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Court: Association has no standing to sue

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The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed a landowners association lacked standing to sue over the rezoning of property despite the argument that its claim survives under the "public standing doctrine."

In Liberty Landowners Association Inc. v. Porter County Commissioners and Northwest Indiana Health System, LLC, No. 64A03-0905-CV-213, Liberty Landowners Association appealed the trial court's dismissal of its complaint for declaratory judgment filed against the Porter County Commissioners regarding the rezoning of property to allow for construction of a hospital.

Liberty is a voluntary nonprofit community association that doesn't own any property or pay taxes. It argued at the rezoning hearing that conversion of the site from residential to institutional would violate the adjacent use specifications of the Porter County Unified Development Ordinances. The commissioners agreed the hospital would bring more taxes and jobs to the area, and adopted an ordinance rezoning the area.

Liberty claimed in its suit the rezoning was arbitrary and capricious because the commissioners didn't consider the impact of an institutional zone next to residential zones, and that one commissioner's vote was invalid due to a conflict of interest.

The trial court dismissed the complaint for lack of standing since Liberty doesn't own real estate within the requisite proximity to the rezoned land.

The Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal, noting that it's well settled that standing to challenge a zoning ordinance requires a property right or some other personal right and pecuniary injury not common to the community as a whole. Precedent has held that landowners associations lack standing to challenge zoning decisions, wrote Chief Judge John Baker.

But Liberty contended that they could sue under the "public standing doctrine." The association waived this argument because it didn't bring it up in the trial court, the appellate court ruled. However, even if the issue hadn't been waived, Liberty's argument would still fail. The public standing doctrine is limited to extreme circumstances and even when that claim is asserted, the party must still have some property right or some other personal right and a pecuniary interest, wrote the chief judge citing State ex rel. Cittadine v. Indiana Dept. of Transportation, 790 N.E.2d 978, 983 (Ind. 2003), and City of Hammond v. Board of Zoning Appeals, 152 Ind. App. 480, 490, 284 N.E.2d 119, 126 (1972).

In a final footnote, the appellate court also decided the trial court didn't err in failing to address Liberty's purported constitutional challenges because Liberty confined its challenge at the trial level to the propriety of the rezoning. Thus, it waived those claims on appeal.

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  2. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  3. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  4. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

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