Smith v. City of Santa Fe

Citation133 P.3d 866,2006 NMCA 048
Decision Date16 February 2006
Docket NumberNo. 24,801.,24,801.
PartiesPeter SMITH, Barbara Smith, Patricia Stillman Trust, Guy Stillman Trust, and GWP Investments, INC., a New Mexico Corporation, Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. CITY OF SANTA FE, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtCourt of Appeals of New Mexico

Sommer, Udall, Hardwick, Ahern & Hyatt, L.L.P., Karl H. Sommer, Santa Fe, NM, for Appellees.

Sutin, Thayer & Browne, P.C., Germaine R. Chappelle, Santa Fe, NM, for Appellant.

OPINION

CASTILLO, Judge.

{1} This case presents us with procedural and substantive issues regarding the validity of a 1999 Santa Fe ordinance as it relates to the drilling of domestic wells within the city limits. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court determined, as a matter of law, that the City of Santa Fe (City) did not have the authority to prohibit the drilling of wells within the city's corporate limits. We hold that the City did have the authority to prohibit domestic wells within the city limits; therefore, we reverse the district court.

I. BACKGROUND

{2} The parties do not dispute any material facts. The City became a home rule charter municipality in 1997. In 1999, the City Council passed the Domestic Well Ordinance, Ordinance No. 1999-3, codified at Santa Fe, N.M., Code [hereinafter Santa Fe Code] ch. XXV, § 1.10 (1999). This ordinance required any person wishing to drill a well within the City's municipal water service area to apply for a domestic well permit and prohibited the drilling of new domestic wells when the well applicant's property boundary was located within 200 feet of the City's water distribution main. Id. In 2001, Plaintiffs Peter Smith, Barbara Smith, and GWP Investments (together referred to as Smiths) and Plaintiffs Patricia Stillman Trust and Guy Stillman Trust (together referred to as Trusts) applied for domestic well permits from the Office of the State Engineer (OSE), pursuant to NMSA 1978, § 72-12-1 (1998). The OSE granted the permits, and the City advised Plaintiffs that they were also required to obtain a permit from the City. The proposed wells were to be drilled on Plaintiffs' properties located within the city; all of the Plaintiffs were water customers of the City.

{3} In February 2001, Smiths filed applications for domestic well permits from the City. The permits were denied because the boundary of Smiths' property was located within 200 feet of the City's water distribution lines. Smiths followed the City's appeal process and appealed the decision to the City Manager, then to the Public Utilities Committee, and finally to the City Council; all appeals were denied. Trusts, however, did not apply for a City permit because they were informed, through their legal representatives, that the application would be denied.1

{4} In January 2002, Smiths and Trusts filed a complaint for declaratory relief, asking the district court to declare that the City has no authority to deny the applications or to prohibit Plaintiffs from drilling wells on their properties. Trial was vacated; instead, the parties entered a stipulated order of facts and briefing schedule. After a hearing on the parties' motions for summary judgment, the district court granted Plaintiffs' motion and denied the City's motion. The court ruled that it had jurisdiction to hear Plaintiffs' declaratory judgment action, that Trusts were not required to exhaust administrative remedies and were therefore proper parties to the action, and that the City was preempted from enacting the Domestic Well Ordinance and had no home rule or other statutory power authorizing such enactment. The City appeals this ruling.

II. DISCUSSION
A. Procedure and Jurisdiction

{5} The City, in its first argument, contends that the district court had no jurisdiction to consider the complaint for a declaratory judgment because (1) Trusts failed to exhaust their administrative remedies by not applying for a drilling permit and (2) Smiths, who did exhaust their administrative remedies, were limited to appellate review by petition for writ of certiorari, as set forth in Rule 1-075 NMRA (regarding writs of certiorari when there is no statutory right to appeal or review). We need not decide these issues because however we decide them will make no difference to the outcome of this appeal; on the merits, we conclude that the City did in fact have the authority to enact the Domestic Well Ordinance and could thus prohibit Plaintiffs from drilling a domestic well. We acknowledge that the special concurrence and dissent relies on cases supporting a determination that jurisdiction does not lie in this case. There is other authority, however, that indicates an ordinance may be challenged by declaratory action, as well as by administrative appeal. See Pan Am. Petroleum Corp. v. El Paso Natural Gas Co., 77 N.M. 481, 487, 424 P.2d 397, 401 (1966) (holding that an action for declaratory judgment is not barred because the plaintiff failed to exhaust administrative remedies if the question is one of law and not fact); Moriarty Mun. Sch. v. Pub. Sch. Ins. Auth., 2001-NMCA-096, ¶¶ 1, 10, 34, 131 N.M. 180, 34 P.3d 124 (holding that the school could sue the insurance authority in contract, even though it failed to timely file a petition for writ of certiorari under Rule 1-075); see also NMSA 1978, § 44-6-2 (1975) ("[D]istrict courts within their respective jurisdictions shall have power to declare rights, status and other legal relations whether or not further relief is or could be claimed."); NMSA 1978, § 44-6-4 (1975) ("Any person . . . whose rights . . . are affected by a . . . municipal ordinance . . . may have determined any question of construction or validity arising under the . . . ordinance . . . and obtain a declaration of rights . . . thereunder."); NMSA 1978, § 44-6-14 (1975) (noting that the Declaratory Judgment Act is remedial and should be liberally construed and administered to serve its purpose, that is, "to afford relief from uncertainty and insecurity with respect to rights"); cf. Grand Lodge of Ancient & Accepted Masons of N.M. v. Taxation & Revenue Dep't, 106 N.M. 179, 181, 740 P.2d 1163, 1165 (Ct.App.1987) (concluding that declaratory judgment action is not available when there is a complete, statutory remedy, "obviously intended to be exclusive"). While the question of jurisdiction is debatable, a full analysis of this issue is not necessary because our disposition on the merits fully resolves the case. See Taos Mun. Sch. Charter Sch. v. Davis, 2004-NMCA-129, ¶ 6, 136 N.M. 543, 102 P.3d 102 ("Because a decision on this jurisdictional issue is not necessary in light of our ruling on the merits . . ., we will address the merits. . . and leave the complex and interesting issue of jurisdiction to another day."). Accordingly, we assume, without deciding, that the district court had jurisdiction to entertain Plaintiffs' declaratory judgment action, and we now explain our analysis of the merits of this case. See id.

B. Validity of the Ordinance

{6} The City's substantive argument goes to the validity of the Domestic Well Ordinance. The City maintains that its home rule powers and police powers provide the requisite authority for enacting the ordinance. Plaintiffs contend that any authority relied upon by the City is expressly denied or preempted by state law.

1. Standard of Review

{7} Summary judgment is reviewed de novo. McGarry v. Scott, 2003-NMSC-016, ¶ 5, 134 N.M. 32, 72 P.3d 608. In the present case, we specifically determine whether a municipality has authority to enact an ordinance pursuant to home rule; this requires interpretation of a constitutional amendment and statutes, both questions of law, which are reviewed de novo. New Mexicans for Free Enter. v. City of Santa Fe, 2006-NMCA-007, ¶ 11, 138 N.M. 785, 126 P.3d 1149.

2. Home Rule Authority and Its Limitations

{8} In the Home Rule Amendment, N.M. Const. art. X, § 6, the New Mexico Constitution provides municipalities with the right to adopt a charter and thereby "exercise all legislative powers . . . not expressly denied by general law or charter." N.M. Const. art. X, § 6(D). Although the power granted under home rule is broad, limitations do exist. New Mexicans for Free Enter., 2006-NMCA-007, ¶¶ 16-17, 138 N.M. 785, 126 P.3d 1149; see also N.M. Const. art. X, § 6(E) ("The purpose of this section is to provide for maximum local self-government. A liberal construction shall be given to the powers of municipalities.").

{9} Limitations on home rule authority are evaluated in a two-step process. State ex rel. Haynes v. Bonem, 114 N.M. 627, 631, 845 P.2d 150, 154 (1992). In the first step, a court asks whether a state law is a "general law," id., that is, a law that applies generally throughout the state, relates to a matter of statewide concern, and impacts inhabitants across the entire state. New Mexicans for Free Enter., 2006-NMCA-007, ¶ 18, 138 N.M. 785, 126 P.3d 1149 (concluding that "the Minimum Wage Act is a general law"). Section 72-12-1, regarding permits for domestic wells, applies generally throughout the state. Moreover, the permitting of domestic wells is a statewide concern because access to water is a necessity for all inhabitants of the state. Thus, we conclude that Section 72-12-1 is a general law.

{10} In the second step, we determine whether the general law "expressly denies" the City's power to prohibit the drilling of domestic wells permitted by the OSE. Haynes, 114 N.M. at 631, 845 P.2d at 154; see also New Mexicans for Free Enter., 2006-NMCA-007, ¶ 19, 138 N.M. 785, 126 P.3d 1149. The Court must consider (a) whether the statute "evinces any intent to negate such municipal power," New Mexicans for Free Enterprise, 2006-NMCA-007, ¶ 19, 138 N.M. 785, 126 P.3d 1149; (b) whether the effect of the statute implies "a clear intent to preempt that governmental area from municipal policymaking," id.; see also Haynes,...

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