Grosvenor Holdings, L.L.C. v. Pinal County (CA2 11/22/09)

In our last review we called the lawyering “weird.” Here it is pretty good.

Some home builders (“Grosvenor”) wanted to build homes in Pinal County. They entered into a development agreement with the Board of Supervisors that let them do so for five years  and then request an extension, under  typical  “not to be unreasonably withheld” language, for another five. The Board promised in the agreement not to charge impact fees. When the time came, Grosvenor requested an extension; the Board refused it because it wanted to impose impact fees on all future construction. Grosvenor sued. The County moved for summary judgment because the agreement said that all disputes had to be resolved pursuant to the Administrative Review Act. The agreement did say that; the wrinkle is that the A.R.A. does not apply to a Board of Supervisors. The Board argued that it could voluntarily agree to use it; Grosvenor, arguing that it couldn’t, filed a motion for partial summary judgment. The trial court agreed with the Board and denied the motion.

This is where good lawyering pays off. Among Grosvenor’s arguments was a clear issue of law that made a fine hook for special action: the Board couldn’t voluntarily use the A.R.A. because that would expand the trial court’s subject-matter jurisdiction. The hook was so good that the Court of Appeals accepted review of the denial of a partial summary judgment. (For some reason Grosvenor’s petition also raised other issues; Division Two essentially ignored them.)

The Court of Appeals reversed. The holding is that a court has the power to review administrative decisions only as granted it by the A.R.A.; agreements use the A.R.A. in situations that it does not cover are void. You cannot extend a court’s subject-matter jurisdiction by stipulation.

Judging by the opinion it looks like Grosvenor’s lawyers briefed the matter well, though perhaps at too much length. The opinion is clearly-written and well-organized but is the sort that wants to cite a case with every breath, proving with at least one citation every legal commonplace. But that has become the courts’ style, so we probably shouldn’t blame it on the parties.

The court’s notification of the case calls it “Grosvenor Holdings v. Pinal County,”  which we applaud since it avoids the “Hon” problem we vented about recently and shows, by not throwing the judge’s name around as if he were a party to a lawsuit, what we old-fashioned types would consider a proper measure of grace and respect.