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Manwaring Investments, L.C. v. City of Blackfoot

Supreme Court of Idaho

November 3, 2017

MANWARING INVESTMENTS, L.C., an Idaho limited liability company, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
CITY OF BLACKFOOT, a municipal corporation, Defendant-Respondent.

         2017 Opinion No. 110

         Appeal from the District Court of the Seventh Judicial District, State of Idaho, Bingham County. Hon. Darren B. Simpson, District Judge.

         Order granting summary judgment, affirmed.

          Manwaring Law Office, Idaho Falls, for appellant. Kipp L. Manwaring argued.

          Sandow Law Offices, Blackfoot, for respondent. Garrett H. Sandow argued.

          BURDICK, CHIEF JUSTICE.

         Manwaring Investments, L.C., (Manwaring) appeals from Bingham County, where the district court affirmed a grant of summary judgment to the City of Blackfoot (City). Manwaring sued the City in October 2014, alleging the City was overcharging it for wastewater utilities. The magistrate granted the City's motion for summary judgment. Manwaring moved for reconsideration, which the magistrate denied. Manwaring then appealed the magistrate's rulings to the district court, which affirmed the magistrate. Manwaring timely appeals the decision of the district court. We affirm.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Manwaring owns a commercial building (the Building) located in the City. The Building, constructed in 2001, is approximately 5, 000 square feet. Approximately 2, 100 square feet of the Building is devoted to office space. The remaining space consists of "one central entryway, two waiting areas, two hallways, and two separate restroom areas." Manwaring leases out space in the Building to several different commercial tenants.

         City Ordinance No. 9-3-20 governs wastewater utility rates in the City. Ordinance No. 9-3-20 embodies the City's effort to "equate the wastewater use to an Equivalent Dwelling Unit [(EDU)]." One EDU signifies 350 gallons of wastewater discharge per day, which, as the City explains, is the "average volume of domestic waste discharged from an average residential dwelling unit." Averages are critical, Ordinance No. 9-3-20 indicates, because the City does not have "the technology or ability to measure . . . exact use of the sewer system." Thus, Ordinance No. 9-3-20 assigns properties "a multiplier point (based upon type of use) and then a point value is determined which is equal to how many EDU's that particular property is assessed."

         The City amended Ordinance No. 9-3-20 in June 2014, but before that amendment, Ordinance No. 9-3-20 provided that an "[o]ffice, up to 20 employees" would be assessed one EDU. As such, one building containing, for example, ten offices, each having up to twenty employees, would be assessed ten EDUs. Even though the Building housed multiple commercial tenants (and thus multiple offices) from 2001 to 2007, it was assessed only one EDU. The assessment of one EDU yielded a monthly rate of $25.90 for wastewater utilities.

         The City conducted a regular reassessment of EDU assessments in 2007. During this reassessment, the Building was assessed two EDUs. The new assessment took effect sometime in 2008, thereby increasing the Building's monthly rate for wastewater utilities to $51.80. The reason for this assessment was that multiple commercial tenants occupied the Building.

         In June 2014, the City amended Ordinance No. 9-3-20. Ordinance No. 9-3-20, as amended, sets forth "19 different classifications and 74 different sub-classifications, " which the City uses to make EDU assessments. The City explains that whether these different classifications and sub-classifications apply depends on the "type of building, size of building, type of business, number of businesses, type of waste water released, and other similar factors." Under Ordinance No. 9-3-20, as amended, the Building was assessed two EDUs because it is a commercial building with no food prep whose space exceeds 4, 000 square feet. Also in June 2014, the City increased the base rate per EDU from $25.90 to $30.04. Thus, in June 2014, the Building's monthly wastewater utility rate increased from $51.80 to $60.08.

         Disputing the assessment of two EDUs, but not the base rate per EDU, Manwaring filed a claim against the City for alleged wastewater utility overcharges on September 9, 2014. Manwaring argued the Building should have been assessed one EDU, not two, because the assessment of two EDUs did not reasonably approximate the Building's actual wastewater discharge. Manwaring presented its claim to the city council on October 7, 2014. The city council concluded the assessment of two EDUs was permissible and denied the claim.

         On October 14, 2014, Manwaring filed this lawsuit against the City and stopped paying the disputed portion of fees. Manwaring's complaint alleged that the assessment of two EDUs on the Building: (1) violates the Idaho Revenue Bond Act; (2) constitutes an unconstitutional tax; and (3) violates due process. In addition to requesting a declaratory judgment and an injunction, Manwaring requested damages in the amount of $1, 803.66, which reflects the amount Manwaring allegedly overpaid for wastewater utilities.

         On March 11, 2015, Manwaring moved for a preliminary injunction, seeking to enjoin the City from applying the assessment of two EDUs on the Building. On March 25, 2015, the magistrate held a hearing on Manwaring's requested preliminary injunction and denied it. The parties then filed cross-motions for summary judgment. On May 20, 2015, the magistrate denied Manwaring's motion for summary judgment and granted the City's motion for summary judgment. Manwaring timely moved for reconsideration, but the magistrate denied the motion. Manwaring then appealed the magistrate's rulings to the district court, which upheld the judgment in the City's favor. Manwaring timely appeals to this Court.

         II. ISSUES ON APPEAL

         1. Was summary judgment properly granted to the City?

         2. Was Manwaring's motion for reconsideration properly denied?

         3. Is the prevailing party entitled to attorney fees on appeal?

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         "On appeal of a decision rendered by a district court acting in its appellate capacity, we directly review the district court's decision to determine whether it correctly decided the issues presented to it on appeal." Borley v. Smith, 149 Idaho 171, 176, 233 P.3d 102, 107 (2010) (citing Idaho Dep't of Health and Welfare v. Doe, 148 Idaho 124, 126, 219 P.3d 448, 450 (2009)).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         Addressed below is whether (A) summary judgment was properly granted to the City; (B) Manwaring's motion for reconsideration was properly denied; and (C) the prevailing party is entitled to attorney fees on appeal.

         A. Summary judgment was properly ...


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