Plaintiff Ready Mix, successor to American Limestone Company, Inc. (“American Limestone”), filed suit against Jefferson County (“the County”), seeking a declaratory judgment that American Limestone had a vested right to operate a rock quarry on a parcel of land it owned in the County. Plaintiff argued that this vested right permissively established a pre-existing non-conforming use of Ready Mix’s mining and quarrying on the subject property under the Tennessee Code and the County’s Zoning Resolution. Plaintiff’s claim served as a response to a stop work order issued by the County after plaintiff’s scheduled hearing before the Board of Zoning Appeals was postponed.
On appeal, the County claims that the trial court erred in failing to dismiss plaintiff’s claims because plaintiff failed to exhaust its administrative remedies following issuance of the stop work order. Plaintiff based its claim on the County’s “grandfather statute” which allows continuation of an activity already occurring when enactment of a restriction prohibits the activity. The County, however, argues that this claim is barred by Tennessee Code § 13-7-108, which in this case required plaintiff to file an appeal with the Board of Zoning Appeals before it could seek relief in court. To determine whether plaintiff exhausted its administrative remedies, the court looked first at whether the statute explicitly provided an administrative remedy. However, as plaintiffs pointed out, exhaustion is only required when the statute says so “by its plain words.”
The court then discussed the level of discretion afforded by precedent, and accordingly looked at whether judicial review would prematurely interrupt the administrative process and more generally, the purpose of an exhaustion requirement. They found judicial review to be improper here because plaintiff did not challenge the validity of the ordinance itself, but rather the Board’s interpretation of the ordinance. The court went on to cite precedent supporting the authority of local boards particularly in the zoning context, and stated that reviewing this interpretation would undermine the authority and responsibility of the Board. Therefore, the court reversed the trial court’s judgment and dismissed the action, holding that plaintiff had not exhausted its administrative remedies as statutorily required.
Ready Mix, U.S.A. v. Jefferson County, 2011 WL 2369293 (Tenn.Ct.App., 6/9/2011).
The opinion can be accessed at: http://www.tsc.state.tn.us/sites/default/files/ready_mix_usa_llc_v_jefferson_county_tennessee.pdf