Appeal of Interlocutory Order
District, West Jordan The Honorable Barry G. Lawrence No.
R. Baird, P. Matthew Muir, Salt Lake City, for appellees.
JeffreyRobinson, Robert Thorup, Stuart E. Williams, Paul D.
Dodd, West Jordan City, for appellant.
Justice Durham authored the opinion of the Court in which
Chief Justice Durrant, Associate Chief Justice Lee, Justice
Himonas, and Judge Connors joined.
recused himself, Justice Pearce does not participate herein;
District Court Judge David M. Connors sat.
In this case, several property developers allege that the
City of West Jordan violated statutory provisions that
regulate how a municipality may spend the impact fees
collected from developers. They claim that the city violated
statutes requiring it to spend the fees on specified
categories of expenditures within six years. The
developers' first claim for relief in the operative
complaint is for a declaratory judgment. The district court
dismissed only the last portion of that claim, which sought a
declaratory judgment that West Jordan must refund all or part
of the impact fees to them. Neither party addresses this
claim on appeal, so we make no ruling as to the declaratory
judgment action. Nor does either party argue against the
district court's dismissal of the developers' sixth
claim, the request for attorney fees as a separate claim for
relief. The developers' second through fifth claims for
relief seek a refund of the allegedly misspent or unspent
impact fees either because of an unconstitutional taking or
as a claim in equity.
Our threshold concern is whether the developers have standing
to bring their claims. Standing is a question of subject
matter jurisdiction that "raise[s] fundamental questions
regarding a court's basic authority over the
dispute." Brown v. Div. of Water Rights of Dep't
of Nat. Res., 2010 UT 14, ¶ 13, 228 P.3d 747. This
issue can be raised sua sponte by the court. See
State v. Tuttle, 780 P.2d 1203, 1207 (Utah 1989).
"[T]he issue of subject matter jurisdiction is a
threshold issue, which can be raised at any time and must be
addressed before [turning to] the merits of other
claims." Am. W. Bank Members, L.C. v. State,
2014 UT 49, ¶ 10, 342 P.3d 224 (alterations in original)
(citation omitted). Only if the developers have standing do
we turn to whether any of their claims survive a motion to
dismiss based on the merits.
The developers have standing to challenge the
constitutionality of the impact fees they were assessed. But
the time to challenge the relationship between the
government's demand for property and the anticipated
social costs of a proposed land use is at the time the impact
fees are exacted and is limited by statute to "one year
after the day on which the person or entity pays the impact
fee." Utah Code § 11-36a-702(1)(c). The
developers' argument that their claims against West
Jordan for either allegedly failing to spend impact fees
within six years or spending the fees on impermissible
expenditures were not ripe until the six-year period elapsed
is inadequate to support a constitutional takings claim. The
manner in which a city spends impact fees does not affect the
constitutionality of the initial demand for fees. See
Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Mgmt Dist., 133 S.Ct.
2586 (2013). We hold that the developers have failed to state
a takings claim for which relief can be granted.
To the extent that the developers are seeking a remedy of a
refund of fees in equity for the asserted injury of illegally
misspent or unspent fees, they do not have standing. The city
was authorized by the Impact Fees Act to assess impact fees
to offset the expected costs of development in certain areas.
See Utah Code §§ 11-36a-101 to -705. There
is no injury to the developers by the authorized assessment
of impact fees that survive a takings challenge. We hold that
where the developers cannot establish an unconstitutional
demand for authorized impact fees at the time they were
exacted, they do not have standing to bring claims against
West Jordan. As a result, the courts do not have subject
matter jurisdiction to hear a claim in equity about whether
the fees were misspent or unspent in this case.
Because the developers have failed to state a takings claim
for which relief can be granted, and because they do not have
standing to bring a claim in equity, we reverse the district
court's denial of the motion to dismiss.
West Jordan, like many municipalities, requires developers to
pay impact fees before the city approves a development
project. These impact fees are designed to defray the
anticipated increase in city expenditures caused by the
proposed development. The impact fees collected by West
Jordan include fees associated with the increased need for
park services, roads, police protection, water services,
storm water infrastructure, and sewer services. The
legislature has enacted the Impact Fees Act, which regulates
the manner in which cities and other political subdivisions
may asses and spend impact fees. Utah Code §§
11-36a-101 to -705.
In 2012, thirteen developers that had paid impact fees to
West Jordan between 2003 and 2006 filed this action. The
operative complaint claimed that the developers were entitled
to a refund of all or some of these fees under two broad
theories. The developers claimed that West Jordan violated
the Impact Fees Act by failing to spend or encumber all of
the impact fees within six years, see id. §
11-36a-602(2)(a), and by spending portions of the impact fees
on impermissible uses, see id. §
11-36a-602(1). The developers
argued that these violations constituted "a taking of
private property for public use without just compensation in
violation of Article 1 Section 22 of the Utah Constitution
and the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S.
Constitution." The developers also asserted an
"equitable" right to reimbursement because West
Jordan had failed to comply with two provisions of the Impact
West Jordan filed a motion to dismiss these claims. It argued
that any failure to spend the impact fees in the manner
prescribed by the Act was not an unconstitutional taking of
the developer's private property. West Jordan also argued
that the Impact Fees Act did not give the developers a
private refund remedy for any failure to comply with
provisions regulating its use of the impact fees, and that
the developers had no equitable right to a refund.
The district court denied West Jordan's motion to dismiss
the developers' constitutional and equitable claims. This
court subsequently granted West Jordan's petition to file
an interlocutory appeal from the district court's order
denying dismissal of these claims. After hearing initial oral
arguments on this case in October 2015, we remanded to the
district court for the limited purpose of determining if any
of the developers owned any of the property at issue in this
action. The district court found that they had no remaining
ownership interest in the properties in question. We then
requested supplemental briefing on the question of the
developers' standing to bring this claim, and provided
each party the opportunity to present their cases at oral
arguments in November 2016.
Our standard of review for standing is "generally . . .
considered a 'mixed question' because it involves the
application of a legal standard to a particularized set of
facts." Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club v. Utah Air
Quality Bd., 2006 UT 74, ¶ 13, 148 P.3d 960. But
"the question of whether a given individual or
association has standing to request a particular relief is
primarily a question of law." Kearns-Tribune Corp.
v. Wilkinson, 946 P.2d 372, 373 (Utah 1997). We review
the "factual determinations made by a trial court with
deference." Id. at 373-74. However, we afford
"minimal discretion to the trial court" on a
"determination of whether a given set of facts fits
the legal requirements for standing." Id. at
We review the district court's decision to dismiss de
novo. See Turner v. Staker & Parson Cos., 2012
UT 30, ¶ 7, 284 P.3d 600 ("A ruling on a motion to
dismiss presents a legal question that we review for
correctness, affording no deference to the district
The standing of the developers to bring the claims raised in
this case is a threshold question. We address separately the
standing for the takings claims and the claims for equitable
relief. As to the takings claims, we conclude that the
developers do have constitutional and statutory standing to
bring claims for a taking, and therefore we assess this claim
on its merits. We ultimately conclude that the takings claims
were not filed timely and are ...