Saturday, January 15, 2011

3d DCA Holds that Law of the Case Precluded City from Reopening Hearing after Quashal

Dougherty v. City of Miami, 23 S.3d 156, 34 Fla. L. Weekly D2047a (Fla. 3d DCA Oct. 7, 2009)

The City Commission granted a special permit. The circuit court upheld the City’s decision. In Dougherty v. City of Miami, the 3d DCA quashed the circuit court decision following an earlier remand. The 3d DCA decision turned on the failure of the City Commission and the circuit court to adhere to the law of the case in the matter.

In earlier proceedings, the City had granted the special permit and the circuit court had reversed, finding that the City Commission’s authority was limited to appellate review of a Zoning Board decision and that the City Code required the City Commission to issue findings of fact. The circuit Court quashed the decision and remanded it to the City Commission to issue a written decision based on the record before the Zoning Board.

On remand, the City Commission conducted another de novo hearing and applied later adopted provisions of the Code. It then approved the permit with an additional condition. On first tier certiorari review, the circuit court held that the City Commission was permitted to conduct a de novo review because the code had changed.

The 3d DCA quashed the circuit court’s denial of certiorari, holding that both the City Commission and the circuit court were bound by the law of the case: The 3d DCA stated “[t]here is no doubt that the 2006 circuit court appellate decision actually decided that the City Commmission had to limit its review to the record received from the Zoning Board and that it was required to render findings of fact in support of its decision.”

A concurring opinion agreed that the law of the case applied and determined the matter, but (citing Snyder and GBV,) disagreed with the original decision. The concurrence is wrong. The City Code required that all agents, agencies or boards issue written findings concerning zoning matters. The concurrence incorrectly assumes that requirement would not apply to the City Commission sitting in a quasi-judicial capacity (whether appellate or de novo). However, where a governing body sits in a quasi-judicial capacity, it is exercising executive or administrative authority delegated to it by code or statute and is bound by those restrictions just as any “inferior” board or agency would be bound.

This is an important case. Even if it does not establish any substantive law, it clearly indicates that even under the restrictions on “quashal” under G.B.V., the circuit court’s order on certiorari review is binding on both the lower tribunal and later review by the court.

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