Edwards v. Allen

Decision Date02 March 2007
Citation216 S.W.3d 278
PartiesSteven A. EDWARDS et al. v. Nancy ALLEN et al.
CourtTennessee Supreme Court

appellants, Tommy E. Jackson and Susanne Jackson.

Frank M. Fly and Kerry Knox, Murfreesboro, Tennessee, for appellees, Steven A. Edwards, Sally Edwards, Fran Lovell, Tonia Nadeau, and JoAnne M. Batey.

OPINION

GARY R. WADE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WILLIAM M. BARKER, C.J., JANICE M. HOLDER and CORNELIA A. CLARK, JJ., and ADOLPHO A. BIRCH, JR., SP. J., joined.

The Plaintiffs, who own property adjacent to a shooting range, sought declaratory relief from the Defendant property owners and leaseholders of the range. Rutherford County, whose board of commission had passed a resolution to reclassify the property in 1992 to permit usage as a range, was joined as a Defendant. The chancellor ruled that the action was barred by the statute of limitations and granted motions to dismiss filed by each of the Defendants. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the county resolution reclassifying the property was void. We granted this appeal to consider whether the reclassification qualified as a rezoning amendment; if so, whether the deviation by the Rutherford County legislative body from the issue considered by its planning commission subjected the ordinance to a declaration of void ab initio; and, finally, whether the record establishes circumstances which might preclude the Plaintiffs from a remedy. Because the reclassification qualified as a zoning amendment, the deviation by the county from the proposal before the planning commission was substantial, and because there are no circumstances in the record which might preclude the Plaintiffs relief, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is affirmed, and the cause is remanded to the chancery court.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

There was no transcript of the hearing on the motions to dismiss. The pleadings and supporting documentation provide the factual and procedural background, which is largely undisputed. The Defendants, Tommy G. Jackson and his wife, Susanne, are owners of 108.1 acres of land located at 8890 Big Springs Road in Rutherford County. The Plaintiffs, Steven A. Edwards, Sally Edwards, Fran Lovell, Tonia Nadeau, and JoAnne M. Batey, are owners of neighboring property. In 1992, the Jackson property was zoned "Residential 20" under the Rutherford County Zoning Resolution. On October 2 of that year, the Jacksons filled out a two-page application form with the Rutherford County Regional Planning Commission seeking permission to use a portion of their property as a shooting range. They sought approval for "one skeet field and one trap field, in future possibly more skeet fields and trap fields." The content of the application specifies that the Jacksons intended to dedicate ten acres of the property to the range immediately and planned no growth for a ten-year period. The Jacksons did not indicate whether they had any desire to increase the size of the range after that period of time. The notation "R-20 to S-7997," in apparent reference to the existing zoning classification and that sought by the application, was hand-written at the bottom of the form.

Eight days after the filing, the Rutherford County Regional Planning Commission published a "Legal Notice of Public Hearing" in The Daily News Journal of Murfreesboro regarding "[a] request submitted by Tommy Jackson to reclassify a ten acre parcel from R-20 to Service 7997 to allow a skeet and trap field." The property was described as "located on Big Springs Road as referenced by Tax Map 173, Parcel No. 16.02, as recorded in [D]eed [B]ook 243, page 170 in the Rutherford County Register of Deed[s'] office." The notice included an announcement of a public hearing before the Rutherford County Board of Commission.

A regular meeting of the Rutherford County Regional Planning Commission was held prior to the public hearing. Several neighboring property owners voiced opposition to the Jacksons' request for reclassification. The minutes of the October 19, 1992, meeting provide, in pertinent part, as follows:

Location: Big Springs Road, Tax Map 173, Parcel Number 16.02. Mr. Jackson requested reclassification of a 10 acre parcel from Residential 20 to Service 7997 to allow skeet and trap fields.

Mr. Jackson stated that the skeet and trap fields will be a private club. He said that [there] will be no alcoholic beverages on the property. He stated that up to five members would be shooting at one time and the rest would wait at the clubhouse. The operating hours would be from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Monday through Saturday and from 12:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Sundays. They plan to have no lighting.

. . . .

During the public hearing, three neighboring property owners expressed a variety of concerns about the noise. Two individuals spoke in favor of the operation. The eleven planning commissioners in attendance unanimously approved the application subject to the conditions that there be no lighting, no alcoholic beverages, and no shooting after 7 p.m.

While the agenda of the Rutherford County Board of Commission meeting for November 9, 1992, also included a public hearing on the Jackson rezoning request, it appears that no one spoke in opposition to the request. Following the public hearing, however, and for reasons apparently unknown to the parties, the board of commission adopted a resolution prepared by the executive director of the planning commission which included a description of ninety acres of the Jacksons' land, rather than the ten acres described on the application and recommended by the planning commission. The body of the resolution, which acknowledged the public hearing and the planning commission actions, provided, in part, as follows:

The Zoning Map of Rutherford County be amended by reclassifying from Residential 20 to Service 7997 as referenced by Tax Map 173, Parcel Number 16.02, and starting from a pin in Beginning at a pin in Big Springs Road S 1° 34 40 E 795.8 to a pin S 15° 13 20 W 342.8 to a pin by a 18 Hickory S 23° 4 31 W 321.4 to a pin S 6° 15 W 537.2 to a pin S 84° 7 E 1071.4 to a pin S 82° 49 E 126.15 to a pin N 11° 40 72 W 2139.72 to a pin N 87° 7 W 207.45 to a pin N 86° 43 W 845.65 containing 90 acres more or less and hereby established upon Zoning Map 173 on file as reclassification request A-286 at the Rutherford County Planning Department. The reclassification is approved with the following conditions: no artificial lighting, alcoholic beverages, or shooting after 7 p.m.

(Emphasis added).

From 1992 to 1999, the Jacksons operated a shooting range on ten acres of their property. They then leased the shooting range to the Defendant, Alan Loveless, who conducted business as Big Springs Clay Target Sports ("Loveless"). From 1999 to 2001, Loveless continued to operate the range on the original ten-acre site. Later in 2001, however, he built shooting platforms extending beyond the initial boundaries of the business. When the Plaintiff, Steven Edwards, inquired about the expansion, Aaron Holmes, Rutherford County's Planner, confirmed that the range was limited to ten acres. Several months later, however, Holmes notified Edwards that the county records indicated that ninety acres had been rezoned. Loveless then initiated a full scale expansion of the gun range operation.

A. Action in the Trial Court

In 2003, the Plaintiffs, all of whom own property near the Jackson tract, filed this declaratory judgment action in an effort to determine the propriety of the expansion. The Defendants include Loveless, the Jacksons, and Nancy Allen, who, as Mayor of Rutherford County, was joined in an official capacity. The Plaintiffs alleged, among other things, that the 1992 reclassification violated the Rutherford County Zoning Resolution and that the 1992 notice of hearing violated the requirements of Tennessee Code Annotated section 13-7-105.

The Defendants filed motions to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12.02, Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure, claiming protection by the sixty-day statute of limitations under Tennessee Code Annotated sections 27-9-101, -102 (2000), the one-year statute of limitations under Tennessee Code Annotated section 28-3-104 (2000), and the ten-year statute of limitations contained in Tennessee Code Annotated section 28-3-110 (2000). The Defendants also maintained that their reliance on the validity of the ordinance, coupled with the passage of time, qualified as a defense to an attack based upon procedural deficiencies. The Defendants further contended that the Plaintiffs had notice that Loveless was using more than ten acres as early as 2000 and stressed that the Plaintiffs had delayed filing suit for well over a year after the county planner informed them in 2002 that ninety acres of the property, rather than ten, had been rezoned. In a "catch-all" paragraph in Defendant Allen's motion, the following additional defenses were asserted: (1) failure to join indispensable parties, (2) acquiescence, (3) waiver, (4) estoppel, (5) laches, (6) failure to file an administrative appeal, (7) failure to mitigate, (8) lack of "special injury," and (9) coming to a nuisance. In their motions to dismiss, the Jacksons and Loveless adopted and incorporated Allen's motion.

In response, the Plaintiffs insisted that the statute of limitations was tolled until they received actual notice of the action by the county board and contended that their suit was not barred even though it was filed more than ten years after the reclassification. The Plaintiffs argued that they did not know and could not have reasonably discovered that the board of commission had rezoned ninety acres instead of the ten-acre tract until Loveless initiated his...

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