Land Use and Local Government Law and Litigation

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Another 3d DCA Opinion for Strong Judicial Review

Don't know how I missed this one, except that it appeared at first blush to be just another 3d DCA swipe at variances. But the Court seems to be putting a stake in the ground with respect to the proper role of certiorari review - one that is bolsted by the Osborn case.

In Auerbach v. City of Miami, 929 So.2d 623 (Fla. 3d DCA 2006), here's the link to the 3d DCA opinion, the court overturned a circuit court's refusal to quash a variance (though it upheld the court's decision to uphold a major special use permits). In language that clearly holds that the courts SHOULD actively police the decisions of zoning tribunals, the court wrote:

As in numerous prior cases, therefore, including many, like this one, on
“second-tier” review of a circuit court decision, quashal of the variance is
required. On the other hand, by invalidating the variance, we reaffirm
this Court’s solemn promise, which it has steadfastly honored, that
"[t]he law . . . will not and cannot approve a zoning regulation or any governmental
action adversely affecting the rights of others which is based on no more than
the fact that those who support it have the power to work their will." Allapattah Cmty. Ass’n, Inc. of Fla. v. City of Miami, 379 So. 2d 387, 394 (Fla. 3d DCA 1980), cert. denied, 386 So. 2d 635 (Fla. 1980).

(internal citations omitted, quotation reformatted to work for the web).

While Allapattah involved the approval of a development over the objections of surrounding neighborhoods, the language applies equally to the denial of a development order at the behest of a complaining public.

The Court went on in a footnote to address the issue of whether the failure to follow the law constituted a “miscarriage of justice” and suggested that ANYTIME the lower tribunal fails to follow the law, a miscarriage has occurred:

The respondents seem to suggest that the simple, clear and direct violation of
the law, which we find here without “weighing” or “evaluating” the non-existent
evidence of a hardship, may be justified by claims (a) that the variance may
render the project more aesthetically pleasing; or (b) more economically
rewarding; or (c) that fixing the results of improperly granting the variance
may be expensive or inconvenient; (d) that the City of Miami authorities thought
that the variance was generally a good idea; or (e) that the violation was, in the broad scheme of things, too minor to warrant our attention. Notwithstanding any or all of this, it is the unshirkable obligation of the courts, on whatever “tier” of consideration, “to say what the law is” and to effect that judgment. Failing to do so in this case would create both a direct conflict with these decisions, and an unjustified approval of the obvious failure of the circuit court to apply the correct law and of the resulting “miscarriage of justice” which occurred below.
Maybe what we're seeing is a reassertion of the proper role of the judiciary after years of allowing local governments to do what they want without effective judicial review, whichever way that decision happens to go.

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