A Carson City couple will likely appeal a recent court ruling upholding the dismissal of their claim that the city illegally deprived them of the use of their property, they said Wednesday.
In a memorandum filed last Thursday, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the findings of the U.S. District Court in Reno in the three-year-old lawsuit filed by Don and Toni Langson over property near the Carson City Airport.
"I'm going to have to talk to my attorney some more about the appeal, but that sounds very possible," Don Langson said.
Glade Hall, the couple's attorney, said he assumes the Langsons will request another appeal hearing, this time before all the members of the circuit court. "The Langsons feel very strongly about their case. The harm they've suffered is very large."
Carson City Deputy District Attorney Mark Forsberg believes the court will deny the Langson's request.
"It's difficult to get an en banc (full court) hearing," he explained. "In light of the fact that both the federal District Court judge and a three-judge panel of the court of appeals have flatly rejected all their arguments I don't foresee an en banc hearing coming to pass."
Langson said the dispute began in Decemer 1994 when he discovered that a 1991 zoning revision disallowed mobile home park construction on his property that had previously been permitted. The discovery came as the Langsons began the process for a major project review that would authorize building the mobile homes.
Langson said he never received notice of the revision, although "I was owed a specific notice that my zoning was changing because I own such a high percentage of the land affected by the change."
Before addressing the major project review, Langson said, city officials required him to obtain a mobile home zoning designation for his 39-acre parcel. They denied the request in late 1996, citing noise concerns for future mobile home residents and the airport's need for "clear zones."
In 1997, the Langsons filed suit against the city, claiming its zoning ordinances and decisions violated their constitutional rights by improperly restricting or eliminating without notice the uses to which their property could be put.
The couple asserted that "the city and the airport authority colluded to keep the property vacant without spending a penny for it," as Langson put it.
City officials denied the allegations, and the matter went to trial in federal court in July 1999. After the trial began, the presiding judge granted the city's motion to dismiss the suit. The Langsons appealed that decision to the circuit court.
In affirming the federal court, the appeals court held that "the Langsons have not demonstrated that they have been deprived of any federal constitutional right."
The court found that the Langsons' claim that the zoning change affecting their property "was enacted without proper notice to them is not pertinent."
The court reasoned that even if earlier ordinances had allowed mobile homes on the property without a zoning change, the Langsons could not invoke the privileges of those laws because they filed their major project review application under later, contravening ordinances.
The appeals court also rejected plaintiffs' assertions that the city denied the mobile home zoning in order to reduce the value of their property, thus leaving it unsold, unused and available for cheap purchase by the airport authority.
The appeals court's findings are "technical in nature and avoid the merits of the case," said attorney Hall, adding that he has not yet thoroughly researched the case law the memorandum cites. "We are gravely disappointed in the ruling."
Forsberg, who argued the city's case, disagrees.
"I think that the ruling shows that the city was acting within the law and within its own rules all the way through the case," he said. "In particular, I think it's an important vindication of the planning department of the city."
Forsberg takes particular issue with charges of collusion, especially since "the city approved a recreational vehicle project for that very land after the denial of the mobile home park. When you look at the whole picture, the Langsons are free to develop that property in many ways."
Forsberg said this later approval came "in direct contradiction of the Airport Authority's wishes."
But Langson feels Carson City needs the affordable housing provided by mobile homes, and he's determined to build them on his property. Even if he loses the next round in appeals court, he vowed the fight might not be over. "We may be back in state court," he said.
Forsberg doesn't want to see the dispute prolonged. "Four judges have agreed with our position," he said. "For (Langson) to continue to relitigate is unfair and uncalled for."