Landowners challenging the annexation of portions of land in Hamilton County to the city of Westfield lost their appeal before the Indiana Court of Appeals. The remonstrators claimed the city’s delayed publication of annexation ordinances should have barred the annexation.
The city passed ordinances to annex certain parcels of land in Washington Township, Hamilton County in September 2008. But Westfield didn’t publish the ordinances in the local newspaper until Dec. 6, 2008 – 71 days after the mayor signed the ordinances.
The remonstrators claimed this should bar annexation because the city didn’t publish the ordinances within the 30-day period outlined in Indiana Code 36-4-3-7(a). Westfield argued that the remonstrators lacked standing to challenge the annexation.
Hamilton Superior Judge William Hughes found the remonstrators had standing, but ruled in favor of the city on annexation.
The Court of Appeals agreed with the remonstrators that the city conflated the requirements for a remonstrance petition with those at a remonstrance hearing. Statute holds that standing is established at the trial court’s certification of the remonstrance petition.
“Once certified, whether the required number of remonstrators ‘continued to oppose the annexation’ is simply a matter to be proved at the evidentiary hearing,” Judge Patricia Riley wrote in Certain Westfield Southeast Area 1 Annexation Territory Landowners and Certain Westfield Southeast Area 2 Territory Landowners v. City of Westfield, 29A02-1205-MI-389.
The judges rejected the remonstrators’ claim the delay in publishing the ordinances should bar annexation because they failed to show that the city committed a procedural wrong so severe that their substantial rights have been affected. The failure to publish does not affect the power to annex; it merely renders the ordinance inoperative until publication is made, Riley wrote.
“Thus, rather than becoming void, the Ordinances at issue here simply went into effect at a later date. Further, the record shows that belated publication did not impair the Remonstrators’ substantial rights since Remonstrators’ request to the City for evidence of publication of the Ordinances prompted the City to publish them,” she wrote.