Friday, October 7, 2016

Washington Townhomes LLC v. Washington County Water Conservancy District

The Utah Supreme Court recently issued its decision in the case of Washington Townhomes LLC v. Washington County Water Conservancy District. The case started as a class action lawsuit by property owners and developers who paid impact fees to Washington County Water Conservancy District. These plaintiffs asserted that the impact fees violated the Utah Impact Fees Act and constituted a taking under the state and federal constitutions. The District defended its impact fees by asserting that the fees were based on a "level of service" standard imposed by the Utah Division of Drinking Water, and by asserting that its adoption of the level of service standard was a legislative judgment that should survive judicial scrutiny.

The district court agreed with the District, and concluded that the level of service that was adopted by the District and that was based on DDW standards was "legal and reasonable as a matter of law." Accordingly, the court granted partial summary judgment in favor of the District. Additionally, pursuant to a stipulation of the plaintiffs and the District, the court certified that the case could be immediately appealed under Rule 54(b) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure. The case was then appealed to the Utah Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court did not get to the substantive question of whether the impact fees were properly based on the DDW standards. Rather, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal on jurisdictional grounds. The Supreme Court determined that although the district court's ruling made an important determination in the case context, the ruling did not qualify for appeal certification under Rule 54(b) because the ruling did not finally dispose of any claim and did not finally adjudicate the interests of a party to the case.

The Supreme Court further considered whether to exercise its discretion to treat the appeal as a petition for interlocutory appeal under Rule 5 of the Utah Rules of Appellate Procedure. The Supreme Court noted the precedent that an interlocutory appeal is appropriate "to adjudicate principles of law or procedure in advance as a necessary foundation upon which the trial may proceed." Although the Supreme Court noted that the level of service question was an important issue in the case, the Supreme Court declined to accept the appeal because it determined that the district court's ruling was unclear and had unanswered factual and legal questions. For example, the Supreme Court felt that there was an unanswered question as to whether the District was legally required to build infrastructure and facilities in accordance with the DDW level of service standards. Accordingly, the Supreme Court declined to accept the appeal, dismissed the appeal, and sent the case back to the district court for further proceedings.

To read the full text of the opinion, click here.

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