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COA orders judgment in favor of Lapel in annexation lawsuit

September 10, 2014

The city of Anderson does not meet the requirements to bring a declaratory judgment action to challenge the town of Lapel’s annexation of land in Madison County that Anderson once considered annexing.

Anderson proposed annexing land on the southwest side of the city, but that plan did not move forward. Lapel then adopted an ordinance annexing 57 acres, some of which passes through the area Anderson originally sought to annex. The land is more than one mile beyond Anderson’s corporate limits and only a small percentage of it is contiguous to Lapel. The Lapel remonstrance was “super-voluntary,” meaning 100 percent of the landowners in the territory sought to be annexed.

Anderson filed a complaint for declaratory judgment against Lapel, claiming the territory is not contiguous with the corporate boundaries of Lapel, and the ordinance violates the Home Rule Act and is invalid and unlawful. The trial court granted Anderson’s cross-motion for summary judgment.

But this was an error, ruled the Court of Appeals in Town of Lapel, Indiana v. City of Anderson, Indiana, 48A02-1403-PL-142.

At the time the ordinance was enacted, the only way judicial relief could be sought following an annexation is an appeal filed by a landowner whose property is located within one-half mile of the annexed property. As such, Anderson couldn’t file a remonstrance or appeal pursuant to the annexation statutes.

It sought declaratory judgment instead, but the only time in which a complainant has standing to bring a declaratory judgment action is in the case of fraud, discrimination, or wrongs so severe that the complainant’s substantial rights have been violated, the judges pointed out.

“In this case, Anderson does not argue that there was fraud or discrimination involved in the annexation. The only possible way in which it could have standing to bring a declaratory judgment action, therefore, is if it can establish that its substantial rights have been violated. The record reveals that the Territory is not within Anderson’s one-mile buffer zone, and as a result, Anderson did not have a statutory right to consent to the annexation.”

The judges also rejected Anderson’s claim that the Home Rule Act allows it to seek redress.

The Court of Appeals ordered the trial court to enter summary judgment in Lapel’s favor.
 

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