Court of Appeals Clears Way to Challenge Land Use Decisions in Far-Flung Courts

A recent decision by Division Three of the Washington Court of Appeals has cleared the way for parties to challenge local land use decisions anywhere in the state, regardless of where the underlying property is located.  In Glenrose Ass’n v. Spokane Cty., No. 38376-8-III, 2022 Wash. App. LEXIS 1171 (Ct. App. June 7, 2022), a three-judge panel reversed the superior court’s determination that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction over a Land Use Petition Act (“LUPA”) petition filed in Lincoln County Superior Court regarding property in the City of Spokane (Spokane County).  Lincoln County, just west of Spokane County, is substantially more rural than Spokane and has its own set of local priorities distinct from its neighbor to the east.

In analyzing the scope of a superior court’s jurisdiction, the Court of Appeals looked to Article IV, Section 6 of the Washington Constitution, which confers upon superior courts “broad jurisdiction over original actions, appellate jurisdiction over cases arising from inferior courts and justices of the peace, and jurisdiction over various writs.”  Id. at ¶ 11.  After noting divergent authority describing a LUPA petition as both an exercise of appellate jurisdiction and original jurisdiction, the court held that actually “the constitutional source for the court’s authority is the writs clause.”  Id. at ¶ 13.  The court found that “prior to the enactment of statutes such as LUPA, that facilitate judicial review of administrative decisions, a superior court’s authority over land use decisions was accomplished through a writ of certiorari.”  Id.  In light of this finding, the court held that “[a] superior court’s constitutional power to issue writs of certiorari is not limited by the court’s county of location,” given that “there is no county restriction on a superior court’s constitutional authority to issue a writ of certiorari.”  Id. at ¶ 14.   Without any applicable constitutional restrictions, the court held that “superior courts throughout the state share equal subject matter jurisdiction” over LUPA petitions.  Id.

The Glenrose decision leaves open the very real possibility of forum shopping, with those seeking to challenge land use decisions under LUPA filing in counties they perceive as “friendly” to their positions, regardless of the location of the property or the underlying decision makers.  While municipalities and other local agencies may not be able to challenge subject matter jurisdiction of such claims in the wake of Glenrose, they will still have traditional avenues for challenging venue open to them.  RCW 4.12.030, for instance, authorizes change of venue, for among other reasons, where “the convenience of witnesses or the ends of justice would be forwarded by the change.” RCW 4.12.030(3).  This may be a particularly effective tool where a LUPA petition challenges the decisions of local officials in a far-flung county.

Michael Chait

 

 

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