Otisco Township v Marhofer, et al.

Jeffrey C. Hicks

Practice Area:Real Estate

Outcome:Summary disposition for defendants

Description:The defendants, father and son, are resident family farmers in Otisco Township in Ionia County. On July 13, 1998, the defendants filed a completed zoning compliance permit application with the township, seeking approval to expand their existing swine operation by building two nursery buildings and a stage two waste lagoon system. The proposed changes to the defendants' property would reduce the number of animal units present on the farm. The end result of the decrease in animal units would be an overall decrease in the quantity of waste produced on the farm. The proposed project was a use of right in the district which was zoned A-C (agricultural conservation). After conferring with the township supervisor, the zoning administrator issued a zoning compliance permit based on the defendants' application. After receiving their permit, the defendants were assured by township officials that they had all the necessary township approvals needed to proceed with their project. For over three months, the defendants worked on developing their project. As a result of alleged political pressure on township officials, the township board on Oct. 19, 1998, held a public meeting to review concerns raised by a few outspoken township residents regarding defendants' project. The end result of the meeting was the township voted to suspend the defendants' permit for 30 days for alleged noncompliance with the zoning ordinance in filling out their original permit application. The township's counsel thereafter ordered the defendants to cease all activity on their project. Despite counsel's demand, the defendants continued construction efforts. On Nov. 9, 1998, the township board voted to permanently revoke the defendants' permit. Even after the revocation, the defendants continued construction. On Nov. 18, 1998, the township filed a complaint seeking injunctive and declaratory relief. Rather than answer the complaint, the defendants filed a motion for summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(8) and (C)(10) maintaining that 1) the plaintiff's revocation of the defendants' permit was ultra vires; 2) the alleged noncompliance in the application for permit was an insufficient and improper reason for revocation; 3) the plaintiff was estopped from claiming that the permit application was not in compliance; 4) the defendants had obtained vested rights; and 5) the plaintiff came to the court with "unclean hands." The plaintiff also moved for summary disposition. The defendants' motion was granted as to both subsections of MCR 2.116. In doing so the court held, among other things, that not only had the defendants obtained vested rights, but that the plaintiff was estopped from claiming that the application for permit was not in substantial compliance.