Freeport McMoran Corp. v. Langley Eden Farms, LLC – 12/16/2011

December 28, 2011

Arizona Court of Appeals Division Two Applies Exhaustion of Remedies Doctrine to Declaratory Judgment Action Seeking Interpretation of Zoning Statute.

Freeport McMoRan Corporation (Freeport) sued Langley Eden Farms (Langley) seeking a declaratory judgment that its neighboring property with Langley was not subject to zoning ordinances under A.R.S. § 11-812.  Langley counterclaimed for a declaratory judgment under the same statute, as well as for nuisance and invasion of property resulting from Freeport’s planned use of its tract.  The trial court found that Freeport’s property was exempt from zoning requirements under § 11-812 and granted summary judgment for Freeport on Langley’s tort claims.  This appeal followed.

The court of appeals sua sponte raised the issue whether the exhaustion of remedies doctrine required the parties to utilize available administrative procedures before filing an action in superior court.  It held that because A.R.S. § 11-816 establishes an administrative review procedure for zoning grievances, the parties were required to pursue that procedure before filing their lawsuit and counterclaims.  It makes no difference that prior case law applied the exhaustion of remedies doctrine where the party was seeking relief from a planning board’s decision, whereas here Langley and Freeport were seeking the interpretation of a statute.  In this case the parties had not followed the administrative procedures under §11-816 before filing suit, so the court vacated the superior court’s entire ruling and returned the parties to their status quo ante.

Chief Judge Howard authored the opinion, Judges Eckerstrom and Brammer, Jr., concurred.