Posted by: Patricia Salkin | November 21, 2011

Idaho Supreme Court Finds Procedural Due Process Violation from Insufficient Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law by Zoning Commission

Patrick Dunn, a developer, seeking to develop land into residential lots, submitted an application the Zoning Commission.  After holding public hearings on the application, the Commission recommended that the Board of Commissioners deny the application.  The main concerns of the Commission were that there was no access to a public road because there was only an easement, that the road was a cul-de-sac and, thus, subject to further restrictions, and finally, that the application was incomplete for failure to discuss flood mitigation.  After some revision by Dunn, the Board approved the subdivision plan in a memorandum of findings of fact and conclusions of law. 

Two property owners, Jasso and Gorringe, who opposed the development, petitioned for judicial review.  The district court, after hearing the case, found that the road was a cul-de-sac, thus extra restrictions were necessary, and that the decision by the Board was arbitrary and capricious.  The district court further ordered the Board to pay Jasso and Girringe’s attorney fees.  The board appealed. 

The Supreme Court began by examining part of the Idaho Code which requires local decision makers to craft a written decision, discussing the “facts found and conclusions reached” and the “rationale underlying those findings and conclusions.”  After exploring prior case law on this section of the code, the court found that the statement must clearly state: its resolution of factual disputes, the evidence in support of its findings, and its legal support by identifying certain applicable laws or regulations.  Although the Board argued that an inadequacy may be overlooked if there is evidence to support the decision-maker’s legal and factual conclusions, the court pointed out that only the case where the decision offered by the decision-maker provides enough guidance and reasoning for their conclusions.  Here, the court found that the Board  submitted only conclusory statements with no “reasoned explanation” or grounds for their decision.  Thus, the Board’s findings did not satisfy the requirements under the Idaho Code.                              

The court then examined whether this failure by the Board violated Jasso and Gorringes’ procedural due process rights.  Procedural due process, explained the court, requires not only the opportunity to be heard, but also opportunity for judicial review.  Since the Board failed to provide Jasso and Gorringe with a basis for their decision, no court had the basis to review the decision.  Thus, procedural due process rights were violated here. 

Having decided the substance of the case, the court gave some guidance to the lower court on the actual issues.  First, the court determined that the Board lacked jurisdiction to determine the nature of any easement—regarding access to a public road—and, therefore, this determination must be made by a district court.  Second, the court determined that based on the definition of cul-de-sac, the statute is clear that the Board could have properly reached the conclusion that the street was not a cul-de-sac and, therefore, not subject to the extra requirements.  Third, the court advised the Board to make a determination concerning whether any subdivision is actually on a floodplain.  Finally, the court noted that a recent legislative amendment limits the award of attorney fees in proceedings which initiated as a civil complaint, thus, the award of attorney fees was error. 

Jasso v. Camas Ctny., 2011 WL 5299710 (Idaho 11/02/11) 

The opinion can be accessed at: http://www.isc.idaho.gov/opinions/Jasso%2037258.pdf


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