The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday heard an appeal to Carson City residents Don and Toni Langson's lawsuit against the city.
No decision was made after the 40-minute hearing, and Mark Forsberg, Carson City chief deputy district attorney, said he couldn't guess when a decision would be offered in the case.
The couple sued the city and its planning officials in 1997, saying the city conspired to deprive them of their rights to due process when officials changed city codes and zoning. The couple charge the move restricted their ability to build a mobile-home park on 39 acres west of the Carson City Airport.
Attorneys for the Langsons and Carson City recited a brief history of the case to the three-judge panel Tuesday, which was made up of Chief Circuit Judge Procter Hug Jr., of Reno, Senior Circuit Judge Melvin Brunetti of Reno and Circuit Judge Mary Schroeder of Phoenix. The Ninth Circuit Court was sitting in Reno for the first time.
Forsberg said the Langsons' viewed the ultimate denial of the mobile home park on their property as a violation of the right to freely develop their property. However, the couple later had a plan approved to put an RV park on the site.
"They had another project that was approved for the parcel, so where does the agreement that we're trying to keep the land vacant go?" Forsberg said after the hearing. "This involves very complicated, constitutional legal issues. I think the judges had more questions about (the Langsons') line of reasoning."
Much of the hearing centered on deadlines, city ordinances and zoning surrounding the property.
Langson attorney Glade Hall argued that the Langsons' right to develop their property had been taken away in the tangle of zoning and ordinance work.
Forsberg argued that after the project's denial, the Langsons never followed legal avenues through to a proper authority like the city Board of Supervisors or state courts. They instead started other projects, he said, and ultimately filed a case in federal court.
Judge Brunetti asked Hall why the case was pursued on a federal level rather than through the state courts. Brunetti said the couple and the attorneys may not have acted in the right time frame to protect the constitutional rights they feel were violated.
"You never made any judicial appeal until after three actions by the city," he said. "If you had an immediate claim and were damaged, why not (immediately) treat it as a legal issue? You did nothing to protect that right until a year later?"
Hall argued that the city's zoning process made it futile to try to keep fighting for the project. Brunetti said it didn't mean judicial avenues had been closed.
Forsberg said if the judges decide against the city, the case would likely end up in lower federal courts, rather than heading to the U.S. Supreme Court level.
In July 1999, U.S. District Court Judge David Hagen dismissed the Langsons' lawsuit against Carson City and 16 of its chief planning officials, saying there were not enough facts for a jury to decide the issue in their favor.
In August 1999, the city asked the courts to order the Langsons to pay $34,762 as compensation for filing a frivolous lawsuit against the city. That decision is on hold until the appeal is resolved.