Posted by: Patricia Salkin | March 18, 2016

5th Cir. Court of Appeals Rejects Procedural and Substantive Due Process Claims Arising from Denial of Application to Develop a Tract of Land

G & H Development, L.L.C. owned a 55–acre parcel of land that it sought to develop into a subdivision of 154 lots containing single-family dwellings. G & H applied to the Benton Parish Metropolitan Planning Commission (the MPC) to have the property rezoned from Residence–Agriculture (R–A) zoning to One–Family Residence (R–1) zoning; it also filed with the MPC a subdivision plat for approval. After a hearing, the MPC voted to deny the rezoning application and declared the subdivision application therefore to be moot. G & H appealed the denial to the Bossier Parish Police Jury, which upheld the MPC’s denial and mootness determination after a hearing. G & H subsequently developed a new subdivision plat with eleven fewer lots; however, Counsel for the MPC accordingly returned the application to G & H with an explanation that the application required an accompanying application for rezoning. G & H appealed this decision to the Benton–Parish Board of Adjustment, which denied the appeal. G & H appealed to the Police Jury, which refused to consider the merits of the appeal on the ground that it lacked jurisdiction.

Following this, G & H brought action in federal court. The district court rejected all of G & H’s procedural due process, substantive due process, and equal protection claims. On appeal, G & H only contested the dismissal of its procedural due process claim against the Board of Adjustment and the grant of summary judgment with respect to its substantive due process claim against the MPC and the Police Jury. G & H argued that it was denied procedural due process at the hearing for its second subdivision application because the Board of Adjustment did not allow G & H to submit testimony under oath or to cross-examine Penwell, and that the Board of Adjustment was represented by the same lawyer who was representing the MPC, which was a party to the hearing. However, representatives of   G & H spoke at length, and there was no evidence that G & H was prevented from including any information or testimony of willing witnesses in its presentation. Moreover, G & H decided to forgo its right to appeal the Board of Adjustment’s decision in state court, which further supported the court’s finding that any deprivation that occurred was not erroneous.

G & H also argues that it was deprived of substantive due process with respect to its first subdivision application because its proposed subdivision plat was consistent with R–A zoning, and thus the MPC was incorrect in assuming that the subdivision plan would require rezoning. Here, the court found it was rational for the MPC to conclude that the Code’s assertion of “intent” that land in R–A districts be rezoned “whenever such land is subdivided into urban building sites” established a requirement of such rezoning. There was no evidence that the MPC’s interpretation of Section 126–716 in this case was inconsistent with its interpretation in other cases. As such, the court held that G & H’s substantive due process rights were not violated.

G & H Development, L.L.C. v. Benton-Parish Metropolitan, 2016 WL 826340 (5th Cir. CA 3/2/2016)

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