Posted by: Patricia Salkin | July 30, 2016

UT Appeals Court Finds Zoning Claims were Barred by the Doctrine of Res Judicata

The Checkettses owned and operated a custom countertops business. Before 2004, the Checkettses cut the countertops at their customers’ residential and business sites; however, in 2004, the Checkettses began cutting the countertops offsite in a storage building on a residential lot (the Property) they owned in Providence City. In 2005, the Checkettses obtained a building permit from the City to build a commercial addition to the storage building on the Property, and completed construction of the $125,000 addition in May 2006. In 2008, several of the Checkettses’ neighbors petitioned the City to shut down the Checkettses’ business on the Property, and over the next seven years, several administrative proceedings, lawsuits, and negotiations ensued. The Checkettses filed suit in district court, alleging that they were entitled to continue running their business as they have done for the past eight years, based on “zoning estoppel.” In this case, appellants Chris Checketts and Sandra Checketts appealed from the district court’s order dismissing their complaint for failure to exhaust administrative remedies.

On appeal the Checkettses contended that the district court erred in dismissing their complaint for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, because “there were no administrative remedies available to the Checkettses by which they could seek or obtain relief based on a theory of equitable or zoning estoppel.” The court found that the Checkettses’ First Appeal was moot because, by filing three administrative appeals, the Checkettses exhausted their administrative remedies. Thus, the Checkettses received a decision on the merits of their equitable estoppel claim from the Appeal Authority, and the district court, which rejected the Checkettses’ claims on the merits as well. Moreover, even if the district court erred in dismissing the Checkettses’ case for failure to exhaust their administrative remedies, the reversal of the district court’s dismissal could not affect the Checkettses’ rights, since the district court already ruled on the merits of the Checkettses’ claims in the Second Appeal.

The court also found all three elements of claim preclusion were met: this appeal involved the same parties as the Second Appeal – the Checkettses and the City; the argument presented by the Checkettses in this appeal “could and should have” been raised in the Second Appeal; and the Checkettses conceded at oral argument before this court that the Second Appeal resulted in a final judgment on the merits. Finally, the court found the pursuit of this appeal was frivolous, as the Checkettses failed to mention that they had exhausted their administrative remedies and that the Appeal Authority had ruled against them.

Checketts v Providence City, 2016 WL 4074004 (UT App. 7/29/2016)

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