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ON REVIEW FROM COURT OF APPEALS. CASE NO. 2010-CA-000941-MR. MARION CIRCUIT COURT NO. 06-CI-00070.
FOR APPELLANT: David A. Pike, F. Keith Brown, Pike Legal Group, PLLC; Kandice D. Engle-Gray.
FOR APPELLEES: James L. Avritt, Sr., Avritt & Avritt; Theodore H. Lavit, Theodore H. Lavit & Associates, PSC.
FOR AMICUS CURIAE, KENTUCKY LEAGUE OF CITIES: James Donald Chaney, Laura Milam Ross, Kentucky League of Cities.
OPINION OF THE COURT BY CHIEF JUSTICE MINTON. All sitting. Abramson, Cunningham, Keller, Noble, and Venters, JJ., concur. Scott, J., dissents by separate opinion.
MINTON, CHIEF JUSTICE.
The City of Lebanon sought to annex over four hundred acres of nearby property. Property owners subject to the annexation, including the Goodin Trust, sued to invalidate the annexation ordinance on the grounds that (1) the City had intentionally excluded property owners who were likely to be opposed to the annexation, effectively guaranteeing its success; and (2) the City acted unconstitutionally by arbitrarily and unreasonably extending the City's boundaries and denying the property owners' statutory right of remonstrance.
The trial court agreed with Goodin and granted the motion for summary judgment. The City appealed the decision, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's ruling. We granted the City's motion for discretionary review to clarify generally the procedure for annexation under Kentucky law and examine particularly the holding of the Court of Appeals requiring that a municipality's annexation boundaries must conform to a " natural or regular" shape. Finding no support in Kentucky law for requiring " natural or regular" boundaries and finding the City did not act arbitrarily in performing this legislative function, we reverse the Court of Appeals and declare the annexation valid.
I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND.
The facts in this case are undisputed and relatively simple. Paul Hilpp, a property owner within the boundaries of the proposed annexation, approached the City's mayor and inquired about the possibility of being annexed. At that time, Mr. Hilpp was in preliminary discussions with Wal-Mart about the purchase of his property. The City later adopted Ordinance 05-13, proposing to annex territory, including Mr. Hilpp's property. The territory intended for annexation by the City consisted of approximately 415 acres with its northeastern boundary adjacent to the City's preexisting boundary for 4,780.5 feet, approximately nine-tenths of a mile. Roughly, the territory is bounded on the north by U.S. Highway 68 and the existing city limits, on the east by the existing city limits and Kentucky Highway 208, and on the south and west by farmland. The section along Kentucky Highway 208 consisted of fourteen property owners, nine of whom were excluded from annexation. As a result, the territory has a number of directional changes along that boundary. Additionally, four excluded property owners in the northeast corner of the territory are surrounded on three sides by city limits as a result of the annexation. The territorial boundary along U.S. Highway 68 contains one excluded property.
Opponents to the proposed annexation, including Goodin, were unable to garner the statutorily required number of signatures. So the City moved forward with the annexation. After much planning and deliberation, the City adopted an ordinance completing the annexation.
Goodin then filed a circuit court action challenging the constitutionality of the City's action and its compliance with KRS 81A.420, the statute allowing the City to perform a nonconsensual annexation. Goodin argued the City acted arbitrarily and unreasonably in violation of Section 2 of the Kentucky Constitution. Both parties filed motions for summary judgment. Initially, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the City. But, upon Goodin's motion to vacate the ruling, the trial court vacated the judgment in favor of the City and granted summary judgment in favor of Goodin. The trial court found that the City, by intentionally manipulating the annexation boundaries to guarantee a successful annexation, violated Goodin's constitutional rights.
The City appealed the trial court's ruling. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court and further held that the boundaries of the territory to be annexed must be " natural or regular." According to the Court of Appeals, the boundaries of the proposed annexation were deficient in this regard. In reaching this conclusion, the Court of Appeals relied heavily on prior case law dealing with " corridor" or " shoestring" annexations. Additionally, the Court of Appeals focused primarily on the " adjacent or contiguous" language in KRS 81A.410, describing the requirements of property suitable for annexation. The Court of Appeals did not reach the issue of whether Goodin's constitutional rights were violated by the City's actions.
The circumstances and issues presented in this case arise out of the interpretation of a statute and the constitutionality of a City's action through its properly enacted ordinances. The review of a trial court's grant of summary judgment involves only legal questions, which this Court may resolve free of any mandate to accord the trial court deference. Because these issues are matters of law, the proper standard of review for this Court is de novo.
Our review of whether the City acted arbitrarily, in violation of Section 2 of the Kentucky Constitution, is more restrained. We discuss the standard in more detail below; but because annexation is a legislative act, we accord a certain degree of deference. The legislative act must be rationally connected to the purpose of the power for which the legislative body's power exists.
A. The Annexed Territory was " Adjacent or Contiguous." The Court of Appeals Erred by Applying " Natural or Regular" Standard.
Generally speaking, the authority to annex territory lies with the General Assembly. And the General Assembly may delegate this authority to municipalities. ...