Croft v. Morgan County

August 12, 2021

Utah Supreme Court

2021 UT 46 (Click for full text)

The Utah Supreme Court clarified the procedural standards for a citizen challenge to a local land use law by referendum, holding that the citizens’ challenge to the denial of their referendum petition was properly filed in district court and not as an extraordinary writ to the Utah Supreme Court.

A group of registered voters and residents of Morgan County opposing an ordinance approving the development of a ski resort community filed an application for referendum, and, following rejection of the application by the County Clerk, filed a challenge in district court.  The district court dismissed the challenge for lack of jurisdiction, citing to Utah Code section 20A-7-602.8(4)(a),  which allows a sponsor to challenge such a rejection in the district court if the sponsor is “prohibited from pursuing an extraordinary writ in the Supreme Court.” The district court reasoned that appellants were not “prohibited” from pursuing an extraordinary writ because they had not first filed with, and had been rejected by, the Supreme Court. The citizens appealed, arguing that it was not necessary to file for extraordinary writ where they did not meet the requirements of Rule 19 of the Utah Rules of Appellate Procedure, which governs extraordinary writs, and requires a statement as to why “no other plain, speedy, or adequate remedy exists,” and why it is “impractical or inappropriate to file . . . in district court.”

Finding the statutory language to be ambiguous, the Utah Supreme Court interpreted the requirements of section 20A-7-602.8(4) as being informed by Rule 19’s requirements because the constitution vests original jurisdiction in the Supreme Court to issue all extraordinary writs, and does not grant the Legislature authority to alter the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction. Therefore, a referendum sponsor is “prohibited from pursuing” an extraordinary writ in the Supreme Court when they cannot satisfy rule 19’s requirements. A sponsor may file their challenge in district court unless doing so would be “impractical or inappropriate” and unless seeking an extraordinary writ in the Supreme Court is the only “plain, speedy, or adequate remedy.” Because there was no indication that the appellant citizens could have satisfied rule 19’s requirements to obtain an extraordinary writ with the Supreme Court, the district court erred in dismissing their challenge for lack of jurisdiction.