Asphalt Specialties Co., Inc. v. Laramie County Planning Commission

CASE SUMMARY

NCLA is pushing back against the Laramie County Planning Commission with an appeal challenging the Commission’s unlawful decision to treat a mere “vision” document like restrictive zoning rules. The Commission did not comply with statutory requirements for zoning.

In making this decision, the Commission wrongly relied on nothing more than “guidance”—treating it as if it had the full force and effect of law. Even though Asphalt Specialties Co., Inc. (ASCI) had met the County’s site plan criteria, the Commission relied on other factors to reject the site plan, including the Commission’s “vision” document for how land in this part of Laramie County should be used.

The appeal stems from a denial of ASCI’s site plan application for a proposed development of a small gravel operation—15 acres—on a 555-acre parcel of private land approximately 20 miles west of Cheyenne. ASCI’s property is located outside of the zoned area of Laramie County, and it is not subject to any zoning restrictions. ASCI filed its site plan application with the county in May, 2018. The Commission held a hearing on ASCI’s site plan application in July, 2018 and ultimately rejected the site plan on a two-to-two tie vote.

ASCI appealed the Commission’s decision to the District Court, which issued a decision on February 28, 2020, affirming the Planning Commission’s decision and ignoring its regulatory overreach. Like the Planning Commission, the District Court based its decision on a “Comprehensive Plan”—a mere vision document in the form of a guidance—that is legally unenforceable. “Comprehensive plans,” such as the one at issue here, have no legal effect, cannot be “enforced” against a landowner, and cannot form the basis for denying a site plan application that otherwise complies with every aspect of Laramie County’s regulations.

On February 1, 2021, in NCLA victory, the Wyoming Supreme Court ruled to reverse and set aside the decision of the Laramie County Planning Commission. This win reinforces a major administrative law point that NCLA is pressing, regulators cannot restrict people’s conduct based on nonbinding guidance documents.

On February 10, 2021, the Laramie County Planning Commission sent a letter to our client, ASCI, withdrawing all restrictions on our client’s ability to proceed with its project.

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CASE STATUS: Closed

CASE START DATE: July 21, 2020

DECIDING COURT: The Wyoming Supreme Court

ORIGINAL COURT: District Court, 1st Judicial District, Laramie County

CASE DOCUMENTS

February 17, 2021 | Mandate Reversing Judgement
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February 10, 2021 | Site Plan Letter to Asphalt Specialties Co., Inc
Click here to read the full document.
February 1, 2021 | Decision of the Wyoming Supreme Court
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July 21, 2020 | Appellant/Petitioner Asphalt Specialties Co., Inc.’s Opening Brief
Click here to read the full document.

PRESS RELEASES

February 2, 2021 | In NCLA Victory, WY Supreme Court Reverses Local Planning Comm. Attempt to Enforce Guidance

Washington, DC (February 2, 2021) – The New Civil Liberties Alliance, a nonpartisan, nonprofit civil rights group, commends the Wyoming Supreme Court for its ruling to reverse and set aside the decision of the Laramie County Planning Commission (the Commission) in the case of Asphalt Specialties Co., Inc. v. Laramie County Planning Commission. This victory reinforces a major administrative law point that NCLA is pressing, regulators cannot restrict people’s conduct based on nonbinding guidance documents.

The opinion, authored by Justice Lynne J. Boomgaarden, agreed with NCLA that the Commission exceeded its statutory authority when it utilized its comprehensive land-use vision plan—a mere guidance document—and the site plan review process to block Asphalt Specialties Co., Inc (ASCI) from using its land for a limited gravel mining operation. “Counties may only restrict a land use pursuant to zoning,” declared the Court in its opinion. “ASCI’s Lone Tree Creek property is not zoned. The Commission therefore exceeded its statutory authority when it utilized its comprehensive land use plan and the site plan review process to outright deny ASCI use of its land for a limited gravel mining operation.” The Court also ruled that the Commission’s decision to use a vision planning guidance document to stop ASCI’s gravel quarry development was “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion or otherwise not in accordance with law.”

The Court’s reversal of the Commission’s decision sends a warning message to other government agencies that openly or tacitly demand compliance with their “vision” or other guidance documents in violation of private property rights. In Wyoming, the ruling should limit the Commission’s ability to force other landowners to comply with their nonbinding guidance documents in the future. NCLA firmly holds that the only mechanism available to constrain the use of private property in such cases is through lawful zoning ordinances—properly and legally enacted by the appropriate elected officials.

NCLA released the following statements:

“I want to thank the Supreme Court of Wyoming for this decision reaffirming individual property rights—and doing so in a plainspoken manner which ordinary citizens can understand. I also want to give Harriet Hageman and the New Civil Liberties Alliance my heartfelt thanks for taking up this case. As has become ever more apparent in the past year, it is important to stand up for individual rights—property rights being key amongst them—against the ever-increasing usurpation of these rights by government and regulatory agencies.”

— Dan Hunt, President of Asphalt Specialties Co., Inc.

“NCLA applauds the court’s decision, which corrects the injustice of using legally unenforceable guidance documents to deprive citizens of their civil liberties. The Wyoming Supreme Court easily recognized that the Planning Commission’s decision to prevent ASCI from developing its private property violated the Constitution and Wyoming statutory law. So yes, there really is a Constitution, and when the rights it guarantees are protected and allowed to flourish, we are all better off.”

— Harriet Hageman, Senior Litigation Counsel, NCLA

For more information about this case visit here.

ABOUT NCLA

NCLA is a nonpartisan, nonprofit civil rights group founded by prominent legal scholar Philip Hamburger to protect constitutional freedoms from violations by the Administrative State. NCLA’s public-interest litigation and other pro bono advocacy strive to tame the unlawful power of state and federal agencies and to foster a new civil liberties movement that will help restore Americans’ fundamental rights.

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July 21, 2020 | NCLA Resists WY Planning Commission’s Attempt to Treat Vision Document Like a Zoning Ordinance

Washington, DC (July 21, 2020) – The New Civil Liberties Alliance, a nonpartisan, nonprofit civil rights group, today filed an opening brief in Asphalt Specialties Co., Inc. v. Laramie County Planning Commission with the Wyoming Supreme Court. NCLA is pushing back against the Laramie County Planning Commission with an appeal challenging the Commission’s unlawful decision to treat a mere “vision” document like restrictive zoning rules. The Commission did not comply with statutory requirements for zoning.

In making this decision, the Commission wrongly relied on nothing more than “guidance”—treating it as if it had the full force and effect of law. Even though Asphalt Specialties Co., Inc. (ASCI) had met the County’s site plan criteria, the Commission relied on other factors to reject the site plan, including the Commission’s “vision” document for how land in this part of Laramie County should be used.

The appeal stems from a denial of ASCI’s site plan application for a proposed development of a small gravel operation—15 acres—on a 555-acre parcel of private land approximately 20 miles west of Cheyenne. ASCI’s property is located outside of the zoned area of Laramie County, and it is not subject to any zoning restrictions. ASCI filed its site plan application with the county in May, 2018. The Commission held a hearing on ASCI’s site plan application in July, 2018 and ultimately rejected the site plan on a two-to-two tie vote.

ASCI appealed the Commission’s decision to the District Court, which issued a decision on February 28, 2020, affirming the Planning Commission’s decision and ignoring its regulatory overreach. Like the Planning Commission, the District Court based its decision on a “Comprehensive Plan”—a mere vision document in the form of a guidance—that is legally unenforceable. “Comprehensive plans,” such as the one at issue here, have no legal effect, cannot be “enforced” against a landowner, and cannot form the basis for denying a site plan application that otherwise complies with every aspect of Laramie County’s regulations.

NCLA believes that the Planning Commission’s decision to use a vision planning document to stop ASCI’s gravel quarry development is arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and not in accordance with law. NCLA asked the Wyoming Supreme Court to enter an Order holding unlawful and setting aside the Planning Commission’s decision.

NCLA released the following statements:

“The Planning Commission overstepped its authority by assuming jurisdiction that it does not have and, in doing so, violated ASCI’s due process rights. The Planning Commission also converted what they refer to as a “vision” or “guidance” document into hard-and-fast zoning restrictions, thereby depriving ASCI of its federal and state constitutional property rights. We believe that the Wyoming Supreme Court will correct this travesty of justice and ensure that the Planning Commission does not engage in this type of lawlessness in the future.”

— Harriet Hageman, Senior Litigation Counsel, NCLA

“Laramie County could have zoned the area where ASCI has proposed a small gravel quarry operation—but it did not. Because ASCI’s property is not zoned, the State of Wyoming is responsible for the regulation of any gravel operation on ASCI’s property. The Laramie County Planning Commission exceeded its authority, so its decision to deny ASCI’s site plan application must be set aside.”

— Jessica Thompson, Litigation Counsel, NCLA

ABOUT NCLA

NCLA is a nonpartisan, nonprofit civil rights group founded by prominent legal scholar Philip Hamburger to protect constitutional freedoms from violations by the Administrative State. NCLA’s public-interest litigation and other pro bono advocacy strive to tame the unlawful power of state and federal agencies and to foster a new civil liberties movement that will help restore Americans’ fundamental rights.

Download the full document

OPINION