Posted by: Patricia Salkin | February 18, 2015

Fed. Dist. Court in GA Remands Cell Tower Denial With Instructions to City to Provide Detailed Reasons for Denial

Both the Chatham County–Savannah Metropolitan Planning Commission (“MPC”) and the Mayor and Alderman of the City denied Vantage’s request to construct a wireless transmission tower. The court granted Vantage’s motion for summary judgment because of the failure on the part of the government to provide reasons for the denial of the variance, and remanded the matter back to the City with instructions to include a list of detailed reasons explaining its decision.

The Court noted that the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (“TCA”) requires that each decision denying a request must “be in writing and supported by substantial evidence contained in a written record.” At the time of the City’s decision, the Eleventh Circuit had held that a letter similar to the Letter that was provided here was sufficient. However, the United States Supreme Court recently reversed and remanded that decision, holding that “localities must provide reasons when they deny cell phone tower siting applications.” See, T–Mobile S., LLC v. City of Roswell, Ga., 2015 WL 159278 (Jan. 14, 2015). The Court noted that “in order to determine whether a locality’s denial was supported by substantial evidence, as Congress directed, courts must be able to identify the reason or reasons why the locality denied the application.” Although those reasons need not be given in the same document denying an application, “the locality must provide or make available its written reasons at essentially the same time as it communicates its denial.” “These reasons need not be elaborate or even sophisticated, but clear enough to enable judicial review.”

The District Court noted that here, the Letter did not provide any reasons for the locality’s decision. Therefore, it was difficult for the Court to determine whether the City had violated the substantive provisions of the TCA because the City did not state its reasons for its decision. The Court could not therefore reach the question of whether substantial evidence supported the City’s decision. Although the City failed to comply with the TCA, The Court said it did not act in bad faith as it was complying with then-current law. Therefore, the Court did not grant Vantage’s request for either money damages or a writ.

Vantage Tower Grp., LLC v. Chatham Cnty.-Savannah Metro. Planning Comm’n, 2015 WL 300257(S.D. Ga. 1/20/2015)


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