Plan commission lawsuit: Injunction filed against meetings; Bloomington wants amended complaint dismissed

Bloomington’s plan commission is scheduled to convene a regular monthly meeting on Monday, July 13.

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From left to right: Andrew Guenther, who claims that he’s the rightful appointee to the city plan commission seat; Nick Kappas, who served in the seat through 2019; Chris Cockerham who was appointed by the mayor to the seat.

The meeting agenda  includes two residential projects—one on 3rd Street near the police station, and another at Johnson Creamery—which together could mean 179 additional bedrooms for Bloomington’s housing inventory.

Andrew Guenther won’t be helping to decide whether those projects are approved. That’s because the city of Bloomington has rejected Guenther’s claim to a plan commission seat, which is based on an attempted appointment by the Monroe County’s Republican Party chair, William Ellis.

Instead of Guenther, it will be Chris Cockerham serving in that seat on Monday. Cockerham is a Republican, who’s the choice of Bloomington’s mayor, Democrat John Hamilton. Cockerham has already served for one meeting as plan commissioner, on June 8, which is what prompted a lawsuit.

A court hearing is now set for Aug. 5. If any part of the hearing goes Guenther’s way, it might not be Cockerham who serves in the seat for the next while. Guenther and Ellis are asking the court to keep Cockerham on the sidelines of any plan commission meetings, until the matter is resolved. Continue reading “Plan commission lawsuit: Injunction filed against meetings; Bloomington wants amended complaint dismissed”

Bloomington files for dismissal of case over disputed plan commission seat

In the pending lawsuit over the rightful appointee to a city plan commission seat, the city of Bloomington filed a motion on Monday to have Andrew Guenther’s claim dismissed, based on the idea that Guenther lacks standing to file the lawsuit.

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Chris Cockerham (left) and  Andrew Guenther (right) have claims to the same seat on Bloomington’s plan commission. Cockerham, the mayoral appointment, is now serving on the commission. Guenther has filed suit challenging that appointment.

Bloomington’s claim that neither Guenther nor Republican county chair William Ellis have standing is based on Bloomington’s contention that even if the facts alleged by Guenther and Ellis are assumed to be true, they “are incapable of supporting relief.”

In the lawsuit, would-be plan commissioner Guenther and GOP chair William Ellis ask the court to grant a writ of quo warranto, which is a challenge to someone’s right to hold office.

In this case, Guenther and Ellis are challenging the right of Chris Cockerham to hold the plan commission seat, based on an appointment by Bloomington mayor John Hamilton, made in early May.

Guenther and Ellis say that Guenther is the rightful appointee to the seat, under Indiana state law, which says: “The county chair of the political party of the member whose term has expired shall make the appointment.”

Bloomington’s argument for dismissal hinges on the fact that that “the member whose has term expired,” namely Nick Kappas, was not a Republican.

Continue reading “Bloomington files for dismissal of case over disputed plan commission seat”

Lawsuit now filed by Monroe County, other plaintiffs over proposed logging, burning in Hoosier National Forest

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The project area for the Houston South project is shown in dark red, with Lake Monroe watershed in heavy blue. The image is from the meeting minutes for the Feb. 12, 2019 meeting of Monroe County’s council. Image links to meeting minutes.

A lawsuit filed by Monroe County officials in federal district court on Wednesday claims that the US Forest Service violated the National Environmental Protection Act and the National Forest Management Act in its adoption of a plan to log, burn and apply herbicide to sections of the Hoosier National Forest just southeast of Monroe County.

The project activities proposed by the forest service include clear cutting about 400 acres, and some kind of tree removal from another roughly 3,000 acres. Also a part of the mix are herbicide spot treatments on about 2,000 acres. About three miles of new roads are supposed to be built along with eight miles worth of temporary roads.

As described by the forest service, the purpose of the Houston South Vegetation Management and Restoration Project is “to promote tree growth, reduce insect and disease levels and move the landscape toward desired conditions.”

The project area overlaps with part of the Lake Monroe watershed. That’s a substantial part of the objections to the project, because the lake provides drinking water to the city of Bloomington and much of the rest of Monroe County.

Continue reading “Lawsuit now filed by Monroe County, other plaintiffs over proposed logging, burning in Hoosier National Forest”

US Forest Service logging, burning project: Monroe County’s environmental commission votes to become plaintiff in lawsuit

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Thumbnails from the US Forest Service response to a request filed under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Image links to full .pdf file of response.

At its meeting held on Monday afternoon, Monroe County’s environmental commission voted unanimously to join the county as a plaintiff in the lawsuit that’s being prepared against the U.S. Forest Service. [Updated May 14, 2020 at 10:24 a.m. The lawsuit has now been filed.]

The pending legal action by county officials involves the forest service’s Houston South Vegetation Management and Restoration Project planned for the Hoosier National forest just southeast of the Monroe County line.

The use of the word “restoration” in the name of the project was a point of objection for Julie Thomas, president of the county’s board of commissioners, at their March 18 meeting. Thomas said, “I really resent that they call it a ‘restoration project’, because that’s just…doesn’t fit.”

It was at the March 18 meeting when county commissioners approved a retainer agreement with  the law firm Eubanks and Associates in connection with the lawsuit that’s now being prepared.

The county council and the county commissioners met in a joint executive session on May 6 to discuss initiation of the legal proceedings. It was closed to the public as allowed under an exception included in Indiana’s Open Door Law. Continue reading “US Forest Service logging, burning project: Monroe County’s environmental commission votes to become plaintiff in lawsuit”

Court of appeals: Illegally parked car is an “emergency situation” under Indiana law

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The view to the east of the parking lot at the southeast corner of the intersection of 6th and Madison streets in downtown Bloomington, the former location of a Chase Bank drive-through (Dave Askins/Square Beacon)

A ruling issued by Indiana’s court of appeals this past week says that if a car without a permit is parked in a private permit-only lot, a towing company can tow the illegally parked car without waiting 24 hours, even if it’s the only car parked in the lot.

The court of appeals decision reversed a lower court ruling by Monroe County circuit court judge Elizabeth Cure. She had ruled that a car parked in a permit lot does not interfere with the business operations of a permit-only parking lot until “the point at which a permit holder cannot find a space due to the presence of a non-permit vehicle.”

The lawsuit was filed in June 2018 when a driver parked his 1999 Honda Accord in the empty parking lot at the southeast corner of 6th and Madison streets, which was previously a Chase Bank drive-through. Continue reading “Court of appeals: Illegally parked car is an “emergency situation” under Indiana law”

Bloomington responds to State of Indiana’s appeal brief in 2017 annexation case: “Nonsense.”

On Wednesday, Bloomington filed with the Indiana Supreme Court its response to the State of Indiana’s appeal of a lower court ruling made in April, which found that a 2017 law blocking Bloomington’s annexation process was unconstitutional on two separate grounds.

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The word “nonsense” is highlighted in blue in this screenshot from Bloomington’s brief filed with the Supreme Court on Aug. 28, 2019, but not in the actual brief.

Bloomington’s brief uses words like “nonsense,” “preposterous,” and “outlandish” in its response to some of the State’s arguments.

The law, enacted by the state legislature in its 2017 session, was included as part of the biennial budget bill that year. The law’s inclusion in the budget bill is one reason the Monroe County Circuit Court found it to be unconstitutional. The annexation law violated the state constitution’s “single subject” rule for legislation, according to the circuit court.

The circuit court found that the 2017 annexation law also violated the state constitution’s prohibition against “special legislation.” It’s a prohibition that doesn’t rule out legislation affecting just one municipality, which the 2017 annexation law does. Both sides agree that the 2017 law affected only Bloomington and was designed that way. The legal question is whether the special law falls within the definition of “permissible special legislation”—a kind of question on which courts have ruled in the past.

So the first briefs, which have now been filed by both sides with the Indiana Supreme Court, include dozens of citations to previous rulings on the question of what counts as permissible special legislation.

Among the previous cases to which the two sides are giving different interpretations is Dortch v. Lugar (1971), which allowed for the Unigov plan for Indianapolis and Marion County to be implemented. Continue reading “Bloomington responds to State of Indiana’s appeal brief in 2017 annexation case: “Nonsense.””

State’s first brief now filed with Indiana Supreme Court in appeal of lower court decision on special Bloomington annexation law

After a couple of quiet months, late July has brought some activity in the legal proceedings about the state legislature’s enactment of a 2017 law, as a part of the biennial budget bill. The law blocked specifically Bloomington’s attempt in 2017 to annex some land into the city.

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The green area is the total of a few separate annexation areas proposed by the city of Bloomington. The basic outline shape is the boundary of Monroe County.

Indiana’s attorney general has filed the first brief on behalf of Gov. Eric Holcomb, in an appeal to the state’s Supreme Court, which seeks to overturn a lower court ruling made earlier this year in April. The lower court ruling, in favor of Bloomington, found that the law violates two parts of the state’s constitution: the prohibition against special legislation; and the single subject rule.

After the state’s notice of appeal was filed, a four-week extension was granted by the court for filing the state’s first arguments. The deadline was this past Thursday, which is when the state’s first brief  was filed with the Supreme Court. Continue reading “State’s first brief now filed with Indiana Supreme Court in appeal of lower court decision on special Bloomington annexation law”

Change of judge in Bloomington’s eminent domain lawsuit

Another preliminary ruling was issued on Monday in the eminent domain lawsuit the City of Bloomington is pursuing to acquire more land for a replacement parking structure on 4th Street.

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Juan Carlos Carrasquel, whose building at 222 S. Walnut is the target of a City of Bloomington eminent domain action, addresses Bloomington’s plan commission on July 8, 2019. (Dave Askins/Beacon)

From this point forward, Monroe County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Cure won’t be the judge in the case—because she granted the motion from landowner Juan Carlos Carrasquel for a change of venue.

Carrasquel, whose building at 222 S. Walnut is the focus of the city’s acquisition efforts, is represented by attorney Eric Rochford, with Cohen & Malad out of Indianapolis.

The motion for a change of venue—technically a change that is “taken from the judge” not the county of jurisdiction—was made under Indiana Trial Court Rule 76(B).  Under the court rule, the motion for changing the judge doesn’t require that an argument be made or a reason given. The motion can be be made “without specifically stating the ground therefor by a party or his attorney.” Continue reading “Change of judge in Bloomington’s eminent domain lawsuit”

Bloomington annexation lawsuit update: Deadline for appeal brief extended until July 25

In 2017, Indiana’s state legislature passed a law terminating the annexation process that Bloomington was undertaking at the time. The city of Bloomington filed suit and in late April won a judgement in the Monroe Circuit Court against the state: The court concluded that the annexation law, passed as a part of the budget bill, violated two different parts of the state constitution.

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The state of Indiana has already taken the first step to appeal the Monroe County court’s ruling—to give formal notice of appeal.

The state’s deadline for the next step, filing a brief with the state’s Supreme Court, would have been this Thursday, June 27. The time limit is 30 days after the date when the trial court clerk gave notice that the record was complete—which was May 28.

But the state filed a motion—which was unopposed by the city of Bloomington, and granted by Chief Justice Loretta H. Rush—for an extension of the deadline by four weeks. So the state now has until July 25 to file its brief. Continue reading “Bloomington annexation lawsuit update: Deadline for appeal brief extended until July 25”

Question of burden adds some flavor to oral arguments in Bloomington’s annexation lawsuit

At a Tuesday afternoon hearing lasting around an hour, the two sides in an ongoing annexation lawsuit between the City of Bloomington and Gov. Eric Holcomb presented oral arguments.

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The Charlotte Zietlow Justice Center at 301 N. College, where a March 26 hearing on the City of Bloomington’s annexation lawsuit took place.

Judge Frank Nardi did not issue a ruling from the bench. The March 26 hearing was held at the Charlotte Zietlow Justice Center in downtown Bloomington.

The City of Bloomington filed the lawsuit in 2017 over the state legislature’s decision to build into its budget bill a change to state annexation law. It was a change that effectively singled out Bloomington and paused any annexation plans by the city for five years.

Bloomington contends that because the new annexation law was incorporated into the 2017 biennial budget bill, it violates the State Constitution’s requirement that legislation be confined to a single subject.

Bloomington’s lawsuit also states that the new annexation law violates the State Constitution’s clause prohibiting “special” legislation. The constitutional claim involving special legislation hinges not merely on the fact that the new annexation law applies only to Bloomington. The claim arises from the city’s contention that the attempted justification for the law’s unique application is not adequate.

To some extent, the two sides spent their time on Tuesday rehashing arguments they’d already submitted to the court.

The oral presentations, however, featured a slightly different flavor from the written briefs—especially on the part of the city, and its claim that the new annexation law is unconstitutional under the special legislation clause. The ingredient that city attorney Mike Rouker added to his oral remarks was “burden.” Continue reading “Question of burden adds some flavor to oral arguments in Bloomington’s annexation lawsuit”