Division III - Creation of Generalized Standing?
So the County accepted some land to be used as a park (meaning the City agreed to abide by using it as a park as a condition of being given the land). A development came in on the condition the County used part of the park for a road to get in and out of the new development. Seeing as using something as a road is not the same as using it for a park, some people had a problem with this.
Now, the trial court dismissed this for standing. What the doctrine of standing requires is a concrete harm to people (people being used loosely) connected to the harm, that is capable of remedy. The courts deem these as the injury-in-fact; causation; and redressability requirements. This is the real base primer, and, for the attorneys that are reading this, doesn’t really require delving into mootness or zone of interest.
Its one that is not often allowed in federal courts, but state courts can be a varied creature. Here, the Plaintiff’s claimed standing based on "the fact that it and its members were Spokane County taxpayers; that its members lived near, and were interested in protecting and preserving the park; and that its request that the state's attorney general take action to prevent the construction had been declined.” The type of standing asserted here by the group was that of Taxpayer Standing. The Court read that as being about taxpayer standing. But what about zone of interest? The trial court dismissed the constitutional claim on the basis there was no transfer. So essentially it was saying there was no injury in fact generally? So let’s see what the Court said.
Lets start with what Washington law requires as to Taxpayer Standing? Well, the trial court tried to claim that the taxpayers actually had to be a party to the contract, which is too narrow. Generally, Taxpayer Standing, as in federal courts, does not allow you to sue for generalized grievances. But there’s an exception in Washington as to the disposition of property:
Washington courts have held that municipal taxpayers have standing to challenge not only the disposition of municipal funds, but also municipal property. In Miller v. City of Pasco, 50 Wn.2d 229,310 P.2d 863 (1957), for example, the court held that a taxpayer could sue, seeking a declaratory judgment as to the constitutionality of a statute authorizing the city to lease its property for parking lot purposes and to enjoin the city from leasing or disposing ofthe property. In Donald v. City of Vancouver, 43 Wn. App. 880, 719 P .2d 966 (1986), the court held that the plaintiff lacked standing to challenge the city's failure to comply with a deed condition requiring use of donated property as a park, but only because the grantor imposed conditions subsequent that only the grantor, not the I public, could enforce: the grantor did not dedicate the property to public use. The court recognized that had the grantor's conveyance been a dedication, then the plaintiff, as a resident "and, presumably, a taxpayer, could dispute the City's action, because taxpayers of a local government can hold the governmental entity to dedicated uses." Id. at 886.
The County relied on Dick Enterprises, Inc. v. King County, 83 Wn. App. 566, 572-73, 922 P .2d 184 (1996), which said the taxpayers had to have a tax stake in the road. However, the court rejected this nexus argument argument, and the doctrine laid down in Dick as being outdated, instead requiring an unsuccessful attempt at seeking a remedy:
The rationale for requiring only taxpayer status and an unsuccessful demand that the attorney general commence action, gleaned from almost a century's worth of Washington case law, is that all taxpayers are presumed harmed where a government entity acts unlawfully.
Now, doesn’t that sound like its allowing a generalized grievance? While I don’t like the nexus test necessarily, I think the Court got it wrong by not explicitly drawing the nexus between taxpayers and the grant of land. By depriving the city of parks by turning the park into a road, the city is increasing the burden on other parks. Further, even if Fred Meyer was allowed to build the road (and not require taxpayer funds), the maintenance of the road on an ongoing basis would be the burden of the taxpayers. While this would fly in the face of the reasoning in Dick, which also involved a road initially built by someone else, it could have used that as a basis to disagree. Instead, the Court has essentially created a generalized grievance theory for taxpayer standing (or at least a very weak test which is only just shy of generalized grievances).
Regarding the transfer, the Plaintiffs were attempting to say that the use of land for a road was really a gift to Fred Meyer. The Court disagreed and said that the roads had other purposes, such as relieving traffic congestion caused by the new development, and this was not simply a gift to Fred Meyer. Its a low standard.
For those taking the bar soon, there is a great discussion on the RPCs and concurrent representation in the face of potential conflicts.