We have been reviewing the Cunningham v Bedford County case (copy found here) over the last several installments of this little zoning blog. We will continue today with a look at procedural due process.
The plaintiff also alleged a violation of procedural due process under both the US and Tennessee constitutions. The difficulty with this type of a claim is that there must be some constitutionally protected property interest that requires some degree of notice and opportunity to be heard. That property interest must be more than a unilateral expectation or an abstract need or desire, it must be a legitimate claim of entitlement created and defined by existing rules or understandings that come from some independent source such as Tennessee state law. The Court of Appeals concluded that here the plaintiff simply failed to demonstrate that he was entitled to have a zoning change and it was not therefore deprived of any procedural due process. He had no legitimate claim of entitlement to what is a discretionary decision by the local legislative body.
Once again, to a perhaps lesser extent in this instance, the decision turns on whether or not there was a rational basis for the failure to rezone the property. Having concluded that there was a rational basis for declining to change the zoning, there could not possibly be any claim of entitlement and as a result the procedural due process argument was doomed to failure.
I would go further and say that the procedural due process argument is somewhat difficult in the context of a zoning change. Perhaps if the zoning had been commercial and the County changed it to residential to the detriment of the owner, a procedural to process argument might have been more tenable. Under these circumstances though, it may be just too far a stretch. However, adding procedural and substantive due process claims to any case such as this is always worth considering and usually worth trying. Remember, that the local legislative body had cut off the plaintiff’s presentation of one of the hearings, and there were some allegations that at least the trial court found persuasive because of conflicts of interest by some members of the County commission.
Our next installment of this review of the Cunningham case will take a quick look at the alleged violations of substantive due process.