Volusia County v. Aberdeen at Ormond Beach

Decision Date18 May 2000
Docket NumberNo. SC95345.,SC95345.
Citation760 So.2d 126
PartiesVOLUSIA COUNTY, etc., et al., Appellants, v. ABERDEEN AT ORMOND BEACH, L.P., etc., Appellee.
CourtFlorida Supreme Court

Daniel D. Eckert, Volusia County Attorney, DeLand, Florida; and Richard S. Graham and Carol L. Allen of Landis, Graham, French, Husfeld, Sherman & Ford, P.A., Daytona Beach, Florida, for Appellants.

Frank D. Upchurch, III of Upchurch, Bailey and Upchurch, P.A., St. Augustine, Florida, for Appellee.

Frank A. Shepherd, Miami, Florida, for Pacific Legal Foundation, Amicus Curiae.

QUINCE, J.

We have for review a judgment certified by the district court to be of great public importance and to require immediate resolution by this Court. We have jurisdiction. See art. V, § 3(b)(5), Fla. Const. For the reasons discussed below, we affirm the trial court's decision finding the impact fee ordinance unconstitutional as applied to Aberdeen at Ormond Beach Manufactured Housing Community.

Aberdeen at Ormond Beach, L.P., owns Aberdeen at Ormond Beach Manufactured Housing Community (Aberdeen), a mobile home park in Ormond Beach that provides housing for persons at least 55 years of age or older. Aberdeen brought suit against Volusia County and the Volusia County School Board (Volusia County) to challenge the constitutionality of public school impact fees assessed on new homes constructed at Aberdeen.

As a mobile home park, Aberdeen is regulated by Chapter 723, Florida Statutes. Its minimum age requirements comply with the "housing for older persons" exemption of the Federal Fair Housing Act. See 42 U.S.C. § 3607 (1994 & Supp. I 1996). Aberdeen's Supplemental Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (Supplemental Declaration) contains the following provisions: exceptions to the minimum age requirement are permitted under limited circumstances; persons under eighteen are prohibited from permanently residing in any dwelling unit; the developer reserves the absolute right to modify or revoke all other covenants; and restrictions are binding upon owners for thirty years from the date of recordation.1 In addition to the foregoing provisions, the Supplemental Declaration provides that the prohibition against minors is not subject to exception or waiver. See Supplemental Declaration art. II, §§ 2.2, 3.2. However, in an earlier declaration (Primary Declaration), the developer reserved a general right to amend and revoke covenants and restrictions on the property, including those that may be subsequently enacted.2 By its terms, the Primary Declaration is not enforceable until it is recorded in the public records of Volusia County. See Primary Declaration para. 5 at 1. Aberdeen failed to comply with this provision and neither recorded nor executed the Primary Declaration. Nonetheless, Aberdeen secured the Bureau of Mobile Homes' approval of the Declaration for inclusion in the Prospectus that is delivered to all homeowners prior to signing the rental agreements.3 As of July 1998, Aberdeen housed 142 people, 119 of whom were over 60. No children have ever lived in Aberdeen, and the youngest resident ever was 42.

Effective October 1, 1992, Volusia County enacted Ordinance No. 92-9, imposing countywide public school impact fees on new dwelling units constructed in Volusia County. The ordinance's definition of "dwelling unit" ("living quarters for one family only") included single and multi-family housing, but excluded nursing homes, adult congregate living facilities and group homes. Volusia County, Fla., Ordinance 92-9, art. 1, § 4, (July 2, 1992). In addition, the ordinance furthered the County's policy of ensuring "that new development should bear a proportionate share of the cost of facility expansion necessitated by such new development." Id. art. 1, § 2(l).

Volusia County, however, repealed Ordinance No. 92-9 as a result of a Stipulated Final Judgment in a case challenging the number of tax credits used in calculating the impact fee. See Florida Home Builders Ass'n, Inc. v. County of Volusia, No. 93-10992-CIDL, Div. 01 (Fla. 7th Cir. Nov. 21, 1996). In its place, the County enacted Ordinance No. 97-7 on May 15, 1997, employing the more liberal tax credits required by the Stipulated Final Judgment.4 The County projected that the new recalculations would "assure that the fee imposed on new development does not require feepayers to bear more than their equitable share of the net capital cost in relation to the benefits conferred." Volusia County, Fla., Ordinance 97-7, § VI (May 15, 1997) (enacting Volusia County, Fla., Code of Ordinances art. V, ch. 70, § 70-174(d)).

The impact fee represents the cost per dwelling unit of providing new facilities. Ordinance 97-7 lowered the impact fee and permitted adjustments "to reflect any inflation or deflation in school construction costs." Id. § VII, (enacting code § 70-175(d)). In calculating the fee, the County utilized the student generation rate, which is the average number of public school students per dwelling unit. Pursuant to the Volusia County impact fee ordinances, Aberdeen has paid $86,984.07 under protest for 84 homes as of July 31, 1998.

Aberdeen filed suit against Volusia County, claiming, inter alia, that public school impact fees were unconstitutional as applied to Aberdeen because of the deed restrictions prohibiting minors from living on the property. In response, the County argued that exempting Aberdeen would convert the impact fee into a "user fee," thereby violating the state constitutional guarantee of a free public school system. Although both parties filed motions for summary judgment, the trial court denied Volusia County's motion and granted Aberdeen's motion.

In denying Volusia County's motion for summary judgment, the court rejected both its preliminary stare decisis and mootness claims. The court held that St. Johns County v. Northeast Florida Builders Ass'n, Inc., 583 So.2d 635 (Fla.1991), determined the validity of the methodology of the impact fee, not its constitutionality as applied to Aberdeen. Additionally, the court held that Florida Home Builders did not govern the dispute because it addressed solely the tax credits permissible in calculating the fee. Rejecting the mootness claim, the court distinguished Town of Longboat Key v. Lands End, Ltd., 433 So.2d 574 (Fla. 2d DCA 1983), by noting that the technical defect in the Longboat Key ordinance was cured by amending the statute, whereas the challenge to the fundamental validity of the fee as applied to Aberdeen was not resolved by the enactment of the second ordinance. Therefore, these threshold issues did not preclude review.

The trial court granted Aberdeen's motion for summary judgment based on a variety of grounds. First, the trial court recognized that the Primary Declaration was neither executed nor recorded, that modifying the age restriction would substantially change the character of the development, and that Aberdeen would be estopped from asserting a contrary position in the future. Accordingly, the trial court concluded that section 7.2 of the Primary Declaration would not be enforceable in the "foreseeable future." Second, the trial court reasoned that the rationale underlying St. Johns County was inapplicable to housing with land use restrictions prohibiting children. Third, the trial court, applying the dual rational nexus test, held that no substantial relationship existed between the need for new schools and the new development because no children resided in Aberdeen. Fourth, the trial court held that Aberdeen did not benefit from the construction of new schools for the same reason.

Volusia County subsequently filed a notice of appeal in the Fifth District and simultaneously requested certification of the case to this Court as a matter of great public importance. Pursuant to the pass-through certification provision of article V, section 3(b)(5), the Fifth District refrained from hearing the case and granted Volusia County's certification request. This Court subsequently accepted jurisdiction.

Summary judgment is proper if there is no genuine issue of material fact and if the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Menendez v. Palms West Condominium Ass'n, 736 So.2d 58 (Fla. 1st DCA 1999). Thus, our standard of review is de novo. The first prong of the summary judgment standard is easily established in the instant case because no factual disputes exist. Although the parties disagree about whether Aberdeen is an age-restricted community, this dispute essentially pertains to a question of law. Indeed, "[w]here the determination of the issues of a lawsuit depends upon the construction of a written instrument and the legal effect to be drawn therefrom, the question at issue is essentially one of law only and determinable by entry of summary judgment." Cox v. CSX Intermodal, Inc., 732 So.2d 1092, 1096 (Fla. 1st DCA) (quoting Angell v. Don Jones Ins. Agency, 620 So.2d 1012, 1014 (Fla. 2d DCA 1993)), review denied, 744 So.2d 453 (Fla.1999). Accordingly, the issue before the Court is whether the trial court correctly determined that Aberdeen was entitled to prevail as a matter of law.

As a threshold matter, Volusia County asserts that the trial court misapplied the doctrine of stare decisis by requiring that the same parties be present to trigger application. Apparently, Volusia County has misinterpreted the trial court's order. In support of its ruling, the trial court stated, "A decision is not stare decisis as to points of law which were not litigated by the parties and decided by the court. The issues Plaintiff is raising in this case simply were not decided in the cases on which Defendants rely." In other words, the court merely recognized that stare decisis was not applicable where the parties in the earlier proceedings did not raise the same issues of law. Contrary to Volusia County's assertions, nothing in the Order suggests that the trial court misapplied the doctrine of stare...

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