Northern Monticello Alliance v. San Juan County

May 21, 2020

Utah Court of Appeals

May 21, 2020

2020 UT App 79 (Click for full text)

***Subsequent history: The Utah Supreme Court granted review of this decision and issued an opinion that reversed a part of this ruling. Please see Northern Monticello Alliance v. San Juan County, 2022 UT 10 (“NMA I”); Further proceedings following that opinion also led to another appeal and second Court of Appeals decision. see Northern Monticello Alliance v. San Juan County, 2023 UT App 18 (“NMA II”).

Background. A conditional use permit (CUP) was issued by the county Planning Commission for a wind farm project owned by Sustainable Power Group (sPower). A group of nearby property owners formed the Northern Monticello Alliance (NMA) to oppose the wind farm.

After receiving complaints, the Planning Commission held a meeting to review non-compliance issues with the CUP. At the meeting, NMA was not allowed to present arguments or evidence in favor of revoking the CUP. The Planning Commission decided not to revoke the CUP. On appeal by NMA, the County Commission initially remanded the decision back to the Planning Commission with instruction to reconsider revoking the CUP and to “allow NMA to be heard.”  In response, sPower sent a letter to the County Commission informing them of potential damages and requesting that they reconsider their decision to remand back to the Planning Commission. The County Commission reconsidered, and without hearing arguments or taking evidence from NMA reversed itself and upheld the Planning Commission’s decision. NMA sought judicial review. 

Upon review, the district court found that the Planning Commission’s decision to not revoke the CUP violated due process because NMA was not given the same opportunity to present arguments as sPower and remanded it back to the County Commission.  However, on remand, NMA was prohibited from presenting evidence that was not already on the record and the County Commission upheld its prior decision. NMA returned to district court for review. On summary judgment, the court did not find that the County Commission had violated its order because it had not ordered the County Commission to hear new evidence. NMA appealed.

Holding. The Court of Appeals found that NMA was denied its statutory right to appeal the Planning Commission’s decision to not revoke the CUP and therefore was denied the “due process rights” to which adversely affected parties are entitled throughout the proceedings. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded with instructions to comply with the district court’s first decision.

Due Process Rights of Adversely Affected Parties.  Utah Code Ann. § 17-27a-703 Provides that “any person adversely affected by the land use authority’s decision administering or interpreting a land use ordinance may . . . appeal that decision,” and the “appeal authority shall respect the due process rights of each of the participants.”  A person is adversely affected by a land use authority’s decision when there is an alleged (1) personal injury resulting from a land use decision, (2) a causal relationship between the decision and the injury, and (3) a requested relief that is likely to redress the alleged injury. Further, persons that are adversely affected by a land use decision have due process rights at each stage of the process from the beginning—not just on appeal. Due process requires, at a minimum, adequate notice and an opportunity to be heard in a meaningful manner. This typically requires that parties have the opportunity to present evidence, objections, and arguments, so that the court is able to fairly and intelligently pass upon and determine the questions presented for decision.