Adjoining landowners in annexation case need not exhaust administrative remedies before going to court

by Gary Taylor

William and Sharon Oglesby, et. al. v. City of Coralville
(Iowa Court of Appeals, November 25, 2009)

District court had jurisdiction to review claim of inadequate notice of city action on annexation.

Scanlon Properties submitted an annexation request to the City of Coralville for property it owns along North Liberty Road, as well as a half mile of the right-of-way of North Liberty Road that connects the city to the Scanlon property.  The property is in the two-mile extraterritorial area of North Liberty.  On the same day the city council voted to approve the annexation, several owners of property adjacent to the half mile stretch of North Liberty Road (the plaintiffs in this case) filed a petition in district court contending the city had failed to provide them the notice of annexation required under Iowa Code 368.7(1)(b) and (d).  At a district court hearing held two weeks later the city asserted the plaintiffs did not have standing to bring their claims and had failed to exhaust administrative remedies.  The district court found that the city was required to give plaintiffs notice before taking action to annex the land, and issued a temporary injunction to prevent the city from taking further action on the annexation “until such time as [the city] complies with all statutory notice requirements.” 

After two years of procedural wrangling the plaintiffs moved for summary judgment to obtain a final resolution of the case, stating that the city council action approving the annexation was void since the statutorily-required notice was not provided.  The city cross-moved for summary judgment asserting the plaintiffs were not entitled to notice, did not have standing, and had not yet exhausted all available administrative remedies.   The district court agreed with the plaintiffs, and further determined that since the city council action was void, there was no decision to be reviewed by the City Development Board (CDB) and thus there were no administrative remedies to exhaust.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling of the district court, granting summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs which voided the annexation.  After noting that the annexation required CDB review under Iowa Code 368.7(3) because of its proximity to North Liberty, the court reviewed the purposes of CDB review.  It noted that the CDB is not “an all-purpose enforced of chapter 368’s requirements.”  The CDB’s review of annexations within the extraterritorial area of another city does not include review to ensure compliance with the landowner notification requirements.  Thus, in the ordinary course of events the CDB will not even have information about the extent to which landowners were notified before the city acted.  The court concluded that resort to the CDB to rectify a failure by the city to give notice is “permissive only, and not exclusive of the judicial remedy.”  This being the case, there is no requirement that the administrative remedy of CDB review be exhausted before resort to the judicial system for resolution.  It did not help the city’s case that “in a classic Catch-22” the city argued simultaneously (1) before the district court that plaintiffs had not exhausted their administrative remedies, and (2) before the CDB that the plaintiffs did not have standing to appear in the CDB proceedings.   “An administrative remedy would hardly be adequate for the plaintiffs if it expressly disallowed them from appealing the administrative decision.”

Finally the court dismissed the city’s claim that the plaintiffs were not entitled to notice because they do not “own” North Liberty Road (although the city did concede the plaintiffs held legal title to the land over which the road passes, they argued that legal title was immaterial because plaintiffs did not “control” the land).  Regardless of the resolution of this technicality, the court concluded that plaintiffs would be entitled to notice as owners of land adjacent to the road if they, in fact did not “own” the road.

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