McElhaney v. City of Moab

October 23, 2017

Utah Supreme Court

September 21, 2017

2017 UT 65 (Click for text of opinion)

In this case, the Utah Supreme Court clarified that it would review the lower court’s decision, not the land use authority’s decision, on appeal from the district court. In addition, the Supreme Court instructed the district court to remand the case back to the land use authority to give it the chance to enter evidence into the record sufficient to support the land use authority’s denial of a conditional use permit application.

Mary and Jeramey McElhaney (the “McElhaneys”) applied for a conditional use permit to operate a bed and breakfast in their residential neighborhood in Moab. After a couple of public meetings relating to the application, the city council voted to deny the application. The council did not make any findings relating to whether or not the application complied with the requirements of the city code, but rather each council member simply stated their concerns as they announced their vote. The McElhaneys appealed the council’s decision to the district court. The district court noted that the council had not actually found facts in its role as fact finder and ultimately overturned the council’s decision. The city argued that it should remand the case back to the council to give it a chance to make further findings, but the court declined to do so. Moab appealed to the Utah Supreme Court.

The Utah Supreme Court clarified that it will review the intermediate court’s decision in the appeal of an administrative order, and not the original administrative decision itself. The Supreme Court agreed with the district court’s conclusion that the council had not made sufficient findings to justify its denial of the McElhaney’s application. The Supreme Court determined, however, that the district court erred in not remanding the case back to the city council so it could make findings of fact relevant to the applicable standards so its decision could be subject to meaningful review.