City Council member’s removal from office violated his procedural due process protections

by Gary Taylor

Burke v. City Council of City of Lansing
Iowa Court of Appeals, February 22, 2017

Members of the Lansing City Council voted to remove city council member William Burke from office for claimed violations of our open meetings law (OML).  On one occasion the council issued an agenda for a closed session “to discuss strategy in matters that are presently in litigation or where litigation is imminent.”  After the agenda was issued, the city clerk requested an opinion from the Lansing city attorney as to whether the two topics she understood to be up for discussion actually qualified for closed session under the OML.  The city attorney opined that the topics did not, in fact, qualify for closed session.  The clerk forwarded the memo to the city council members, including Burke.  Burke notified the clerk that he disagreed with the clerk’s characterization of the purposes of the meeting as the clerk had reported them to the city attorney.  When the scheduled meeting was held the council voted 2-1 to go into closed session, with Burke being one of the two council members to vote in favor.  Later, the council held another special meeting on an unrelated matter.  Twenty-four-hour notice was not given.

Tensions between the council and residents resulted in an investigation by the Allamakee County attorney into the council’s actions.  The county attorney filed a petition alleging the two meetings violated the OML.  The attorney retained to represent the council and its members concluded the county attorney had “made some legitimate allegations,” and predicted fines, costs and attorney’s fees will likely be assessed against each council member.  The attorney set forth a potential settlement strategy she had discussed with the county attorney that would require Burke to resign from the council in exchange for dismissal of the lawsuit.  After a closed session of the council which Burke did not attend, the mayor petitioned the council to remove Burke from office for “willful misconduct and maladministration in office” in his handling of several matters relating to OML which resulted in litigation against the city and members of the council.  After a special meeting, the council voted 4-0 to remove Burke from office (Burke abstained from the vote).  Thereafter Burke challenged his removal in district court, raising several issues with the council’s proceedings.  The district court denied Burke’s petition, and Burke appealed.  The sole issue considered by the Court of Appeals was procedural due process.

Burke argued that the removal proceeding was fundamentally unfair because each member of the council who voted on his removal had a pecuniary conflict of interest in deciding his fate, and the “council itself generated the factual record necessary to sustain its decision, which perpetuates its conflict of interest.”  The Court of Appeals determined that Burke did not receive a “fair trial in a fair tribunal” as required by the Constitution.  The council members understood that they would eliminate their own financial exposure for possible violations of the OML if they removed Burke.  Furthermore, the council combined the prosecutorial function (by authorizing initiation of the removal process) with the adjudicative function (by presenting their own witness testimony to document their own personal knowledge of the grounds for removal).

Because the removal proceeding violated Burke’s right to procedural due process, the Court of Appeals sided with Burke and reversed the order of the district court.

 

 

Constitutional claims not preserved in defense to nuisance citation

by Hannah Dankbar and Gary Taylor

Beaver and Sanderson v City of Davenport
Iowa Court of Appeals, April 27, 2016

Clifford Beaver and Pamela Sanderson have lived as common law husband and wife at their property in the City of Davenport for the past 14 years.  In 2014 the City sent a letter to  Beaver and Sanderson declaring their property a public nuisance under Davenport Municipal Code §8.12, after several neighbors circulated a petition seeking the property to be declared as such. The City’s letter explained that Sanderson’s “erratic behavior” prevented multiple neighbors from enjoying their property. The letter detailed nine directives regarding the activity on and around the property, including prohibitions against “criminal related activity”, harassment of neighbors and guests, calling authorities without cause, accosting people parking on the street, letting their dog run without a leash, and restrictions on using security cameras.  The letter warned Beaver that failure to abate the nuisance could result in citations and fines.

Beaver requested an appeal hearing. After a two-day hearing in April at which seven police officers and seven neighbors were called as witnesses, the hearing officer determined that there was sufficient evidence to support the nuisance abatement and approved the “Nuisance Abatement Plan” which included seven directives. One of the directives prohibited recording or pointing security cameras at any part of any neighboring structure.

Beaver challenged in district court the legality of the hearing officer’s order. The court ruled in favor of the City and Beaver appealed.

On appeal, Beaver argued the district court wrongly upheld the city’s abatement order that declared his property a public nuisance. He presented two claims: (1) “Davenport’s Nuisance and Residential Camera Statutes are unconstitutional on their face; and (2) unconstitutional as applied to his situation.

The court concluded that these challenges were not preserved for their review. These two claims were not presented in district court and therefore cannot be ruled on in the appeal.

The only constitutional claim that was addressed in district court was regarding the residential-camera regulations. Beaver claimed that the City’s ordinance unconstitutionally restricted his “right to maintain surveillance for the purpose of monitoring or protecting [his] property.” The ordinance limits the camera’s field of view to less than fifty-percent of a neighbor’s property. The court determined that this balances a property owner’s right to survey their property with their neighbor’s right to privacy.

On appeal, Beaver claimed that the hearing officer misapplied the camera ordinance. This specific attack on the abatement order was not ruled on in district court, so the appeals court refused to rule on it.

On appeal, the court did not reach any conclusions on the propriety, constitutionality or enforceability of the City’s order due to the issue of preservation. Because of these issues the orders from the lower court were affirmed.

 

 

 

 

 

Field of Dreams site cleared for development of baseball complex and tourist attraction

by Gary Taylor

Residential and Agricultural Advisory Committee, LLC et al. v. Dyersville City Council
Iowa Supreme Court, December 9, 2016

The Dyersville City Council voted to rezone the area containing the site of the 1989 movie Field of Dreams from A-1 Agricultural to C-2 Commercial in order to facilitate the development of a  a 24-field baseball and softball complex, along with the farmhouse and original baseball field used for the movie which would continue to be maintained as a tourist attraction. Community members filed two writs of certiorari to challenge the rezoning on a number of grounds.  The District Court annulled the writs and found in favor of the city council.  This appeal followed.  The Iowa Supreme Court engaged in a 20-page recitation of the facts of the case on its way to its 44-page decision.  Only those relevant to the outcome of each challenge will be repeated here.

Quasi-judicial vs. legislative action.  The petitioners argued that the city council’s actions were quasi-judicial in nature rather than legislative, and therefore the council should have been required to conduct a more formal fact-finding proceeding and make findings of fact in support of its decision.  Quasi-judicial proceedings are also subject to greater judicial scrutiny when reviewed by an appellate court.  Petitioners relied on the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision in Sutton v. Dubuque City Council in support of their position. In contrast, the city council maintained that the action of  a legislative body in rezoning land is legislative in nature, which gives the legislative body wider latitude in the conduct of the proceedings.  Courts also give greater deference to legislative decisions made by city councils and county boards of supervisors.

In ruling on this issue the Iowa Supreme Court reviewed Sutton and several other past cases.  It recognized that in its Sutton decision the Court set forth three factors in determining whether zoning activities are quasi-judicial (versus legislative) in nature (1) [when the rezoning] occurs in response to a citizen application followed by a statutorily mandated public hearing; (2) [when] as a result of such applications, readily identifiable proponents and opponents weigh in on the process; and (3) the decision is localized in its application affecting a particular group of citizens more acutely than the public at large.   Recognizing that the Court “cited these factors with approval” in Sutton, it noted that at the time it chose not to hold that all public zoning hearings should be classified as adjudicatory.  It stated:

The Sutton Case dealt with a different situation than many of our previous zoning cases because it involved PUD zoning.  We noted the ‘quasi-judicial character of municipal rezoning is particularly evident in matters involving PUD zoning.’  We discussed the distinction between traditional rezoning and PUD zoning:

Creating zoning districts and rezoning land are legislative actions, and…trial courts are not permitted to sit as ‘super zoning boards’ and overturn a board’s legislative efforts….The [PUD] concept varies from the traditional concept of zoning classifications.  It permits a flexible approach to the regulation of land uses. Compliance must be measured against certain stated standards….Since the board was called upon to review an interpretation and application of a n ordinance…and the ordinance was not challenged per se, the board’s decision was ‘clearly quasi-judicial’.

Rather than follow Sutton, the Court found the present case to be “much more analogous” to the case of Montgomery v. Bremer County Board of Supervisors.  In Montgomery, the county Board rezoned two parcels of land from agricultural to industrial after two rezoning petitions were filed.  In Montgomery, the Court found that the zoning decision of the supervisors was “an exercise of its delegated police power,” and held that “the generally limited scope of review applicable to the case [was] to determine whether the decision by the Board to rezone [was] fairly debatable.”   In making the analogy, the Court observed:

The city council [in the present case] was acting in a legislative function in furtherance of its delegated police powers.  The council was not sitting ‘to determine adjudicative facts to decide the legal rights, privileges or duties of a particular party based on that party’s particular circumstances.  The [decision] was not undertaken to weigh the legal rights of one party (the All-Star Ballpark Heaven) versus another party (the petitioners).  The council weighed all of the information, reports, and comments available to it in order to determine whether rezoning was in the best interest of the city as a whole.

The Court held that the proper standard of review “in this case is the generally limited scope of review” utilized to “determine whether the decision…is fairly debatable.”  A decision is “fairly debatable” when “reasonable minds may differ, or where the evidence provides a basis for a fair difference of opinion as to its application to a particular property.”  If a rezoning decision is “fairly debatable” then a court will decline to substitute its judgment for that of the city council or board of supervisors.

Impartiality of the city council.  The Court noted that, while it was true that several council members viewed the rezoning and the project as an opportunity for the city, each council member attended all meetings, read reports, listened to citizens speak for and against the project, asked questions, and investigated issues and concerns.  Nothing in the record demonstrated that any council member had any conflict of interest.  Several members participated in an economic development bus trip to Des Moines to discuss the project with legislators and state officials, but the Court found that mere participation in such activities for the potential benefit of the city does not establish partiality or bias. “Rather, this is more akin to the council members upholding their public duty by performing their due diligence in determining what state aid might be available to help with the project before any formal action was taken.  The council make its decision based on what it believed was best for the community after a full and open discussion of the issues over many months.”

Decision was arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable. A decision is arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable when it is not authorized by statute, or is unsupported by the facts.  For the reasons cited above, the Court declined to find in favor of the petitioners on these grounds.

Inconsistent with comprehensive plan.  Under Iowa Code 414.3, zoning regulations “shall be made in accordance with a comprehensive plan.”  The Court referred to its prior decision in Iowa Coal Mining Co. v. Monroe County for the principle that “compliance with the comprehensive plan requirement merely means that the zoning authorities have given ‘full consideration the problem presented, including the needs of the public, changing conditions, and the similarity of other land in the same area.'”  The Court referred to the boilerplate language found in every plan that says rezonings should be made with consideration of the unique character of the area, the suitability of the land for the proposed use, the conservation of buildings or value, and the encouragement of the most appropriate use of the land.  It noted that the Field of Dreams site is a unique parcel of land, and that the council considered the distinctiveness of the land and whether the proposed rezoning would be the best use of the site for the benefit of the community as a whole.  The city’s community builder plan also specifically addresses the importance of preserving the site in order to maintain and increase tourism.

Illegal spot zoning. To determine whether illegal spot zoning has occurred, a court must consider (1) whether the new zoning is germane to an object within the police power; (2) whether there is a reasonable basis for making a distinction between the spot zoned land and the surrounding property; and (3) whether the rezoning is consistent with the comprehensive plan.  Noting again the uniqueness of the Field of Dreams site, the Court refused to find this to be a case of illegal spot zoning even though the result is an island of commercial development surrounded by agriculturally zoned properties.

200-foot buffer zone.  Under Iowa Code 414.5, if 20% or more of the landowners immediately adjacent to the property proposed to be rezoned protest the change, then the city council must approve the rezoning by a four-fifths vote.  The rezoning applicants left out of the rezoning request a 200-foot buffer zone along the three sides of the perimeter of the property  (leaving it as A-1 Agricultural).  The petitioners challenged the use of this 200-foot buffer as a way to prevent nearby property owners from objecting to the project and thereby triggering the requirement of a unanimous vote.  While the Court acknowledged that “at first blush the buffer zone can appear to be unfair,” the Court concluded that the buffer in fact provides a benefit to adjacent landowners by addressing their expressed concerns about hunting and farming operations directly adjacent to the ballfields.  The Court also noted that other courts have validated the use of buffer zones to avoid supermajority requirements.  Regardless, even if the 200-foot buffer was improper, the rezoning was adopted by 4-1 vote of the city council.

Incorrect legal description.  While the notice of the original ordinance (Ordinance 770) contained errors in the legal description, the council corrected the legal description in the ordinance that ultimately rezoned the property (Ordinance 777).  No new notices were published, however, for Ordinance 777.  The Court does not require complete accuracy when providing notice.  Neither Iowa Code nor the city ordinances require the publication of a complete legal description.  The purpose of the notice requirement is to give the public reasonable notice of the pending action.  The public was well aware of the ongoing proceedings, and no one was confused or misled by the inaccuracy of the legal description.

Equal Protection.  Petitioners argued that all neighboring landowners were similarly situated, yet the 3-sided 200-foot buffer prevented those neighbors along the buffer from exercising the same right to object as the neighbors along the side of the property without the buffer.  The Court found that the council’s decision met the rational basis test required by the Equal Protection clause in this case.  The buffers, as described above, served a legitimate purpose of protecting the neighboring properties on the three sides.

Due Process.  Petitioners and the public in general were given adequate notice.  Further, they were heard in multiple public hearings.  All community members wishing to speak were allowed to do so.

Based on all preceding points, the Iowa Supreme Court affirmed the rezoning of the Field of Dreams property.

Comprehensive plan amendments met Idaho statutory requirement for an “analysis” of power plant and utility locations

by Andrea Vaage and Gary Taylor

Burlile v. Payette Board of County Commissioners
Idaho Supreme Court, September 25, 2015

Alternate Energy Holdings Inc. (AEHI) became interested in constructing a nuclear power plant in Payette County, Idaho in 2009. The property the company was targeting was zoned agricultural. AEHI petitioned the County to revise the comprehensive plan so that the property could be zoned industrial. AEHI also submitted a Rezone and Development Agreement Application to the Payette County Planning and Zoning Commission. The County accepted the petition to amend the comprehensive plan and included additional language relating to energy producers looking to site facilities in the County. After the development agreement was made public in various forms, the County held a public hearing in December 2010 before the Planning and Zoning Commission (PZC), during which the PZC recommended approval of the application for the nuclear power plant.

A neighboring landowner, H-Hook, and others appealed the decision to the Board of Commissioners (Board). A revision to the development agreement was made public and the Board received additional testimony from the public. In August 2011, the Board approved the decision of the PZC to approve the development application. H-Hook and other parties sought judicial review. H-Hook argued that (1) the comprehensive plan was invalid because it is missing components addressing power plant siting and power transmission corridors as required by Idaho Code section 67-6508; (2) the rezone was illegal spot zoning; and (3) the notice and hearing procedures employed by the County were in violation of due process. The district court rejected all arguments. H-Hook appealed.

Invalid Comprehensive Plan.  H-Hook argued the comprehensive plan was not valid because it did not include sufficient language regarding siting of a nuclear power plant. Idaho Code 67-6508(h) requires a comprehensive plan include “an analysis showing general plans for sewage, drainage, power plant sites, utility transmission corridors…”  H-Hook focused on the requirement for an “analysis” and argued that the comprehensive plan should contain a certain measure of detailed consideration of the subject. The Court, however, found that the requirement of a “general” plan diminishes the degree of required “analysis.” Reading the “plain, obvious, and rational meaning” of the terms “general” and “analysis,” the Court concluded that the comprehensive plan, as amended, met Idaho Code 67-6508(h).  It found that more detailed language would be difficult for a county to adopt and implement, due to the complicated and changing nature of energy facilities.

Illegal Spot Zoning.  H-Hook argued that the rezone from agricultural to industrial was an impermissible “type one” spot zoning.  Citing prior caselaw, the Court stated that a claim of “type one” spot zoning “is essentially an argument that the change in zoning is not in accord with the comprehensive plan.”  The Court determined that the claim of “type one” spot zoning failed because the amendment to the comprehensive plan designated the property as Industrial prior to the rezoning to Industrial.

“Type two” spot zoning in Idaho occurs when a parcel is singled out for treatment different from the uses permitted in the rest of the zoning district for the benefit of an individual property owner.  The Court disagreed.  The Board concluded that the industrial use designation “encompasses existing industrial operations, such as CAFOs and the Clay Peak Landfill” within a few hundred feet of the site in question.  The Board’s factual determination is entitled to deference when supported by substantial and competent evidence, and the Court determined that this standard was met.

Due Process Violation.  H-Hook argued that it was not given adequate time to review revisions to the development agreement; however, the County made the application available to the public in physical form and on a website well before the hearing before the PZC in December 2010. The application with revisions was made public eight days before the hearing. When the issue went before the Board, the County provided a color-coded version of the revision to the public eleven days before that meeting. These efforts gave H-Hook adequate time to review the development agreement.  No due process violation occurred.

The decision of the district court was affirmed.

Exemption to zoning overlay district did not constitute special legislation

by Andrea Vaage

Dowd Grain Co. v. Sarpy County
Nebraska Supreme Court, August 14, 2015

In March 2004, Sarpy County enacted a zoning overlay ordinance that imposed design guidelines and other regulations along a specified road corridor. In 2007, this ordinance was amended to exempt land that was platted before the enactment of the ordinance in 2004. Dowd Grain Company owned land subject to the overlay ordinance but did not qualify for the exemption. Dowd Grain filed a declaratory judgement action against the County. It claimed that the exemption was unconstitutional because the ordinance was special legislation. It argued that its property was similarly situated to the exempted land and that the exemption proffered special privileges on the exempted land.

As with other challenges to municipal ordinances, the burden falls to the challenger to prove a zoning provision is unconstitutional. The ordinance must be shown to be unreasonable, arbitrary, or discriminatory and that the provisions bear no relation to the purpose of the ordinance. Special legislation cases are determined to fulfill these requirements if the legislation creates a permanently closed class or an arbitrary and unreasonable method of classification. The district court ruled in favor of the County on all counts, whereupon Dowd Grain appealed.

The first question under review was whether the overlay ordinance created a closed class. A closed class is one that cannot expand in number due to future growth or development. Dowd Grain argued that its property cannot be added to the exempted class and no property beyond the geographical limits of the overlay district can be added. However, Nebraska case law has established that property owners in a geographic area cannot create a closed class because real property is alienable and subject to constant change, including division. The number of parcels could change and new members could join the class by a change in ownership of property.  Dowd thus failed to prove the ordinance created a closed class.

The second issue was whether the class created by the ordinance was arbitrarily selected and served no real public interest. Those exempt from the ordinance were property owners who had submitted a plat application before March 2004. Submission of a plat application requires considerable expense and planning. It was not unreasonable to exempt property owners who had submitted a plat before the implementation of the design guidelines in the overlay district because these owners expended time and money to develop their property based on previous guidelines. The submittal of a plat application was a reasonable distinction between those property owners exempted from the ordinance and those subject to it. The ordinance, therefore, did not create a special class.

The district court ruling in favor of the county was affirmed.

 

 

 

 

Notice of intent to demolish building “reasonably calculated” to inform owners of pending action

by Andrea Vaage

Yang v. City of Wyoming
Federal 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, July 13, 2015

Ming Kuo Yang and Julie Yang owned a commercial property in Wyoming, Michigan. The Yangs previously rented the property to a series of restaurants; eventually, the property was listed for sale in late 2010. The lease on the last restaurant ended in February 2011. The property was never sold and was then neglected. The owners continued to pay property taxes. In October 2011, city officials posted an abandonment notice on the building. The notice was also mailed to the address of the abandoned building, but listed the former owner as the recipient, not the Yangs. In July 2012, the city sent a “Notice and Order to Repair or Demolish” by signature-required certified mailing to the building address. This notice also listed the former owner as the recipient. Two months later, the post office returned the mail to the city as unclaimed. The City did a title search of the building and identified the Yangs as the correct owner. The City then sent both previous notices to the Yangs’ correct address by certified mail in September 2012.

The City did not receive a response from the Yangs. It then scheduled a hearing about demolishing the property for November 1, 2012. The City sent the Yangs a hearing notice by regular mail and also sent a notice to the Yangs’ realtor. Soon thereafter, the post office returned the original certified mailing to the Yangs as unclaimed. This information was not present. The Yangs did not appear to the hearing on November 1 where the board decided to demolish the property. The property was demolished in January 2013, and a $22,500 bill was sent to the Yangs’ address for the work.

The Yangs then discovered their building was demolished and claimed the city violated their procedural due process rights by demolishing the property without adequate notice. The standard of review is whether the City’s efforts were “reasonably calculated” to inform the Yangs of the action taken on their property. The City of Wyoming attempted to contact the Yangs through posted notices, mailed notices to the Yangs, mailed notice to the realtor, and the post-hearing notice. Michigan caselaw has established that a posted notice is, by itself, an appropriate way to inform a person of the proceedings against him. Another precedent notes that notice mailed to a person’s home address generally satisfies due process requirements. The Yangs argue, however, that notice by itself is not adequate, since the hearing notice did not provide the reasons for demolishing the property and the post-hearing notice would have come too late for the Yangs to prepare to defend themselves.

The Court found that all of the information contained in all of the notices, taken in the aggregate, were sufficient to meet due process requirements. Even though the Yangs did not actually receive notice, as the certified mailing was returned unclaimed, the additional efforts made by the City were reasonable attempts to contact the Yangs. The Court found the city’s attempts at contacting the Yangs were “reasonably calculated” to give the Yangs adequate notice.

Dissent

The dissent argued that the majority misconstrued the facts of the case and the contents of the notices provided by the City. The final four attempts at contacting the Yangs were not adequate because they did not provide the reasons for the potential demolition of the building, providing “less information than the average parking ticket.” The issue wasn’t whether the forms of notice were adequate, but whether the notices actually informed the owner of the issue. In the case, the dissent argues the City failed to provide the reasons for demolition in the follow-up notices and thus violated procedural due process.

Requiring conditional use permit for residential substance abuse service facilities does not violate ADA

by Gary Taylor

Get Back Up, Inc. v. City of Detroit
Federal 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, March 13, 2015

Get Back Up operates a 160-bed all male residential facility in downtown Detroit, providing substance abuse treatment and counseling, education, and job training opportunities.  In August 2007 it purchases an unused school building from Detroit Public Schools for approximately $500,000.  The building is located in B4-H, General Business/Residential Historic zoning district.  The B4-H District allows boarding schools, child care institutions, nursing homes, religious residential facilities, adult day care centers, hospitals, libraries and religious institutions (among other uses) by right.  It lists “residential substance abuse service facilities” as one of several conditional uses requiring the satisfaction of 15 stated criteria before being allowed.  Get Back Up originally received approval of its conditional use application for the building in the B4-H District from the Building Safety and Engineering Department, but the Russell Woods-Sullivan Area Homeowners Association appealed the approval to the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA).  The BZA voted to reverse the decision.  Get Back Up appealed the BZA decision to Wayne County Circuit Court, and after bouncing around between circuit court and the BZA several times the circuit court affirmed the BZA’s denial.  Appeals to the Michigan Court of Appeals and Supreme Court were unsuccessful.  After this, Get Back Up filed a complaint in federal court, claiming that the denial violated the American’s with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the Fair Housing Act.  The federal district court also ruled in favor of the city, and Get Back Up appealed.

Get Back Up argued that requiring residential substance abuse service facilities to obtain a conditional use permit when other similar uses are allowed by right is discriminatory.  The 6th Circuit disagreed, finding that the ordinance does not allow any materially similar use to operate by right in any B4 zoning district.  Residential substance abuse service facilities are treated the same as many other residential uses such as multi-family dwellings, emergency shelters, rooming houses, and fraternities and sororities.  Furthermore, the court found that the other uses cited by Get Back Up in support of their case (nursing homes and hospitals) are not materially similar to residential substance abuse service facilities.  Hospitals are not residential uses, and they tend to have substantial impact on their immediate surroundings and are particularly well suited for busy commercial districts like B4 districts.  While nursing homes are residential uses, their residents are “often physically disabled and they rarely leave the premises….[They are a] uniquely sedate and unburdensome use, having relatively little impact on traditional zoning concerns like noise and traffic.”

The court also found no merit in Get Back Up’s argument that the 15 criteria for approving a conditional use permit are unconstitutionally vague.  The phrases “detrimental to or endanger the social, physical, environmental or economic well being of surrounding neighborhoods,” “use and enjoyment of other property in the immediate vicinity,” and “compatible with adjacent land uses” are terms with “common-sense meanings” and are not so vague as to fail to provide fair notice to applicants of what is prohibited.”

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling in favor of the City of Detroit.

Story County District Court invalidates Ames lap dance ordinance

by Gary Taylor

Relying on Mall Real Estate v. City of Hamburg (blogged here) Story County District Court recently ruled that the Ames “lap dance ordinance” is preempted by state law.

Rebekah Beth Williams and Alijah Blue Allison v City of Ames (PDF)
Story County District Court, November 14, 2014

Dangerous Curves serves alcohol and hires women to dance while wearing bikinis or underwear.  In October 2013 an Ames police officer conducted a bar check of Dangerous Curves and observed the defendants performing lap dances while having exposed buttocks.  Ames Municipal Code Section 17.31(1) prohibits this activity.  It provides

No person appearing as an entertainer on commercial premises subject to an Iowa liquor license or beer permit, or on premises of an ‘adult entertainment business’ … shall fondle, caress or sit on the lap of any customer on said premises if the entertainer presents a performance on the premises while nude or so attired as to leave exposed the entertainer’s ….buttocks….”

The defendants were each issued a citation for violation of Section 17.31. The defendants pled not guilty and filed a motion to dismiss, arguing (1) Iowa Code 728.11 preempts Section 17.31, and (2) Section 17.31 is unconstitutionally vague and overbroad. The motion to dismiss was denied, and the District Associate Judge found the defendants guilty of violating Section 17.31.  The defendants appealed to the Iowa District Court for Story County.

Preemption.  Iowa Code 728.11 provides

In order to provide for the uniform application of the provisions of this chapter relating to obscene material applicable to minors within this state, it is intended that the sole and only regulation of obscene material shall be under the provisions of this chapter, and no municipality, county or other governmental unit within this state shall make any law, ordinance or regulation relating to the availability of obscene materials.  All such laws, ordinances or regulations shall be or become void, unenforceable and of no effect on January 1, 1978.  Nothing in this section shall restrict the zoning authority of cities and counties.

Iowa Code 728.5 regulates public indecent exposure, and specifically provides
1.  An owner, manager, or person who exercises direct control over a place of business required to obtain a sales tax permit shall be guilty of a serious misdemeanor under any of the following circumstances:
b.  If such person allows or permits the exposure of the genitals or buttocks or female breast of any person who acts as a waiter or waitress.
The District Court noted that in Mall Real Estate v. City of Hamburg the Iowa Supreme Court concluded that the legislature intended to include live nude dancing within the meaning of ‘obscene materials,’ and the effect of Section 728.11, therefore, was to preempt Hamburg’s nude dancing regulations.  The defendants asserted that Mall Real Estate makes it clear that Section 17.31 is preempted by the Iowa Code.  The City argued, however, that Mall Real Estate only works to apply the Iowa Code to nude dancing performances, while Section 17.31 addresses physical contact. According to the City, “once the dancer touches a customer the dancing is no longer a performance fitting within the definition of ‘obscene material.'” The City then has a governmental interest in protecting the health and safety of its citizens.
The District court sided with the defendants, noting that the performances in question in Mall Real Estate included physical contact between the dancers and customers and, therefore, “the Supreme Court has already determined that a live nude dancing performance, including physical contact with customers, is obscene material under the Iowa Code.”  As a result, Section 17.31 regulates obscene material and is expressly preempted by state law.
Vague and overbroad ordinance.  Even though the ruling for the defendants on the preemption argument had the effect of ending the controversy, the District Court proceeded to the constitutional question “in the event that this decision is appealed and the Appellate Courts of Iowa take another look at the [Mall Real Estate] case, which was decided by a split court.”
The District Court made quick work of this argument.  It first cited a 1977 Iowa Supreme Court case that stated “we find it difficult to believe [the defendant] seriously contends people of common intelligence would not understand the meaning of nudity or would not be able to determine when the ordinance was violated by exposing to public view the breasts, buttocks, or genitals.”  Because the term ‘buttocks’ is not vague, requiring the entire buttocks to be covered is not overbroad.  “It would be easily discernible to observe whether or not the buttock was covered either partially or fully.”
Based on the preemption determination, the District Court reversed the defendants’ convictions.

Junk vehicle ordinance not a traffic regulation; neither overbroad nor vague

by Hannah Dankbar

Village of North Hudson v Randy Krongard
(Wisconsin Court of Appeals, November 18, 2014)

In November 2011 Krongard received two citations from Village of North Hudson for violating article II, chapter 90, § 44 of the Village Code by having two junk vehicles (cars without current registration) in plain view on his property.

Krongard pleaded not guilty in municipal court, but failed to show for his trial. He showed up a few months later with counsel seeking to vacate the municipal court judgment against him by saying that the Village ordinance is void, unlawful and invalid as it is preempted by, contrary and inconsistent with Wisconsin traffic regulations. The municipal court refused to vacate the judgment.  Krongard’s appeal was also dismissed by the circuit court. Krongard then appealed to the court of appeals.

Krongard claimed the Village’s ordinance conflicted with state traffic regulations in chapters 341 to 348 and 350.  Krongard argued that The Village’s ordinance “impermissibly defines unregistered vehicles as junk vehicles and regulates unregistered vehicles on private property.”

The Village argued that its ordinance and the state traffic regulations could not be contradictory because they regulated “two completely different issues.”  While the village ordinance is “concerned with the upkeep of private property,” the state traffic regulations were concerned “with the licensing, regulation of, outfitting and operation of vehicles[.]”

The circuit court decided, “this regulation, because of the way it is written, its location within the Village Ordinances, and the Village’s alternative definition of junk vehicle, falls under the Village’s ‘health, safety, welfare’ power granted in Wis. Stat. § 61.34.”  It also found the ordinance was a constitutionally valid exercise of that ‘health, safety, and welfare’ power.  As a result, the circuit court denied Krongard’s motion to vacate the default judgment. Krongard appealed to the court of appeals.

Krongard argued that because the village ordinance concerns motor vehicles, it must be a traffic regulation. The Village argued that its ordinance only addresses the problem of uncovered junk vehicles and has nothing to do with the operation of motor vehicles on highways or city streets.  Rather, as the circuit court correctly noted it “simply requires owners of inoperable or unlicensed vehicles to keep their vehicles out of the public’s view, either by storage in a fully enclosed garage or by weatherproof, non transparent commercial car cover.”

The court rejected Krongard’s argument that the village ordinance is a traffic regulation. It stated that Krongard’s argument “ignores the fact that § 90-44 does not affect—directly or incidentally—motor vehicle operation. Rather, as the circuit court aptly noted on remand, it ‘simply requires owners of inoperable or unlicensed vehicles to keep their vehicles out of the public’s view, either by storage in a fully enclosed garage or by weatherproof, non transparent commercial car cover.’”

Regarding the constitutionality of the ordinance, Krongard raises due process concerns that the Village’s provisions in Article II are overbroad and vague.

An ordinance is vague if it is “so obscure that [persons] of ordinary intelligence must necessarily guess as to its meaning and differ as to its applicability.” It is overbroad “when its language, given its normal meaning, is so sweeping that its sanctions may be applied to conduct which the state is not permitted to regulate.” The court found “no indication that Krongard could reasonably have any question as to what constituted a violation of the village ordinance, or the consequences for such a violation.”

The court dismissed all of Krongard’s claims.

Improper ex parte contact only invalidated vote of commissioner making the contact

by Hannah Dankbar

Doug and Louise Hanson v Minnehaha County Commission
(South Dakota Supreme Court, October 29, 2014)

Eastern Farmers Cooperative (EFC) applied for a conditional use permit to build an agronomy facility. The facility would store, distribute and sell a variety of farm products, including anhydrous ammonia. The land the facility would sit on, and the surrounding area is zoned as A-1 Agricultural. The Minnehaha Planning Commission recommended approving the permit with ten conditions, even though local residents, including the Hansons, voiced their objections at the Planning Commission hearing because of safety and aesthetic concerns. The Hansons appealed to Minnehaha County Commission. In anticipation of the appeal one of the county commissioners (Kelly) toured an agronomy facility near Worthing, South Dakota. The facility was owned by EFC, but it is unclear if the commissioner knew this when he set up the tour. The County Commission held its hearing and approved the permit by a unanimous vote.  Commissioner Kelly disclosed at the hearing that he had touring the Worthing facility, and that he was impressed by its safety measures. The Hansons appealed to the circuit court. The court held that the Commissioner Kelly’s vote did not count due to the improper ex parte communication, but the other votes were not affected and so the approval of the permit stood. The Hansons appealed the decision.

The Hansons claim that they were denied due process in two ways: (1) that the Minnehaha County Zoning Ordinance (MCZO) does not provide adequate criteria upon which to base a decision to grant a conditional use permit, and (2) that Commissioner Kelly’s participation in the appeal to the County Commission denied them a fair and impartial hearing,

In giving counties ability to control their own zoning, counties must put in place criteria for determining when conditional use permits may be granted.  The Minnehaha County Zoning ordinance delineates three general criteria applicable to every conditional use permit application, and an additional six applicable to the types of agricultural uses at issue in this case.  The South Dakota Supreme Court noted that zoning ordinances are presumed to be constitutional, and that to overcome this presumption the challenging party must show the ordinance is arbitrary, capricious and unconstitutional. Abstract considerations are not sufficient. The South Dakota Supreme Court rejected the Hanson’s argument because they failed to show any way in which the standards in the ordinance did not pass muster.

2. The Hansons argue that the EFC should be required to “begin anew” with the permitting process because the votes of the other commissioners were influenced by the statements of Commissioner Kelly  To meet their burden, however, The Supreme Court stated that the Hanson’s must actually show that either Commissioner Kelly’s actions were sufficient to taint the entire preoceeding or that one or more of the other commissioners should be disqualified individually.  The Hanson’s failed to produce any evidence of any influence Kelly’s actions may have had on the other commissioners.  The court concluded that invalidating Kelly’s vote alone was a sufficient remedy.  With that vote invalidated, the Commission still approved the conditional use permit 3-0.

 

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