Stagecoach Trails MCH, L.L.C. v. City of Benson – 5/31/2012

June 13, 2012

Arizona Court of Appeals Division Two Holds That (1) Pursuant To A.R.S. § 9-462.06(K), The Superior Court’s Jurisdiction To Review Decision By City’s Board of Adjustment Is Limited To Issues Considered By The Board of Adjustment, and (2) A.R.S. § 9-462.06(K) Is A Statutory Special Action And Does Not Permit The Court To Issue A Writ of Mandamus.

This case concerns the superior court’s jurisdiction pursuant to A.R.S. § 9-462.06(K), which permits a person to file a special action complaint in the superior court to review the decision of a city’s board of adjustment.  Review of the board’s decision is limited to determining whether the board “acted arbitrarily, capriciously or in an abuse of its discretion.” 

In this case, a city zoning administrator denied Stagecoach Trails MHC, a manufactured home park operator, a permit to install a new mobile home.  Stagecoach appealed the decision to the city’s board of adjustment, which denied the appeal, and then filed a special action in superior court seeking review of the board’s decision.  While the original special action was pending in superior court, the city’s zoning administrator (twice) reviewed and denied the permit, citing new grounds for the decision.  Rather than appeal these decisions to the board of adjustment, Stagecoach Trails filed supplemental special-action complaints.  The superior court allowed the supplemental complaints, determining that it had continuing jurisdiction over the dispute, and granted relief “in the nature of a writ of mandamus,” directing the zoning administrator to grant the permit application.

 The Court of Appeals vacated in part reversed in part and affirmed in part.  The Court agreed that the superior court had jurisdiction over the original special-action complaint, but held that the court did not have jurisdiction over the supplemental complaints.  The supplemental complaints concerned issues that were never properly considered by the board of adjustment and therefore could not be reviewed by the superior court pursuant to A.R.S. § 9-462.06(K).   “The board’s function simply cannot be usurped by the superior court.” 

The Court of Appeals also held that the superior court erred in granting mandamus relief.  Section 9-462.06(K) is a statutory special action and nothing in the statute permits mandamus relief.  The superior court is only authorized to “affirm, reverse, or modify the board of adjustment’s decision.”  The Court further held that the trial court erred in awarding attorney fees pursuant to A.R.S. § 12-2030, which provides for attorney-fee awards in mandamus actions.  

Judge Espinosa authored the opinion; Judges Vásquez and Kelly concurred.