St. George Was Denied Again, This Time At The First Circuit
Ultimately it’s not that big a deal, because the case was always going to be appealed up to the state Supreme Court regardless of who won which round at the circuit level, but the First Circuit Court of Appeals told the St. George organizers that their proposed-and-voted-on civic incorporation in East Baton Rouge Parish is a no-go.
You might not be very impressed with the justification for the decision.
A state appeals court has affirmed the trial court’s decision that the St. George incorporation effort did not fully comply with state law.
The ruling deals another blow to incorporation backers, who will ask the state Supreme Court to review the decision.
The Louisiana Court of Appeals for the First Circuit found that the incorporation petition did not contain enough information to satisfy state law. While the petition listed the services that the new city would provide, it didn’t explain how those services would be provided, the ruling states.
“Further, a statement in the petition providing that ‘services will be provided subject to the availability of funds derived from taxes, license fees, permits, and other revenue which becomes available to the municipality and are authorized by state law’ does not constitute a plan for the provision of those services as required by [state law],” the ruling continues.
What’s especially unimpressive about this is that the St. George people actually had the plan the court is talking about, and they also published that plan – on their web site – and throughout the petition effort the organizers were quite active in telling folks where they could go to see the plan.
They just didn’t put the plan on the incorporation petition, which would have made it a lot bigger document than the one-page thing they were circulating.
We talked to a couple of attorneys this morning while reading through this, and what we got in reaction was something less than admiration for the legal reasoning here. Both took the position that this was a gaggle of Baton Rouge judges who were afraid to rock the boat against the Powers That Be in the city’s legal community, so they found this little overhang to hide under.
Apparently, the First Circuit waited for four months to issue this ruling because they had to get the state librarian to send over transcripts of the legislative debate about the statute in question when it was passed in 1984.
There was no internet in 1984. Had there been, it’s hard to imagine that the statute would be written to require that every last element of a civic incorporation petition be printed on the same paper the organizers were trying to get residents to sign. That seemed absurd to us, and it seemed absurd to the attorneys we talked to as well. There’s the letter of the law, and then there’s the letter set completely opposite to the spirit of the law.
But as said above, it really doesn’t matter a whole lot, because this will go before the Supreme Court. What we’re not sure about is whether the Supremes will, if they rule differently from the First Circuit on this supposed infirmity about the plan of government, throw out the lawsuit altogether and pave the way for the St. George incorporation to move forward.
Because if you’ll remember, at the trial court level St. George was thwarted on the basis, most notably, that it would unduly burden the city-parish government if St. George’s tax revenues were to be spent by the city of St. George and not by the city-parish, which routinely takes that money and proceeds to spend it inside the city of Baton Rouge. That was an utterly ridiculous ruling, but as it spoke to a statutory requirement that an incorporation be “reasonable,” and thus not harmful to the interests of neighboring municipalities, it was substantive.
This ruling by the First Circuit never even gets to the substance of the case. They just reversed the trial judge’s ruling that the petition had met the statutory requirement for publishing a plan of government and threw St. George out that way. If the Supreme Court reverses the First Circuit, what then? Does the Supreme Court then take up the question of whether the St. George incorporation unduly damages Baton Rouge? Does it send that question back down to a lower court?
Our impression is that this is going to ultimately lead to a de novo review of the entire thing by the state Supreme Court. And that expectation would perhaps explain why this First Circuit ruling, despite taking up 27 pages, seems to have dodged the substantial question of “reasonability” altogether.
No wonder the attorneys we talked to weren’t impressed with this cop-out.