Washington Supreme Court affirms decision in dispute over county's allegedly excessive permit fees

By Gabriel Neves | Nov 2, 2018

OLYMPIA, Wash. (Legal Newsline) – The Washington Supreme Court has ruled that the Land Use Petition Act does apply when parties challenge allegedly excessive permit application fees.

Associate Chief Justice Charles Johnson, on the panel of the Washington Supreme Court, issued a 24-page ruling on Oct. 11, affirming the Court of Appeals' decision in the lawsuit filed by John Evans, Bonita Blaisdell, and Community Treasures, doing business as Consignment Treasures, against the San Juan County in Washington. The Court of Appeals had affirmed a judgment of the trial court.

Evans, Blaisdell and Consignment Treasures sued the county for an allegedly excessive fee charged when they applied for a permit to build on a plot of land and sought certification of the suit as a class action.

The county responded by filing a motion for judgment on the pleadings, citing the Land Use Petition Act (LUPA) as the exclusive means of judicial review.

The lower court agreed with the county and dismissed the suit, confirming that LUPA applied to the case and that the fact that the suit took more than 21 days to be filed barred the action.

In 2012 and 2013, the plaintiffs submitted permit applications to the San Juan County Department of Community Development in order to build a storage building on Orcas Island. They paid the applicable fees and the county issued the permit.

Almost three years later, on March 18, 2015, they filed the suit, seeking a partial refund of the fees, which they deemed "illegally excessive," the ruling states.

In his ruling, Johnson concluded that "petitioners failed to exhaust all available administrative remedies and file an appeal in superior court within 21 days of the final decision to grant their completed applications, including the requisite fees." 

Justice Barbara A. Madsen dissented in the ruling, stating she would reverse the Court of Appeals decision and remand it.

"I would hold that LUPA... does not apply to petitioners' suit seeking reimbursement for alleged overcharges concerning application fees charged by the county for processing petitioners' building and land use permit applications," Madsen wrote. "In my view, such administrative processing fees are not lad use decision subject to LUPA."

Washington Supreme Court case number 94463-6

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