Justices reverse, find for Bloomington in ex-IU frat house spat

The Indiana Supreme Court on Tuesday reversed lower court decisions against the city of Bloomington, upholding zoning orders requiring residents to vacate a fraternity house that Indiana University no longer recognized. Justices noted the ruling may apply in college and university towns throughout the state.

A unanimous court ruled for Bloomington and, indirectly, IU, in finding the city had not misapplied its zoning and code-enforcement authority that worked in tandem with the university, allowing IU to define fraternities and sororities. “While this may have had a ‘collateral effect’ on land use, it was not a delegation. Thus, there were no constitutional violations,” Justice Mark Massa wrote for the court in City of Bloomington Board of Zoning Appeals v. UJ-Eighty Corp., 21S-PL-77.

UJ-Eighty owns property on Jordan Avenue in Bloomington that formerly was leased to an IU fraternity. After IU revoked the fraternity’s recognition, two of its members remained at the house, prompting Bloomington to cite UJ-Eighty for a zoning violation. The city Board of Zoning Appeals affirmed the citation, which led to this lawsuit.

Both the Monroe Circuit Court and a divided panel of the Indiana Court of Appeals found for UJ-Eighty. Those courts found the city had impermissibly delegated its statutory zoning authority to IU by permitting the university to define fraternities and sororities.

The state’s high court ruled otherwise, siding with the COA dissent of Judge L. Mark Bailey in finding no improper delegation of authority or constitutional violations.

Justices found Bloomington relied on IU to define fraternity and sorority houses, but it didn’t relinquish its enforcement powers. “The (Bloomington zoning) Ordinance did nothing more than define fraternities and sororities based on their relationship with IU. It was not a delegation of power; rather, it was a legislative decision on how to define a certain land use. And UJ-Eighty failed to establish how, outside the alleged delegation, it was denied due process. Thus, Bloomington did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment,” the court held.

“The impermissible delegation of power and denial of due process strike at the core of our state and federal constitutions,” Massa wrote. “Courts should guard against such significant constitutional violations. However, for there to be a violation, there must be some delegation or lack of due process. Here, there was none.”

In a footnote, the court indicated Bloomington modified its zoning code while the appeal was pending in a manner that “addressed UJ-Eighty’s concerns by removing any reference to IU’s sanction or recognition. However, the amendment was not retroactive, so while it provided prospective relief, it did not nullify UJ-Eighty’s violation. Absent judicial relief, the BZA’s decision stands, and Bloomington can fine or otherwise penalize UJ-Eighty. Because the controversy at issue has not been ended or settled, this case is not moot,” Massa wrote for the court.

Further, the court said, “Today’s holding also makes clear to zoning authorities in Indiana’s other college towns that they can rely on a local college or university’s judgment in defining Greek houses.”

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