Judge Steven Nation ruled today on a high-publicity case involving the proposed annexation by Fishers of 2,200 homes in unincorporated Geist area. At issue was whether the county had jurisdiction over the annexation because of the timeline of petitions filed.
In mid-September Fishers had introduced an ordinance to start annexing the land, but four days later Geist filed an incorporation petition of its own with the county to form its own towns of East and West Geist.
Attorneys had asked the judge to stop Fishers from annexing homes and allow the Hamilton County Commissioners to rule, with both sides arguing they'd taken the "first step" in its own proceedings. The city contended the ordinance introduction sufficed, while interveners argued that an ordinance or fiscal plan adoption is needed.
Relying on Indiana Supreme Court decisions going back more than a century in Taylor v. City of Ft. Wayne, 47 Ind. 274, 282 (1874), Judge Nation cited that jurisdictional disputes are well-settled and become exclusive when proceedings are "first instituted."
"Fishers 'first instituted,' 'first undertook,' or otherwise took the 'first step' towards its annexation of the disputed area when its Town Council introduced and conducted a first reading ..." Judge Nation wrote, noting the courts have said the rule was intended to "avoid the conflict and confusion which would result from separate jurisdictional authorities proceeding at the same time."
The judge also explored similar issues and rulings from Texas and Missouri's appellate courts, holding that those jurisdictions have been consistent with Indiana's prior jurisdiction rule in the Taylor case.
Bryan Babb with Bose McKinney & Evans, one of the attorneys representing Fishers, said there was never any doubt and this is simply a 21st Century update of previous decisions on jurisdictional rule in competing annexations and incorporations.
"If you're asking a trial judge to rewrite law, you need to present what the other side of jurisdictional coin is," Babb said. "They weren't able to do that, and the judge determined that the phrase 'first instituted' here meant a simple meeting with an ordinance introduction."
The ruling means that Fishers can proceed with its annexation proceedings as soon as next week, Babb said.