Notable Cases

Among several important successes we’ve worked on over the years, two zoning cases that helped shape Indiana law stand out.

1. The Rice Decision

In the Rice v. Allen County Plan Commission, 852 N.E.2d 591 (Ind. Ct. App. 2006) decision, our attorneys secured a significant appellate victory for developers in Indiana by confirming that the decisions of zoning officials must be based on substantial evidence.

Often during controversial zoning hearings, residents can appear at public hearings to speak out against the project based on the perceived impact it may have on their quality of life, home value or other assets. Even though these statements are usually based on speculation, they may influence zoning officials considering how to rule on an issue.

The Rice decision eliminates this influence by insisting that rulings are based on fact rather than speculation and conjecture of opponents.

2. The Flying J Decision

The Flying J decision resulted in two reported decisions of the Indiana Court of Appeals. When Flying J attempted to develop a travel plaza on property it owns in New Haven, Indiana, city officials initially rejected the development, claiming its proposed uses weren’t all permitted in the zoning district. We helped establish how to properly interpret a zoning ordinance in a Court of Appeals decision that allowed all of Flying J’s uses in the zoning district (Flying J, Inc. v. City of New Haven, Ind., 855 N.E.2d 1035 (Ind. Ct. App. 2006)).

While that appeal was pending, New Haven amended its zoning ordinance to impose a new restriction and sought to apply that restriction to Flying J’s travel plaza. This led to additional litigation between the parties and the application of the “vested rights” doctrine. That doctrine protects developers from changes made to a zoning ordinance in the course of development proceedings. In Flying J’s case, actual construction of the travel plaza had not yet commenced, but significant funds, time and effort had been expended to develop the property.

The trial court agreed with us that Flying J had progressed far enough to acquire vested rights, and it prevented the amended ordinance from being applied. We then represented Flying J in New Haven’s appeal of the trial court’s decision, which was affirmed by the Court of Appeals in a published decision, City of New Haven, Ind. v. Flying J, Inc., 912 N.E.2d 420 (Ind. Ct. App. 2009).