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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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