Tippecanoe County Area Plan Commission v. Sheffield Developers, Inc., 2-1076A371

Citation181 Ind.App. 586,394 N.E.2d 176
Decision Date20 August 1979
Docket NumberNo. 2-1076A371,2-1076A371
CourtCourt of Appeals of Indiana

Robert A. Mucker, Lafayette, for defendant-appellant.

John K. McBride, Lafayette, for plaintiff-appellee.

CHIPMAN, Presiding Judge.

Tippecanoe County Area Plan Commission (Plan Commission) appeals the trial court's order compelling it to approve a preliminary subdivision plat submitted by Sheffield Developer, Inc. (Developer) and raises the following issues: 1

1. Did the trial court err in denying the Plan Commission's Motion to Dismiss and in assuming jurisdiction because no official or final action was taken by the Plan Commission?

2. Did the trial court exceed its scope of appellate review of an administrative decision?

3. Did the trial court fail to make a specific Finding of Fact that the proposed plat met § 4.33(b)(2) of the Tippecanoe County Subdivision Control Ordinance and was there sufficient evidence to sustain that Finding?

4. Was the trial court's Finding of Fact and Conclusion of Law that § 1.1 of the Subdivision Control Ordinance failed to set forth specific standards correct and sustained by the evidence?

We affirm.


The Plan Commission contends the trial court erred in denying its Motion to Dismiss and in exercising jurisdiction over this case because no official or final action was taken by the fifteen member Plan Commission. While we agree with the premise that no official 2 or final 3 action was taken by the Plan Commission, we conclude that based on the facts in this case the trial court did have jurisdiction of this cause. The following sequence of events is important to our treatment of the Plan Commission's arguments:

                1957                  Legislature enacts Ind.Code 18-7-4-18
                                      "Two-thirds (2/3) of the members of the commission shall
                                      constitute a quorum.  Action of the commission is not
                                      official, however, unless concurred in at a regular or
                                      properly called special meeting, by a majority of the
                                      members of the commission in attendance."
                May 25, 1974          Developer files application for preliminary plat
                June 1974             First vote on Developer's preliminary plat (6 yes/6no)
                January 13, 1975      Executive Committee of Plan Commission met with quorum
                                      present and Developer's preliminary plat was discussed
                                      but because of one abstention, the Executive Committee
                                      lost its quorum and was unable to vote whether or not to
                                      place Developer's application on the January agenda
                February 11, 1975     Executive Committee voted not to place Developer's plat
                                      on Plan Commission's agenda.
                March 11, 1975        Motion before Executive Committee to place Developer's
                                      plat on March agenda did not carry.
                April 29, 1975        Legislature's amendment to IC 18-7-4-18 becomes
                                      "A majority of the members of the commission shall
                                      constitute a quorum.  Action of the commission is not
                                      official, however, unless concurred in at a regular or
                                      properly called special meeting, by a majority of the
                                      members of the commission."
                May 27, 1975          Plan Commission lacked quorum to hear application on
                                      Developer's plat.
                June 24, 1975         Second vote on Developer's preliminary plat (7 yes/5 no).
                August 25, 1975       Plan Commission votes to continue the hearing on
                                      Developer's plat until its September 22, 1975 meeting.
                October 27, 1975      Third vote on Developer's preliminary plat (6 yes/5 no).
                November 24, 1975     Fourth vote on Developer's preliminary plat (6 yes/5 no).
                December 5, 1975      Developer files suit against the Plan Commission seeking
                                      an order of mandate, declaratory relief, and a mandatory
                                      injunction in essence asking the trial court to declare
                                      the votes of dissenting members invalid and to order the
                                      Plan Commission to approve the preliminary plat.
                June 9, 1976          Trial court grants the relief requested under Counts I
                                      and II of Developer's Complaint (mandate and declaratory
                                      relief, respectively) and denies the relief requested
                                      under Count III mandatory injunction).

We reject the Plan Commission's argument that lack of official action 4 precludes the trial court from assuming jurisdiction over the Developer's suit. We note initially that the Plan Commission fails to support this conclusion with appropriate authority as required by Ind. Rules of Procedure, Appellate Rule 8.3(A)(7). More importantly, however, the Plan Commission's contentions overlook the power of reviewing courts to mandate public officials, boards and commissions to perform ministerial acts where there is a clear legal duty to perform such acts:

It is the general rule, as contended by appellants, that writs of mandate will not be granted to control the discretionary action of a public officer, board or commission. However, the law is also well established by a long line of decisions that public officials, boards and commissions may be mandated to perform ministerial acts where there is a clear legal duty to perform such acts.

The basic question presented by this appeal is whether under the circumstances here presented there was a clear duty on the part of the Town Board of Dyer to approve or disapprove the plat as submitted as a ministerial act.

Cities and towns have been granted broad authority by the state which created them to control the development of areas in and adjacent to them. However, public policy requires that this authority be exercised in a standardized and clearly defined manner so as to enable both the landowner and the municipality to act with assurance and authority regarding the development of such areas. It is for this reason that although public policy requires municipal control of such development, nevertheless the authority of a town to deny a landowner the right to develop his property by refusing to approve the plat of such development is by statute made to rest upon specific standards of a statute or implementing ordinance. Thereafter the approval or disapproval of the plat on the basis of the controlling standards is a ministerial act.

Under the above circumstances, it appearing that the plat of the subdivision as submitted complied with all the specific requirements of the statute . . . it therefore became the mandatory duty of the town board to approve and accept the plat as submitted. Therefore, it cannot be said that the court abused its discretion in ordering the appellants to perform the duty imposed upon them by statute. (citations omitted)

Knutson v. State ex rel. Seberger, (1959) 239 Ind. 656, 658-663, 157 N.E.2d 469, 471-473. Assuming the Developer's preliminary subdivision plat complied with IC 18-7-4-56 and the Subdivision Control Ordinance of Tippecanoe County, it became the mandatory duty of the Plan Commission to approve the plat. Under these circumstances, the trial court could properly assume jurisdiction to compel or mandate the Plan Commission to approve the Developer's plat.

The act of approval by a village board . . . when the statutes and ordinances have been complied with in making a plat of a subdivision, is ministerial and may be enforced by Mandamus.

Knutson, 239 Ind. 656, 660 n.4, 157 N.E.2d 469, 471 Citing Hoerrmann v. Wabash R. Co., (1923) 309 Ill. 524, 141 N.E. 289, 293.

The Plan Commission's analysis regarding no official action not only overlooks the theory and substance of the Developer's Complaint, but also leads to absurd results. If appellate review in mandamus will not lie after Four unsuccessful attempts to obtain a majority concurrence in the Plan Commission of a preliminary plat which arguably meets all applicable statutory and implementing ordinance requirements, why after forty or four hundred? We summarily reject an analysis which would forever deny approval of a preliminary plat because of the fortuitous circumstance of an equally divided Commission or one whose members, as in the case at bar, do not always attend meetings. 5 Indeed, were we to adopt the theory proposed by the Plan Commission, a developer would have no legal recourse should a vindictive Plan Commission improperly refuse to even consider or vote on a preliminary plat. This position is, of course, untenable:

(P)ublic interest . . . requires that action be taken upon each application (action on the renewal of a beverage permit) within a reasonable time, so that the applicant will not, as in the case at bar, be somewhere between approval and denial, not able to proceed with his business, nor able to further pursue his administrative remedies.

Indiana State Highway Commission v. Zehner, (1977) Ind.App., 366 N.E.2d 697, 701 Citing Indiana Alcoholic Beverage Commission v. State ex rel. Harmon, (1977) Ind.App., 365 N.E.2d 1225. We, therefore, hold that regardless of the lack of official action, the trial court did not err in denying the Plan Commission's Motion to Dismiss or in assuming jurisdiction of this case.

We also reject the Plan Commission's argument that the trial court lacked jurisdiction because no final action was taken on the Developer's plat. The Plan Commission relies solely on Downing v. Board of Zoning Appeals of Whitley County, (1971) 149 Ind.App. 687, 690-91, 274 N.E.2d 542, at 544, to support this proposition:

Courts are reluctant to review interim steps of an administrative body which are not, or...

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