County’s actions did not constitute a taking: The continuing saga of Francis v. Bremer County

by Gary Taylor

J.D. Francis, Inc. v. Bremer County Board of Supervisors
(Iowa Court of Appeals, January 9, 2013)

Prior history of this case was discussed in this blog here.  The present case includes some interesting facts about the dispute not disclosed in the prior opinion from 2009, namely:

On June 20, 2006, Anhalt and Francis requested the land be rezoned to “R-1” single-family residential. The 34.5 acres had an average corn suitability rating (CSR) of 53.60, a rating that classified it as “prime” agricultural land that should be preserved for agricultural use under the Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP). Following a public hearing, the Bremer County Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously recommended denial of the rezoning request….[and] the board of supervisors voted unanimously to deny the request, finding “that good agricultural farm land not be taken out of production and because of many other environmental concerns….The following day, Francis and Anhalt submitted a revised rezoning request, which excluded approximately four acres of productive farmland included in the original request. Excluding those acres dropped the CSR of the remaining 30.75 acres to 49.5. However, approximately half—or 15.46 acres—of that parcel had a CSR of fifty or higher….[On this request] the commission voted four to one to deny [and the] board of supervisors voted unanimously to deny.

More background.  In December 2009, after the Iowa Court of Appeals issued the decision linked above, the board of supervisors amended its CLUP to exclude planned residential developments on certain designated land. Francis’s property was included in this redesignation. Francis filed an action in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Iowa, alleging the board’s 2006 rezoning denials were an unconstitutional taking. He later amended his complaint to allege the December 2009 CLUP amendment was also an unconstitutional taking. The complaint was dismissed in March 2011 because the issue was not ripe for consideration; the court noted Francis had failed to seek compensation through state procedures by instituting an inverse condemnation action.

Present case.  On December 9, 2011, Francis filed the present case for inverse condemnation in state district court, alleging that the board’s denials of the rezoning request was arbitrary, and further that the CLUP amendment resulted in a taking of at least half of the value of the property in question without adequate compensation.  The court found the board was entitled to judgment as a matter of law because the board’s actions did not constitute a taking that requires compensation. Francis appealed.

The Court of Appeals first ruled that the doctrine of res judicata prevents J.D. Francis, Inc. from relitigating the issue of whether the board acted arbitrarily in denying its rezoning requests. The question of whether the board’s denial was arbitrary was litigated and decided by the district court when it granted summary judgment in favor of the board on Francis and Anhalt’s 2006 action. That ruling was later affirmed by the Court of Appeals.

As for the takings claim, the Court of Appeals observed that, unlike cases cited by Francis as supporting his claim, there was no rezoning that led to a diminution of value; rather, the board simply refused to rezone the land to increase its economic viability. Furthermore, the plaintiff purchased the land after the board denied both rezoning requests. Even the CLUP amendment, which occurred after purchase and limits the likelihood that the land will be rezoned to residential, does not amount to a taking. The property remains economically viable as agricultural land, just as it did prior to the plaintiff’s purchase. Under these circumstances, the Court of Appeals agreed with the district court’s finding that the board’s actions did not constitute a taking.

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