Tooele County v. Erda Community Association

November 14, 2022

Utah Court of Appeals

2022 UT App 123 (click for full text of opinion)

The Utah Court of Appeals ruled for the dismissal of a community association’s judicial petition for review of a county’s administrative land use decision. The Court of Appeals held that the association had failed to exhaust its administrative remedies where the association itself had not filed its own appeal of the county decision, despite that some of the association’s individual members had jointly filed their own appeal in their individual capacities.

The Erda Community Association is a member-based community association formed to promote the preservation of rural property in Erda, whose members are residents of Erda. Recently, a developer seeking to develop two parcels in Tooele County received concept plan approval from the Tooele County Planning Commission, and in response, the County received an administrative appeal of the decision filed by 125 residents of Erda, signed in their individual capacities–some of which are members of the Erda Community Association, though the Association itself was not listed as a party to the appeal.

The County Council, acting as the appeal authority, rejected the appeal, and a petition for judicial review of the Council’s decision was later filed in district court by the Erda Community Association. The County moved to dismiss, arguing that the Association had failed to exhaust its administrative remedies for not filing its own appeal. The court denied the motion, and the County appealed.

On appeal, the Utah Court of Appeals reversed the denial of the County’s motion, holding that the Association failed to exhaust its administrative remedies under Utah statute by not having filed its own local appeal. Utah’s Land Use Development and Management Act (LUDMA) makes the exhaustion requirement quite literally personal, and expressly states that no “person” may challenge in district court a land use decision until “that person” has exhausted “the person’s” administrative remedies – and defines “person” to include “associations.” The separate doctrine of associative standing does not excuse a requirement to exhaust administrative remedies; an entity may have associative standing and still fail to exhaust its administrative remedies.

While LUDMA’s text contains no stated exceptions to the statutory exhaustion requirement, the Court of Appeals acknowledged that the Utah Supreme Court has nevertheless previously applied certain judicial exceptions to statutory exhaustion requirements, though it found that none of them applied here to the Association’s case. Specifically, (1) the county’s decision was not “outside the scope” of its statutory authority so as to excuse the association’s exhaustion requirement because deciding land use applications was, categorically, within the scope of its authority, even if a particular decision may involve some violation of county ordinance or LUDMA; (2) the fact that the association’s arguments in its petition had similarly been argued by its members in the local appeal and rejected did not mean that the association’s efforts to exhaust its administrative remedies would have been futile, as the “futility” exception narrowly applies only to situations where the entire administrative appeal process is inoperative or unavailable, which was not the case here; and, finally, (3) the exception for cases where there is a “likelihood of oppression or injustice” applies where the exhaustion requirement itself–and not he underlying issue–results in oppression or injustice, and did not apply where there was no reason why the association could not have filed its own appeal or joined in the appeal filed by Erda residents. The Association was therefore not excused from exhausting its administrative remedies.