August 18, 2019

The Court of Appeals Will Notice Your Sloppy Lawyering; Utica Township Fire Department Inc. v. Floyd County Board of Zoning Appeals

Category: Indianapolis Law Club | Author: | Share:

If you play fast and loose with the law, the Court of Appeals is likely to find you out.

In 2017, a fire department bought a property for use as an emergency sub-station. However, the property was not zoned for that use, and the fire department did not seek permission or a variance for its use. Instead, it simply began using the property as a sub-station.

A complaint was filed with the local planning commission, which prompted the fire department to apply for a conditional use. After a hearing, the Board of Zoning Appeals found that the proposed use did not meet the requirements of a conditional use and denied the application.

The fire department sought judicial review of the Board’s decision. It lost in the trial court and then appealed, where it ran into problems.

Apparently, the argument the fire department presented on appeal was

essentially a word-for-word reproduction of large portions of this Court’s analysis in Riverside Meadows I, LLC v. City of Jeffersonville, Indiana Board of Zoning Appeals, 72 N.E.3d 534 (Ind. Ct. App. 2017). Nowhere in the brief, however, is there a citation to that opinion. … Because the Fire Department’s argument was lifted directly from our analysis in Riverside Meadows I, there is no discussion of the BZA’s actual findings in this case. Given that the Fire Department’s only contention on appeal is that the BZA’s findings are insufficient, this omission is problematic. Moreover, the argument does not include any citations to the record on appeal. … As our Supreme Court has observed, “A brief is not to be a document thrown together without either organized thought or intelligent editing on the part of the brief-writer. Inadequate briefing is not, as any thoughtful lawyer knows, helpful to either a lawyer’s client or to the Court.”

The Court found Riverside Meadows I to be “easily distinguishable” because it dealt with a different issue, the denial of a use variance, rather than a denial of a conditional use, a fact that “the Fire Department’s attorney failed to recognize.” And the fire department’s characterization of what the Board did was “simply inaccurate.”

Notably, the Board’s brief did not note these problems with the fire department’s argument. Rather, the Court of Appeals noted this all on its own. You have been warned.

Lessons:

  1. The Court of Appeals takes the quality of briefing before it seriously.
  2. If you are going to copy the argument from an appellate opinion, you should (1) cite the case, and (2) apply it to the facts of your case.