Oehl v. Amana Colonies

Iowa Court of Appeals, Nos. 3-1154/13-0328, March 26, 2014: Certiorari exclusive remedy for project permit approval in historic district.

A permit (COA) is required for certain exterior construction in the historic districts of the unincorporated villages known as Amana Colonies. The permit decision is made by the Amana Colonies Land Use District Board of Trustees (Board). The Cutlers applied for and received a COA after months of hearings and project plan revisions. Opponents of the project, aggrieved residents of the Amana Colonies, challenged the Board decision in district court and sought summary judgment. That court held that the exclusive remedy to challenge the Board’s decision was by certiorari and that the court lacked jurisdiction over the declaratory judgment action. The district court also concluded, in the alternative (if it had jurisdiction), that the Board did not act unreasonably, arbitrarily, or capriciously in approving the project. The appeals court affirmed the lower court decision.

First, the appeals court ruled that the Board’s decision was “quasi-judicial” and therefore could be challenged by a certiorari action under the Iowa Rule of Civil Procedure.  The Board’s determination in a COA decision was quasi-judicial because it required the exercise of discretion in finding facts and applying the law, like a zoning decision. Then the court held that certiorari is the exclusive remedy to challenge this type of land use decision, when only the grant or denial of a particular application is at issue. Declaratory judgment would be available only if the validity of the ordinances were at issue. The court therefore upheld the dismissal of the action.

The court went on, however, to also affirm the lower court’s decision that even if declaratory judgment were an available remedy, the Board’s grant of the permit would stand because, on the undisputed facts, the Board’s decision was facially valid and a rational exercise of its authority

Decision available at http://www.iowacourts.gov/About_the_Courts/Court_of_Appeals/Court_of_Appeals_Opinions/Recent_Opinions/20140326/3-1154.pdf.

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