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Johnson v. Kootenai County

United States District Court, D. Idaho

October 17, 2019

BENJAMIN A. JOHNSON, Petitioner,
v.
KOOTENAI COUNTY, a legal subdivision of the State of Idaho, by and through its Board of County Commissioners, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          David C. Nye Chief U.S. District Court Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Pending before the Court is Petitioner Benjamin A. Johnson's Petition for Writ of Mandamus, Judicial Review (“Petition”). Dkt. 1. Having reviewed the record, the Court finds that the facts and legal arguments are adequately presented. Accordingly, in the interest of avoiding further delay, and because the Court finds that the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument, the Court will decide the Petition without oral argument. Dist. Idaho Loc. Civ. R. 7.1(d)(1)(B).

         Upon review, and for the reasons set forth below, the Court does not reach the merits of the Petition and DISMISSES the case in its entirety for lack of jurisdiction.

         II. BACKGROUND

         On January 24, 2019, the Kootenai County Community Development Director (the “Director”) approved the development of a three (3)-lot minor subdivision (the “Subdivision”). Ben Pointe Road is a small private road which provides access to the proposed Subdivision. Certain sections of Ben Pointe Road, including the portion that provides access to the Subdivision, are only twelve (12) feet wide. These sections do not meet the International Fire Code (“IFC”) standards, which were adopted by Kootenai County. Namely, the IFC requires roads to be twenty (20) feet wide.

         Johnson appealed the Director's approval of the development because Ben Pointe Road currently does not meet the IFC standards. Johnson believes that approval of the Subdivision should be conditioned on the widening of Ben Pointe Road to be in compliance with the IFC. Ultimately, Kootenai County Board of County Commissioners (the “Board”) heard Johnson's appeal and affirmed the Director's decision, citing various provisions of the Kootenai County Code which allowed Kootenai County to proceed with the development of the Subdivision despite the fact that Ben Pointe Road fell short of IFC safety standards.

         Johnson now seeks a writ of mandamus compelling the Board to approve the Subdivision only if the private access road is brought up to current IFC standards or, alternatively, judicial review of the Board's decision.

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         “[A] federal court generally may not rule on the merits of a case without first determining that it has jurisdiction over the category of claim in suit (subject-matter jurisdiction).” Sinochem Intern. Co. v. Malaysia Int'l. Shipping Corp., 549 U.S. 422, 431-31 (2007). Further, “[w]ithout jurisdiction the court cannot proceed at all in any cause; it may not assume jurisdiction for the purpose of deciding the merits of the case.” Id. (internal quotations omitted). Thus, federal courts “have an independent obligation to determine whether subject-matter jurisdiction exists, even in the absence of a challenge from any party.” Arbaugh v. Y&H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 514 (2006); see also Washington Local Lodge No. 104 of Int'l Bhd. of Boilermakers, AFL-CIO v. Int'l Bhd. of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers & Helpers, AFL-CIO, 621 F.2d 1032, 1033 (9th Cir. 1980) (“If the court determines at any time that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the action.”) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P 12(h)(3)).

         Federal district courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and as such, can only hear cases and controversies that involve a federal question, 28 U.S.C. § 1331, or satisfy federal diversity jurisdiction requirements, 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Generally speaking, diversity jurisdiction requires: (1) the plaintiff and defendant to be citizens of different states; and (2) the amount in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000. 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Under federal question jurisdiction, a court has “original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Simply put, a federal court has jurisdiction to hear cases regarding federal law.

         IV. ANALYSIS

         A. Original Jurisdiction

         Here, Johnson alleges that the Court has federal-question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 because this action involves a federal question, to wit: the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment.[1] Dkt. 1, at 2. He then alleges that the Court has authority to issue a writ of mandamus under the All Writs Act, 28. U.S.C. § 1651, and may hear his state law petition for judicial review under the Court's supplemental jurisdiction authority.[2]Id. As explained below, the Court's ...


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