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Hauser Lake Rod and Gun Club, Inc. v. City of Hauser

Supreme Court of Idaho

June 9, 2017

HAUSER LAKE ROD AND GUN CLUB, INC., an Idaho non-profit corporation, Petitioner-Appellant,
v.
THE CITY OF HAUSER, an Idaho municipal corporation, Respondent on Appeal, and KOOTENAI COUNTY, a political subdivision of the State of Idaho, Respondent.

         2017 Opinion No. 61

         Appeal from the District Court of the First Judicial District, State of Idaho, Kootenai County. Hon. Richard S. Christensen, District Judge.

         District court order denying attorney fees to prevailing party, reversed.

          James, Vernon & Weeks, PA, Coeur d'Alene, for appellant. Susan P. Weeks argued.

          William Mark Appleton, Coeur d'Alene, for respondent.

          BURDICK, Chief Justice.

         This appeal from Kootenai County concerns attorney fees under Idaho Code section 12-117. The district court held that Hauser Lake Rod and Gun Club, Inc. was not entitled to attorney fees under section 12-117 because, even though it had prevailed against the City of Hauser in a code violation dispute, the administrative tribunal that reviewed the dispute was staffed with both County and City officials. According to the district court, section 12-117's definition of "political subdivision" does not include administrative review tribunals staffed with officials from multiple governmental entities. We reverse.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         The district court summarized the relevant facts giving rise to this "procedural nightmare for all involved" as follows:

In February 2012, Plaintiff, Hauser Lake Rod and Gun Club (hereinafter "the Club"), inquired with Kootenai County (hereinafter "the County") about obtaining a building permit to construct an accessory storage building on [its] property. Plaintiff was referred to the City of Hauser Lake (hereinafter "the City") to proceed with [its] request because the Club's property was within the City's area of impact, [[1] and the type of permit sought was a Class II building permit. The Club submitted a Class II permit request to the City in early 2012. On March 27, 2012 a public hearing was held on this Class II application. After the hearing, the City informed the Club that the City would not issue a decision on the application. Rather, the City and County agreed that the Club's application required different administrative procedures.
On June 8, 2012, the City, [sic] delivered a notice of violation of Hauser Code to the Club for "operating outside of the historical hours of operation." The Club was told it had several options. It could change its hours, thus continuing to operate only during the historical hours of operation; alternatively, it could apply for a City of Hauser Class II permit for commercial use, or it could appeal the alleged code violation issued by the City of Hauser Code Administrator to the Joint Planning and Zoning Commission ("the Joint Commission["]). The Joint Commission is made up of both City and County officials and residents.
The Club chose the third option and appealed the alleged code violation to the Joint Commission, denying that it had ever violated the code. In its December 11, 2012, Findings of Facts and Conclusion the Joint Commission upheld the violation determination by the City Code Administrator. The Club appealed to the [Kootenai County Joint Board of Commissioners ("the Joint Board")] on January 8, 2013.
The Joint Board is comprised of the Kootenai County Board of Commissioners and two City of Hauser City Council Members, one of which may be the mayor. The Joint Board was created by Kootenai County to hear appeals of the Joint Commission's decisions. The City officials on the Joint Board do not have authority to make motions or vote, but serve only in an advisory capacity. The City officials may question witnesses testifying and may confer and deliberate with the County Commissioners prior to the final decision being issued. While the Joint Board's voting members are also Kootenai County Commissioners, the Joint Board has been established as a separate and distinct entity from the County Commissioners.

         In August 2013, the Joint Board reversed the Joint Commission.[2] The Joint Board held that the City lacked jurisdiction to issue a code violation to the Club because it was not a resident of the City. The Club requested attorney fees under Idaho Code section 12-117. The Joint Board made no findings concerning whether section 12-117 was applicable, declaring instead that it "was not inclined to award attorney fees as requested by [the Club]." The Club moved for reconsideration of the attorney fees ruling. The Joint Board never ruled on the motion.

         In September 2013, the Club appealed the Joint Board's attorney fees ruling to the district court. As is relevant here, the district court concluded the Joint Board had erred by making no findings concerning attorney fees and remanded the case with instructions to determine whether the Club was entitled to attorney fees.[3] The Club moved for reconsideration of that order, questioning "the finality of the judgment and the premature issuance of the remittitur before the time for appeal had ...


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