Zaatari v. City of Austin

Citation615 S.W.3d 172
Decision Date27 November 2019
Docket NumberNO. 03-17-00812-CV,03-17-00812-CV
Parties Ahmad ZAATARI, Marwa Zaatari, Jennifer Gibson Hebert, Joseph "Mike" Hebert, Lindsay Redwine, Ras Redwine VI, and Tim Klitch, Appellants, City of Austin, Texas; and Steve Adler, Mayor of The City of Austin, and the State of Texas, Cross-Appellants v. CITY OF AUSTIN, Texas; and Steve Adler, Mayor of The City of Austin, Appellees, Ahmad Zaatari, Marwa Zaatari, Jennifer Gibson Hebert, Joseph "Mike" Hebert, Lindsay Redwine, Ras Redwine VI, and Tim Klitch, Cross-Appellees
CourtCourt of Appeals of Texas
OPINION

Jeff Rose, Chief Justice

These cross-appeals arise from challenges to a municipal ordinance amending the City of Austin's regulation of short-term rental properties. See Austin, Tex., Ordinance No. 20160223-A.1 (Feb. 23, 2016) (codified in Austin City Code chapters 25-2 and 25-12). Appellants Ahmad Zaatari, Marwa Zaatari, Jennifer Gibson Hebert, Joseph "Mike" Hebert, Lindsay Redwine, Ras Redwine VI, and Tim Klitch (collectively, "Property Owners") own homes in the Austin area and sued the City and its mayor (collectively, "the City"), asserting that certain provisions in the ordinance are unconstitutional. Specifically, the Property Owners challenged the ordinance provision that bans short-term rentals of non-homestead properties, see id. § 25-2-950, and the ordinance provision that controls conduct and types of assembly at short-term rental properties, see id. § 25-2-795. The State intervened in the Property Owners' suit to contend that the ordinance's ban on short-term rentals of non-homestead properties is unconstitutional as a retroactive law and as an uncompensated taking of private property. The Property Owners and the State appeal from the district court's order granting the City's no-evidence motion for summary judgment and denying the Property Owners' and the State's traditional motions for summary judgment. The City and the State also challenge the district court's orders excluding certain evidence from the summary-judgment record. On cross-appeal, the City challenges the district court's order overruling the City's plea to the jurisdiction.

The ordinance provision banning non-homestead short-term rentals significantly affects property owners' substantial interests in well-recognized property rights while, on the record before us, serving a minimal, if any, public interest. Therefore, the provision is unconstitutionally retroactive, and we will reverse the district court's judgment on this issue and render judgment declaring the provision void. The ordinance provision restricting assembly infringes on Texans' fundamental right to assemble because it limits peaceable assembly on private property. Therefore, because the City has not demonstrated that the provision is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest, the provision violates the Texas Constitution's guarantee to due course of law, and we will reverse the district court's judgment on this issue and render judgment declaring the provision void. We will affirm the remainder of the judgment and remand the case to the district court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Background

In the last decade, individuals have increasingly turned to short-term rentals—typically, privately owned homes or apartments that are leased for a few days or weeks at a time—for lodging while traveling. See, e.g. , Donald J. Kochan, The Sharing Stick in the Property Rights Bundle , 86 U. Cin. L. Rev. 893, 894–95 (2018) (collecting sources). As short-term rentals have become more common, local governments have looked for ways to balance the rights of short-term rental property owners and tenants against the concerns of neighboring properties. In 2012, the City adopted an ordinance to regulate Austinites' ability to rent their properties through amendments to the zoning and land-development chapters of its municipal code. See Austin, Tex., Ordinance 20120802-122 (Aug. 2, 2012) (codified at Austin, Tex., Code Chs. 25-2 and 25-12). That ordinance defined short-term rental use as "the rental of a residential dwelling unit or accessory building, other than a unit or building associated with a group residential use, on a temporary or transient basis." Id. § 25-2-3(10). The 2012 ordinance also required property owners to satisfy eligibility criteria and obtain a license before being allowed to rent their property on a short-term basis. Id. §§ 25-2-788(B), 25-2-789(B).

In 2016, after conducting several studies and holding hearings regarding short-term rentals and their role in the community, the City adopted an ordinance amending its regulations of short-term rentals. See Austin, Tex., Ordinance 20160223-A.1. As amended by the 2016 ordinance, the City Code created three classes of short-term rentals:

• Type 1—single-family residence that is "owner-occupied or is associated with an owner-occupied principal residential unit," Austin, Tex., Code § 25-2-788(A);
• Type 2—single-family residence that "is not owner-occupied and is not associated with an owner-occupied principal residential unit," id. § 25-2-789(A); and
• Type 3—residence that is "part of a multi-family residential use," id. § 25-2-790(A).1

The ordinance immediately suspended the licensing of any new type-2 short-term rentals and established April 1, 2022, as the termination date for all type-2 rentals. See id. § 25-2-950.

The 2016 ordinance also imposed several restrictions on properties operated as short-term rentals, including:

• banning all assemblies, including "a wedding, bachelor or bachelorette party, concert, sponsored event, or any similar group activity other than sleeping," whether inside or outside, after 10:00 p.m.;
• banning outdoor assemblies of more than six adults at any time;
• prohibiting more than six unrelated adults or ten related adults from using the property at any time; and
• giving City officials authority to "enter, examine, and survey" the short-term rentals to ensure compliance with applicable provisions of Code.

See id. §§ 25-2-795(D)(G), 25-12-213-1301. Failure to comply with these provisions is punishable by a fine of up to $2,000 and possible revocation of the operating license. See id. § 25-1-462.

In response to the ordinance, the Property Owners sued the City for declaratory and injunctive relief, alleging that section 25-2-795's assembly and occupancy restrictions and section 25-2-950's ban on type-2 short-term rentals violate, facially and as applied, constitutional rights to privacy, freedom of assembly and association, due course of law, equal protection, and freedom from unwarranted searches. See Tex. Const. art. I, §§ 3 (equal protection), 9 (searches), 19 (due course of law), 27 (assembly); Texas State Emps. Union v. Texas Dep't of Mental Health & Mental Retardation , 746 S.W.2d 203, 205 (Tex. 1987) (individual privacy).2 The Property Owners also sought attorney fees. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 37.009. The State of Texas intervened in the Property Owners' case, arguing that section 25-2-950's termination of type-2 operating licenses by 2022 is unconstitutional as a retroactive law and an uncompensated taking of private property. See Tex. Const. art. I, §§ 16 (retroactive laws), 17 (takings).

The Property Owners and the State moved for summary judgment on their constitutional challenges to the ordinance, providing evidentiary exhibits in support of those motions.3 The City filed a plea to the jurisdiction and a no-evidence motion for summary judgment. The State and the City each filed objections to certain aspects of the evidentiary record. The district court denied the traditional motions for summary judgment, overruled the City's plea to the jurisdiction, granted the City's motion for no-evidence summary judgment, and sustained in part the State's and the City's respective evidentiary objections. The Property Owners and the State appeal from the district court's order denying their motions for summary judgment and granting the City's motion for summary judgment. The State also appeals from the district court's order sustaining the City's evidentiary objections. The City cross-appeals from the district court's order overruling its plea to the jurisdiction and from the order sustaining the State's evidentiary challenges.

Jurisdiction

Because it implicates our authority to reach the merits of this dispute, we begin by addressing the district court's order overruling the City's plea to the jurisdiction. See Crites v. Collins , 284 S.W.3d 839, 840 (Tex. 2009) (noting that jurisdictional questions must be addressed before merits). A trial court's jurisdiction is a question of law we review de novo. Texas Dep't of Parks & Wildlife v. Miranda , 133 S.W.3d 217, 226 (Tex. 2004). "[I]f a plea to the jurisdiction challenges the existence of jurisdictional facts, we consider relevant evidence submitted by the parties when necessary to resolve the jurisdictional issues raised, as the trial court is required to do." Id. at 227 (citing Bland Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Blue , 34 S.W.3d 547, 555 (Tex. 2000) ). "[I]n a case in which the jurisdictional challenge implicates the merits of the plaintiffs' cause of action"—as is the case here—"and the plea to the jurisdiction includes evidence, the trial court reviews the relevant evidence to determine if a fact issue exists." Id. "If the evidence creates a fact question regarding the jurisdictional issue, then the trial court cannot grant the plea to the jurisdiction, and the fact issue will be resolved by the fact finder." Id. at 227–28.

The City's plea to the jurisdiction challenges the State's standing to intervene in this dispute, the Property Owners' standing to bring claims on behalf of tenants, and the ripeness of the underlying claims. The plea also invokes governmental immunity, arguing that the Property Owners and the State have not pleaded any claim for which the City's immunity is waived or otherwise inapplicable. We address these arguments in turn.

A. Standing

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