MISSISSIPPI SUPREME COURT TO REVIEW IMPORTANT PRIVATE PROPERTY RIGHTS DECISION

Our firm has had the privilege of representing the owners of the Cleveland Mobile Home Community (“Cleveland MHC”) against the City of Richland’s attempt to amortize the mobile home park out of existence. Cleveland MHC is a mobile home community consisting of 138 concrete pads which are rented to mobile home owners. Cleveland MHC also has spaces for seventeen campers or recreational vehicles (RVs).

Cleveland MHC

The Cleveland Mobile Home Community

Because the Cleveland MHC property is located in an industrial zone, the use of the property as a residential community is a legal nonconforming use. Cleveland MHC had operated as a legal nonconforming use for more than 50 years until the City of Richland decided to prohibit Cleveland MHC from continuing to use any concrete mobile home pad once it became vacant. The purpose of the City of Richland’s action was to eliminate the residential use of the property without paying any compensation to the private property owner.

On behalf of the owners of Cleveland MHC, our firm appealed the action taken by the City of Richland to the Circuit Court of Rankin County. The Circuit Court ruled in favor of the City of Richland. Thereafter, Cleveland MHC appealed that ruling to the Mississippi Court of Appeals.

In the subsequent briefs filed for Cleveland MHC, we argued that: (1) Cleveland MHC had a vested right to continue its nonconforming use of the property; (2) Cleveland MHC’s continued placement of mobile homes on the property is a permissible continuation of the nonconforming use of the property; (3) the City of Richland’s interpretation of its zoning ordinance was arbitrary, capricious, and illegal; (4) the City was barred from enforcing the resolution by the equitable doctrines of estoppel, laches, and waiver; (5) the City’s action constituted an unconstitutional “taking” entitling Cleveland to damages; and (6) Cleveland’s due-process rights were violated.

In a 9-1 decision that was handed down on August 19, 2014, the Court of Appeals reversed and rendered the decision by the Circuit Court while finding that the City of Richland had acted arbitrarily and capriciously in prohibiting the replacement of mobile homes on vacated pads. In doing so the Court of appeals recognized several important property rights. The Court of Appeals specifically stated that a citizen’s right to be protected in the lawful use of his property is one of the most sacred rights reserved to him under our Constitution. The Court of Appeals also noted that even though municipalities have a right to enact zoning ordinances to separate residential areas of the city from commercial or industrial areas, the right of a private property owner to continue a nonconforming use is a right that runs with the land and is not to be lightly divested.

The Court of Appeals also recognized that the action by the City of Richland was an attempt to transform the nonconforming use to a pad-by-pad use and to destroy it by attrition. It was this overreaching action that the Court of Appeals found to be an arbitrary, capricious and illegal attempt to deprive the property owner of the constitutional right to enjoy and use the property. Because of this conclusion, the Court of Appeals did not address the other legal arguments raised in the briefs.

The City of Richland ultimately filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari asking the Mississippi Supreme Court to review the decision by the Court of Appeals. On February 5, 2015, the Mississippi Supreme Court granted the City of Richland’s request.

The outcome of the Cleveland MHC case has obvious ramifications for private property across Mississippi. Because of this, three separate amicus curiae briefs have been filed in support of the arguments made on behalf of Cleveland MHC. While the matter was pending before the Mississippi Court of Appeals, Homewood Company LLC, Stoney Creek Company LLC, J. Kane Ditto, and Joe T. Scott filed an amici curiae brief as interested parties. These parties own similar properties to the Community in Pearl, Mississippi. While the case has been pending before the Mississippi Supreme Court, both the Mississippi Manufactured Housing Association and the Home Builders Association of Mississippi.

A decision from the Mississippi Supreme Court is expected in the next couple of months. For more information on our firm’s zoning and land use practice, click here.

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