s decision. The court held the second BOA decision did not change the substance of the controversy between the parties or the issues before the trial court.  Further, nothing demonstrates the trial court lost jurisdiction over the first decision, over which it would still be allowed to proceed. As a result, the trial court properly denied the plea as to the illegality question only. The court next held that it must evaluate jurisdiction based on each claim. PDT did not specify what cause of action entitled it to recover damages or cite express authority waiving governmental immunity for recovery of damages. The plain language of section 211.011(f) does not authorize an award of damages. Further, there is no implied right of action to recover money damages for violation of the due course-of-law provision of the Texas Constitution. The Texas Constitution authorizes suits for equitable or injunctive relief only. But this limited waiver of immunity exists only to the extent the plaintiff has pleaded a viable constitutional claim. The court agreed with the BOA that PDT  does not have a vested property right in obtaining a variance from the RPS ordinance.  The mere existence of a building permit does not render an ordinance unenforceable. A person does not acquire a vested right in a building permit issued in violation of an ordinance. Here, jurisdiction exists for judicial review of the Board’s decision under section 211.011 only. The plea should have been granted for all other claims.

If you would like to read this opinion click here.  Panel consists of Justices Nowell, Osborne and Pederson. Opinion by Justice Nowell.

Fourth Court of Appeals holds plaintiff suing for BOA decision must be given opportunity to replead to show timing of when the BOA decision was filed in board’s offices

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Alpha Securities, LLC, v City of Fredericksburg, 04-20-00447-CV (Tex. App. – San Antonio, Aug. 10, 2021, no pet h.).

This is a board of adjustment appeal and declaratory judgment action where the San Antonio Court of Appeals agreed no jurisdiction existed, but remanded to provide the Plaintiff the opportunity to replead.

Alpha Securities purchased real property in Fredericksburg’s historical district. It sought a variance to expand its doors so the building could be used for commercial uses. The historic district’s review board approved the expansion of one door, but not the other on Milam St.  As a result, Alpha Securities was unable to obtain a Certificate of Occupancy, water and electrical services. Alpha Securities appealed the determination to the City’s Board of Adjustment (BOA), and the BOA denied relief. Alpha sued the City, which filed a plea to the jurisdiction. The trial court granted the plea and Alpha appealed.

Alpha’s first argument, that the City did not timely seek a ruling on the plea, was overruled. Subject matter jurisdiction cannot be waived, and courts cannot acquire subject matter jurisdiction by estoppel.  Alpha attempted to bring ultra vires claims but did not include any specific officials. Such claims were properly denied. To the extent Alpha Securities intended to establish that the review board and BOA violated the law, including its constitutional rights, the UDJA does not waive the City’s governmental immunity.  Next, the court analyzed the timeliness of the appeal. The appeal clock does not start to run at the time of the BOA decision- rather when the BOA’s decision “is filed in the board’s office.” The pleadings do not establish the date when the BOA’s decision was filed in the board’s office. Because Alpha Securities’ pleadings are insufficient to establish jurisdiction but do not affirmatively demonstrate an incurable defect, the trial court should have given Alpha the opportunity to replead. [Comment: this appears to require pleadings to affirmatively list the specific dates for deadline compliance in order to establish jurisdiction].  The City asserts Alpha repled three times and should not be allowed to do so again. However, the Fourth Court determined that was inconsequential in this case. If the trial court determines the plea is meritorious and the pleadings are deficient, the plaintiff must then be given a reasonable opportunity to amend the pleadings to cure the jurisdictional defects. As a result, the case was remanded.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel consists of Justices Chapa, Rios, and Rodriguez. Memorandum opinion by Justice Rodriguez.

Texas Supreme Court holds historic preservation ordinance is not “zoning” but must still comply with certain Chapter 211 requirements

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Powell, et al., v City of Houston, 19-0689 (Tex. June 4, 2021)

The Texas Supreme Court determined that Houston’s Historic Preservation Ordinance was not a zoning ordinance and therefore the zoning restrictions under state law do not apply. However, certain provisions of Chapter 211 of the Texas Local Government Code still apply to the ordinance.

The Houston City Council adopted a Historic Preservation ordinance which required owners of properties in those districts to seek approval from the Houston Archaeological and Historical Commission before modifying or developing their property. The City originally had a waiver provision, but it was removed in 2010 and instead adopted a procedure allowing a neighborhood to seek reconsideration of a designation. Several property owners brought this suit seeking a declaratory judgment that the Ordinance is void and unenforceable because it violated the City Charter’s limits on zoning and it does not comply with certain provisions of Chapter 211 of the Local Government Code. The trial court ruled for the City after a bench trial. The owners appealed arguing the ordinance is a zoning regulation, but the court of appeals disagreed and affirmed the trial court’s order.

The Houston City Charter does not prohibit the City from zoning altogether, but it limits the City’s power to adopt a zoning ordinance by requiring six months’ notice of any proposed ordinance and voter approval in a binding referendum. Zoning regulations have numerous characteristics, and given the prevalence of zoning ordinances, not all of these characteristics are always present. However, generally, a zoning ordinance is defined as a city ordinance that regulates the use to which land within various parts of the city may be put. It also allocates uses to the various districts of a municipality, as by allocating residences to certain parts and businesses to other parts, but more on a comprehensive basis throughout the entire city. Conversely a “historic preservation” is the effort to conserve, preserve, and protect artifacts and developed places, including structures and landscapes, of historical significance, and does not fall under traditional zoning categories. The Court analyzed various aspects of zoning and definitions, historically and determined the ordinance was not a zoning ordinance. For example, the ordinance impacts a site by requiring alterations and additions to a building to remain compatible with the building’s own existing height, size, and location, and with that of the rest of the district. Because each building is regulated according to its own features or the features of nearby buildings, there is no uniform standardization of height, bulk, and placement across the district as in traditional zoning laws. In sum, the Ordinance does not regulate the purposes for which land can be used, lacks geographic comprehensiveness, impacts each site differently in order to preserve and ensure the historic character of building exteriors, and does not adopt the enforcement and penalty provisions characteristic of a zoning ordinance. Therefore, it is not zoning.

However, Chapter 211 of the Local Government Code subjects regulations that would not traditionally be considered zoning to certain procedural requirements, such as regulation of structures in historically significant areas and certain pumping and use of groundwater. The fact Chapter 211 applies to this type of regulation does not mean it qualifies as zoning. However, even though Chapter 211 applies, the owners failed to establish that the City did not comply with the requirements.  For example, the ordinance actually qualifies, by itself, as a comprehensive plan for its intended purpose. As a result, the court of appeals order is affirmed.

If you would like to read this opinion, click here. JUSTICE BUSBY delivered the opinion of the Court.

Property owner failed to allege Ch. 211 or 245 claims for zoning change; failure-to-exhaust-remedies bar applied to inverse-condemnation claim

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City of Dickinson v Stefan, 14-18-00778-CV, (Tex. App. – Houston [14th Dis.], Oct. 27, 2020)

Stefan operated his home computer business in a residential zone, but allowed his church group to host events, including weddings on the property.  The City changed later changed the zoning code and created a registration process for non-conforming uses. The registration allows a property owner to continue the same nonconforming use after the City adopted the change but the owner cannot expand the nonconforming use. Stefan registered his home computer business but did not list any church activities. Stefan did not write “events,” “wedding venue,” “event center,” or anything else that would indicate he had been using the Property for events.  Neither party produced evidence the City approved the request. Stefan was later cited for operating a special event center against the zoning code without a special use permit. Stefan appealed to the Board of Appeals, which denied his request to operate special events. Stefan then sued the City for declaratory relief claimed inverse-condemnation.  The city filed a plea to the jurisdiction, which was denied. The City appealed.

The Court first held that Stefan failed to allege a vested right determination under chapter 245 or a board of adjustment appeal under chapter 211 of the Texas Local Government Code. The operation of an ongoing business is not a “project” within the meaning of chapter 245. Rights to which a permit applicant is entitled under chapter 245 accrue on the filing of an original application or plan for development or plat application that gives the regulatory agency fair notice of the project and the nature of the permit sought.  Stefan’s pleadings do not mention chapter 245 or a vested right. Stefan does not cite § 211.011 or seek a writ of certiorari for a BOA appeal. He sued the City, not the BOA. As a result, he failed to seek judicial review of the BOA decision. The City challenged jurisdiction for the declaratory judgment and takings claims for failure to timely appeal the City Board of Adjustment determination and that Stefan did not exhaust his administrative remedies regarding nonconforming uses. Even under a liberal construction of the pleadings, the court cannot create a claim Stefan’s pleading did not contain, and it could not conclude that Stefan sought judicial review of the BOA decision under chapter 211. The exhaustion-of-administrative-remedies rule requires that a plaintiff pursue all available remedies within the administrative process before seeking judicial relief. Chapter  211 must be exhausted before a party may seek judicial review of a determination made by an administrative official. As a result, the trial court lacked jurisdiction over his declaratory claims and inverse-condemnation claims.

The concurrence believed Stefan’s failure to allege 211 should not preclude consideration, but then held Stefan abandoned that consideration in his briefing.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel consists of Chief Justice Frost and Justices Wise and Hassan (Hassan, J. concurring – opinion found here).

BOA appeal deadline of 10 days applies to Open Meetings, declaratory judgment, and as-applied constitutional claims, holds Dallas Court of Appeals

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Tejas Motel, LLC v City of Mesquite, by and through its Board of Adjustment, 05-19-00667-CV (Tex. Civ. App. – Dallas, June 4, 2020).

This is an appeal from a Board of Adjustment decision regarding non-conforming status in which the Dallas Court of Appeals affirmed the granting of the City’s plea to the jurisdiction.

The City of Mesquite had two zoning categories of lodging facilities within the City and placed conditions on their uses — Limited Services and General Services, neither of which Tejas Motel (“Tejas”) qualified under. Although the Tejas Motel had been nonconforming since 1997, the City did not specifically address that nonconformance until 2018, when the City passed an ordinance changing the manner in which the City’s Board of Adjustment could amortize nonconforming properties. The BOA held public hearings and scheduled a date for all non-conforming properties to become compliant, including Tejas. The City introduced evidence that the nonconforming use would adversely affect nearby properties.  Tejas then announced an agreement for a May 1, 2019 compliance date and the BOA approved that as a compliance date. Tejas, however, denied receiving a written copy after the BOA decision, which the BOA insists was mailed. Tejas then sued the BOA to invalidate the compliance date. The City filed a plea to the jurisdiction, which was granted.

The requirement that one timely file a petition for writ of certiorari to challenge a zoning board decision is part of an administrative remedy, which is provided by the Texas Local Government Code and must be exhausted before board decisions may be challenged in court. Under Tex. Loc. Gov’t Code §211.011 Tejas had ten days from the date the decision was filed to challenge the decision. The Board’s July 31 written “Decision and Order” triggered the statutory deadline. Tejas did not file by the deadline, thereby precluding the court from obtaining jurisdiction. This included challenges brought under the Texas Open Meetings Act, declaratory judgment claim and as-applied constitutional challenges.  Tejas also failed to state any viable federal claims. Although a city is not immune from federal constitutional claims, a trial court may grant a plea to the jurisdiction if a constitutional claim is not viable. Tejas had no constitutionally protected, vested due process interest in continuing to use the property in violation of the city’s ordinances, especially when it acquired the property knowing the restrictions.  As a result, the plea was properly granted.

If you would like to read this opinion, click here. The panel consists of Justices Molberg, Carlyle, and Evans.  Memorandum Opinion by Justice Carlyle.

BOA appeal moot due to relocation of shed built in setback says Fort Worth Court of Appeals

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Oak Point Board of Adjustment v. Jeff Houle, 02-19-00068-CV, (Tex. App – Fort Worth, Dec. 12, 2019)

This is a board of adjustment appeal where the Fort Worth Court of Appeals reversed the denial of the Board’s plea to the jurisdiction and dismissed the case.

The City of Oak Point has a zoning ordinance establishing a 50-foot front-yard setback in the residential neighborhoods. Houle, a resident, complained about the variance to the set-back granted to his neighbor, Bobby Pope. Pope received a permit and built a shed, but due to a miscalculation, it was built in the setback. The Board of Adjustment (BOA) granted the variance. Houle attempted to challenge it by suit in the county court at law. The BOA filed a plea to the jurisdiction which was denied.  It appealed.

The BOA advised Pope had since moved the shed out of the setback. By variance, the BOA effectively excepted Pope’s shed from the front-yard setback requirement. Houle’s petition seeks to undo that exception. However, the variance expressly stated that should the shed ever be moved, the variance would be nullified, which is exactly the relief requested by Houle. The shed’s relocation means that Houle has obtained the relief he sought by his claims, and a judicial determination cannot have any practical legal effect on an existing controversy rendering his lawsuit moot. None of Houle’s arguments asserting why the suit remains live apply. As a result, the plea should have been granted.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel consists of Justices Gabriel, Birdwell, and Womack.  Opinion by Justice Womack.  Docket page with attorney information found here.

Fort Worth Court of Appeals holds injunctive relief not available to stop enforcement of ordinance regulating gas/oil production

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The Town of Flower Mound, Texas, et al.  v. EagleRidge Operating, LLC, 02-18-00392-CV, (Fort Worth, Aug. 22, 2019)

This is an interlocutor appeal in a temporary injunction case where the Fort Worth Court of Appeals held the zoning restriction on oil/gas equipment at issue was a penal statute and no vested property right existed, depriving the trial court of jurisdiction to issue a temporary injunction. 

Plaintiffs took over operation of a series of oil/gas wells in the Town. The Town passed an ordinance regulating operations, the removal of waste water and hours of operation. The ordinance stated as part of its purpose that  natural gas drilling and production operations involve or otherwise impact the Town’s environment, infrastructure, and related public health, welfare, and safety matters.  In 2018 Plaintiff filed 3 actions with the board of adjustment (BOA) and board of oil and gas appeals (OGA) regarding variances, which were denied. The Town issued several criminal citations for after hour operation and failure to remove wastewater. The Plaintiff sought a TRO and injunction to prevent the enforcement of the ordinance, which was granted. The Town, BOA and OGA appealed.

The basic test as to whether a law is penal is whether the wrong sought to be redressed is a wrong to the public or a wrong to an individual. A public wrong involves the “violation of public rights and duties, which affect the whole community, considered as a community, and are considered crimes; whereas individual wrongs are infringements of private or civil rights belonging to individuals, considered as individuals, and constitute civil injuries.”  When an ordinance’s primary purpose is to protect the welfare of a municipality’s citizens, it “is clearly addressing a wrong to the public at large” and is a penal.  The court held the zoning ordinance was penal in nature. To be entitled to injunctive relief, the Plaintiff had the burden to demonstrate irreparable injury to a vested property right. Contrary to Plaintiff’s position, allegations of injury to an interest in real property does not equate to irreparable injury of a vested property right. Increases in operating costs does not equate to irreparable harm to their mineral interests. Loss of profitability, alone, also does to equate to irreparable harm to their mineral interest. As a result, Plaintiff is not entitled to injunctive relief to prevent enforcement of such a penal ordinance. Under sections of Tex. Loc. Gov’t Code chapter 211 (dealing with BOA and appeals), no injunction is textually available for an appeal from the BOA to a district court, only from an official to the BOA. The Legislature made a distinction between a restraining order and an injunction, and no injunctive relief is available under Chapter 211 for an appeal to district court from a BOA decision. 

Chief Justice Sudderth concerned in a majority of the opinion, but dissented as to the interpretation under Chapter 211. He opinioned a temporary restraining order is a stopgap, placeholding measure to preserve the status quo 14 days, just until a litigant’s application for temporary injunction can be heard.  For practical purposes, depriving the trial court of the ability to extend the restrained enforcement makes little sense. 

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel consists of Chief Justice Sudderth, Justice Gabriel, visiting Judge Wallach.  Memorandum opinion by visiting judge Wallach. 

Board of Adjustment’s plea on declaratory judgment claim granted as UDJA is a redundant remedy says Austin Court of Appeals

 

City of Wimberley Board of Adjustment v. Creekhaven, LLC; and William D. Appleman, 03-18-00169-CV (Tex. App. – Austin, October 18, 2018)

This is a board of adjustment appeal case where the Austin Court of Appeals reversed the denial of the City’s plea to the jurisdiction and dismissed the claims.

Campbell owns property next to Creekhaven and requested setback variances for construction of a pole barn which the Board of Adjustment granted with conditions. Creekhaven filed suit challenging the BOA’s order. While the trial court’s order in the case was pending, a deadline imposed by the order passed without Campbell having satisfied the requirements. According to the Board’s order, if Campell failed to comply by the deadline, the variance expired automatically. Campell filed a second variance request, which was also granted with the same conditions. Creekhaven amended its petition asserting the BOA had to make a determination on the first variance lapsing before granting a new variance. The BOA filed a plea to the jurisdiction as to the Uniform Declaratory Judgment Act (“UDJA”) claims which was denied. The BOA appealed.

The UDJA does not create a cause of action, but is a mechanism for adjudicating disputes already ripe. The UDJA waives immunity only to challenge the validity of an ordinance. It does not waive governmental immunity when the plaintiff seeks a declaration of rights under a statute or other law. Creekhaven seeks a declaration regarding the legal effect of the first variance. To the extent that Creekhaven’s request for a declaration that the variance has expired depends on a finding that Campbell failed to comply with various city ordinances by a certain date, it constitutes a request for a declaration interpreting those ordinances.  Therefore, no waiver of immunity exists. Creekhaven also tried arguing that its UDJA claim asserts ultra vires acts by the Board members such that governmental immunity does not bar the claim and are barred by res judicata.  However, the doctrine of res judicata, as an affirmative defense, would not deprive the BOA of authority to consider Campbell’s request for a variance. Thus, it would not render the BOA members’ actions ultra vires. Finally, to the extent Creekhaven’s UDJA claims seek to overturn the Board’s orders regarding the variances Campbell has requested, the doctrine of redundant remedies prevents it from seeking that relief. Its option is to pursue invalidation under Chapter 211 of the Texas Local Government Code. As a result, the plea should have been granted.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel consists of Chief Justice Rose, Justice Puryear and Justice Field. Memorandum Opinion by Justice Field. The attorneys listed for the City are Mr. Gunnar P. Seaquist  and Ms. Kelli Fuqua.  The attorney listed for the Plaintiffs is Mr. Jimmy Alan Hall.

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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’s BOA within its discretion to grant variance due to situation where property was a prime target for “destruction or damage by the local . . . students”

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Lenda Vogler v. City of Lamesa and April Vara 11-16-00168-CV (Tex. App – Eastland, May 24, 2018)

The Eastland Court of Appeals affirmed the City of Lamesa Board of Adjustment’s grant of a setback variance for a car port.

Vara sought a setback variance from the City of Lamesa Board of Adjustment (“BOA”) in order to build a car port in order to protect her antique cars. The variance was granted, but a neighbor (Vogler), opposed the variance. Vogler sued under Chapter 211 of the Texas Local Government Code to undo the variance. The trial court affirmed the BOA’s grant of the variance and Vogler appealed.

The trial court sits only as a court of review, and it may consider only the legality of the Board’s decision. bears the burden to establish that the Board’s action was illegal, and she must do so by a very clear showing that the Board abused its discretion by acting arbitrarily and unreasonably or without reference to any guiding rules or principles. Vogler first asserts the BOA’s variance amounted to a rezoning, however, the Board granted an area variance, not a use variance. Next, the record reveals that the location of the Varas’ property makes it a prime target for “destruction or damage by the local . . . students . . . who might lob rocks and bottles and cans and whatnot at them.” Such a condition appears to be unique to the Varas’ property. That the Varas’ own antique cars does not make the unique condition of the property a self-imposed hardship. As a result, the BOA was within its powers and discretion to grant the variance and Vogler failed to meet her burden.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel consists of Justice Willson, Justice Bailey and Justice Wright. Opinion by Justice Wright. The attorney listed for Vogler, Lenda is Philip Mack Furlow. The attorneys listed for Vara, April is Vara, April.  The attorney listed for the City is Russell Casselberry

City’s letter advising of BOA decision was not “the decision filed in the board’s office” for purpose of BOA appeal deadlines under Chapter 211 says Austin Court of Appeals

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Lisa Risoli v. Board of Adjustment of the City of Wimberley, and the City of Wimberley  03-17-00385-CV (Tex.App—-Austin October 19, 2017)

This is a board of adjustment appeal where the Austin Court of Appeals remanded the property owner’s claims back to the trial court.

Risoli sued arguing the Board of Adjustment of the City of Wimberley and the City of Wimberley had improperly revoked the “grandfathered use status” of Risoli’s property, barring her from using it as a short-term rental facility. The City and BOA filed a plea to the jurisdiction, which included arguments she missed the filing deadline. The trial court granted the plea and Risoli appealed.

A person aggrieved by a board of adjustment’s decision may seek judicial review by presenting a petition “within 10 days after the date the decision is filed in the board’s office.” Tex. Loc. Gov’t Code §211.011(b). The filing date is jurisdictional. The controlling question is whether the City Administrator’s letter was the Board’s “decision” that was “filed in [its] office” and triggering the deadline. The BOA held a meeting on September 6, 2016 regarding Risoli’s appeal of the City Administrator’s decision to revoke her grandfathered use. On September 14, the City Administrator wrote a letter to Risoli stating the Board of Adjustment unanimously voted to uphold the recent determination by the City and that she must immediately cease all such activities. That letter was emailed to Risoli on September 16th and again on October 18th. Risoli filed her petition November 17th  but argued the BOA’s minutes had not yet been approved, therefore no decision was “filed in the board’s office.” The City and BOA argued the letter was filed at City Hall, which is the office where the Board of Adjustment’s records were kept and maintained by the City Secretary for all purposes. The City Secretary maintains the BOA records and is, by operational design, the BOA’s office. However, the BOA did not submit any evidence to the court to back-up or establish these facts.  The BOA did not define what constituted it’s “decision” and had not adopted protocols defining its office or filing. Given the absence of evidence, mere argument in pleadings is insufficient to factually support the motion. The order dismissing Risoli’s claims is reversed and the case is remanded.

If you want to read this opinion click here. The panel consists of Justice Puryear, Justices, Field,  and Bourland. Justice David Puryear delivered the opinion of the court. To see the attorneys listed for the Appellant and Appellee’s click here.

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.