Untimely Filing Fatal to Appeal of Board of Adjustment Decision

McCleary v. City of Des Moines Zoning Board of Adjustment
(Iowa Court of Appeals, April 19, 2017)

In September 2014, McCleary applied to the Des Moines Zoning Board of Adjustment seeking several conditional use permits and variances to allow him to operate a pet boarding business out of his home. A public hearing was held on September 22. The board voted to deny all of McCleary’s requests on October 23, 2014. On November 25, 2014 McCleary filed a petition for writ of certiorari appealing the board’s decision. Because of constitutional claims, the case was first sent to federal court. On March 11 the federal district court dismissed all McCleary’s federal claims and the case was remanded to state court.

On October 6, 2015 the Board of Adjustment filed a motion to dismiss arguing that McCleary’s petition for a writ of certiorari was late. State law allows for appeals to be filed only in the 30 days after a decision is made final. On November 2, McCleary filed a motion to disqualify the board’s attorney as that same attorney had previously represented McCleary in another matter. The district court determined on December 18 that McCleary’s petition was indeed untimely. The court also concluded that the plaintiff did not provide substantial evidence that his prior relationship with the defendant’s attorney bore “any relationship to the instant matter.” The district court granted the board’s motion to dismiss.

McCleary appealed that dismissal to the Iowa Court of Appeals. They reviewed the district court’s decisions in the areas of the timeliness of McCleary’s appeal as well as whether the board’s counsel should have been disqualified.

Timeliness Iowa Code section 414.15 establishes the right to appeal a decision from a zoning board and provides “[s]uch petition shall be presented to the court within thirty days after the filing of the decision in the office of the board.” Because McCleary filed his appeal more than 30 days after the board made its decision, the district court did not have jurisdiction to hear it. McCleary asserted that his motion for declaratory relief was not subject to the same timeliness requirements as writs of certiorari. The Court of appeals disagrees. “Regardless of the avenue of relief McCleary chose, he was still appealing the decision of the zoning board and was subject to the statutory requirements of such an appeal.”

Disqualifying Counsel Because the attorney representing the board had previously been involved in representing McCleary, he claimed that the attorney should be disqualified.In determining if a prior relationship is enough to disqualify an attorney the court must determine if the two matters are substantially related. To do so, the court examines three factors:

  1. the nature and scope of the prior representation;
  2. the nature of the present lawsuit; and
  3. whether the client might have disclosed a confidence to [their] attorney in the prior representation which could be relevant to the present action.

The attorney described their prior relationship as, “providing a model letter of intent for a business purchase and reviewing a draft of the letter written either by [the former partner] or by Mr. McCleary.” He also stated that he, “did not meet Mr. McCleary in person and recall no further involvement in the transaction.” McCleary claims a connection exists because the prior representation involved the same property on which he eventually attempted to establish his pet boarding business.  The court failed to see how assisting McCleary’s representation in the property transaction would make him privy to any information that would be relevant to this zoning variance request.

On both matters the court of appeals affirmed the ruling of the district court.

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