Wyoming Supreme Court overturns ruling using “guidance” to block mining
In a victory for property rights with nationwide implications, the Wyoming Supreme Court has ruled that county regulators cannot restrict people’s conduct based on nonbinding guidance documents. The court’s decision is a setback for public officials accustomed to using administrative regulations to impose their will.
The case, Asphalt Specialties Co., Inc. v. Laramie County Planning Commission, involves ASCI’s efforts to develop a gravel quarry on land it owns in southwestern Laramie County. In 2018, the Laramie County Planning Commission utilized its comprehensive land-use vision plan – a mere guidance document – and its site plan review process to block ASCI’s proposed mining operation on the company’s 550-acre property, commonly referred to as Lone Tree Creek.
Colorado-based ASCI appealed the decision, and the case wound up before the Wyoming Supreme Court. Representing the company was the New Civil Liberties Alliance (NCLA), a legal group dedicated to rolling back the abuses of the regulatory administrative state. The selection of NCLA turned out to be a smart move on the company’s part.
“Exceeded its Statutory Authority”
In its February 1 decision, authored by Judge Lynne J. Boomgaarden, the court agreed with NCLA that the planning commission had exceeded its authority. “Counties may only restrict a land use pursuant to zoning,” the court declared. “ASCI’s Lone Tree Creek property is not zoned. The Commission therefore exceeded its statutory authority when it utilized its comprehensive land use plan and the site plan review process to outright deny ASCI use of its land for a limited gravel mining operation.” The court also ruled that the commission’s decision to use a vision planning guidance document to stop ASCI’s gravel quarry development was “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion or otherwise not in accordance with the law.”
The court’s reversal of the commission’s decision sends a warning message to other government agencies – and not just in Wyoming – that openly or tacitly demand compliance with their “vision” or other guidance documents in the future. “NCLA firmly holds that the only mechanism available to constrain the use of private property in such cases is through lawful zoning ordinances – properly and legally enacted by the appropriate elected officials,” NCLA said in a statement.
“There Really is a Constitution”
Harriet Hageman, senior litigator for NCLA, added:
“NCLA applauds the Court’s decision, which corrects the injustice of using legally unenforceable guidance documents to deprive citizens of their civil liberties. The Wyoming Supreme Court easily recognized that the Planning Commission’s decision to prevent ASCI from developing its private property violated the Constitution and Wyoming statutory law. So, yes, there really is a Constitution, and when the rights it guarantees are protected and allowed to flourish, we are all better off.”
Dan Hunt, president of ASCI, said it was important “to stand up for individual rights – property rights foremost among them – against the ever-increasing usurpation of these rights by government and regulatory agencies.” Indeed, officials at all levels of government have been playing it fast and loose with guidance documents, site plans, and the like for decades. It’s a way to circumvent the law and the Constitution in throwing their weight around.
The Wyoming Supreme Court ruling provides a template for people around the country when arrogant officials, often in league with special interests, use sleight of hand to deny them their rights.
Bonner Cohen, Ph. D., is a senior policy analyst with CFACT, where he focuses on natural resources, energy, property rights, and geopolitical developments. Articles by Dr. Cohen have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Investor’s Business Daily, The New York Post, The Washington Examiner, The Washington Times, The Hill, The Epoch Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Miami Herald, and dozens of other newspapers around the country. He has been interviewed on Fox News, Fox Business Network, CNN, NBC News, NPR, BBC, BBC Worldwide Television, N24 (German-language news network), and scores of radio stations in the U.S. and Canada. He has testified before the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, and the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee. Dr. Cohen has addressed conferences in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, and Bangladesh. He has a B.A. from the University of Georgia and a Ph. D. – summa cum laude – from the University of Munich.