Posted by: Patricia Salkin | May 7, 2016

MS Supreme Court Upholds Mootness Ruling on Katrina Rebuilding Application Regarding Historic Home

The Gulfport City Council approved the City of Gulfport’s application to use the historic Grass Lawn Home as a recreation center upon its reconstruction after Hurricane Katrina. Peter and Fay Barrett appealed the City Council’s decision to the Harrison County Circuit Court, arguing that Grass Lawn was zoned exclusively for residential use and that the City had abandoned any nonconforming use on the property in question. The circuit court dismissed the Barretts’ claim as moot, and the Barretts appealed in this case.

The court noted that a case is moot so long as a judgment on the merits, if rendered, would be of no practical benefit to the plaintiff or detriment to the defendant. Here, the circuit court was limited to determining whether the City Council, based on the evidence contained in the bill of exceptions, had erred in approving the City’s application to use Grass Lawn as a recreation center. Accordingly, any ruling with respect to the City’s application would be of no benefit to the Barretts or detriment to the City, as the application was no longer valid. Additionally, any procedural defects in the Planning Commission’s approval of the application were cured by the subsequent withdrawal of the application.

The Barretts next argued that their appeal was excepted from the mootness doctrine because their claims involved matters of the public interest and were capable of repetition yet evading review. The capable of repetition yet evading review exception applies when: “the challenged action was in its duration too short to be fully litigated prior to its cessation or expiration; and there was a reasonable expectation that the same complaining party would be subject to the same action again.”  Here, the record demonstrated that neither the Barretts nor any other neighboring landowners to Grass Lawn had a reasonable expectation that Grass Lawn would be used as a recreation center in the future since the City withdrew its application to use Grass Lawn as a recreation center and admitted that Grass Lawn’s current design would not be conducive to such use.

For the aforementioned reasons, the court found that the circuit court did not err in finding that the Barretts’ appeal was rendered moot by the City’s withdrawal of its application to use Grass Lawn as a recreation center.

Barrett v City of Gulfport, 2016 WL 1593353 (MS 4/21/2016)

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