TAYLOR — The Town of Taylor didn’t get everything it wanted in court last week when a Navajo County Superior Court judge did not throw out the case against the town. The court did remove all but one of the plaintiffs who sued the town, but the case will proceed.
Taylor found itself a defendant in a lawsuit over the so-called Taylor Business Park, conceived in 2003, but as yet, not even started. The park was to have developed about 150 acres around the Taylor Airport. Plaintiff property owners, tax payers and residents sued the town in May 2020, alleging improper shenanigans by the town council including open meeting law violations, conflicts of interest and sweetheart deals benefitting Hatch Development, LLC, the purported developer of the park and its principal, Jason Hatch. Neither Hatch Development nor Jason Hatch were sued. Taylor filed an answer with a blanket denial of the claims; the town has retained The Doyle Firm P.C. of Phoenix. Hatch has appeared as an intervenor on the town’s side, represented by Copper Canyon Law of Mesa.
Plaintiffs are Aaron and Gary Solomon, Marion Hatch and Richard and Alice Franco, represented by the Radix Law firm of Scottsdale.
In June, the town attempted to have the suit thrown out without having a trial, a device known under the rules of court as a judgment on the pleadings. To get a judgment on the pleadings, the court must find that even if everything that one side alleges is true, that the other side is still “clearly entitled to judgment,” according to the rule.
Among the grounds that the town and Hatch said favored their side was the issue of standing. It’s well-settled law that if a person seeks relief from a court, that person must have some kind of standing to bring it, meaning that the event complained about will have an effect on the claimant’s “rights, status or legal relations,” as the court put it.
The parties appeared for argument on July 20 in the courtroom of Judge Michaela Ruechel and the judge issued her ruling on August 31. The case was not thrown out, but the judge agreed with the Town of Taylor and Intervenor Jason Hatch that the Solomons, Marion Hatch and Alice Franco do not have standing to sue the town, but that Richard Franco does.
Citing statutes and case law, the judge ruled that just because a person pays taxes in a town, or is a resident thereof, does not give the resident automatic standing to sue the town. The idea goes back to the notion that political differences about decisions made by town leaders are best resolved at the ballot box. Judge Ruechel observed that in order to involve the court in such things, to have standing to sue, a person must show that tax revenue taken from residents was used by the town for the action complained about, in this case, the purchase of part of the land city leaders want for the business park. The judge said that the plaintiffs in their complaint didn’t even allege that happened, so they don’t have standing.
But Franco does have standing to sue said the judge because his rights were indeed affected when he was given only 30 seconds to address the town council on this matter during a meeting on January 3, 2019 — an abbreviated span of time that other presenters were not restricted to. That was a violation of his “right to be heard,” stated the judge.
Other grounds that the town and Hatch raised included the fact that plaintiffs waited too long to bring suit, that the statute of limitations on such actions are time-barred after one year, and the events the plaintiffs complain about happened over a year before they filed the suit. Plaintiffs responded that the Town of Taylor “induced Plaintiff (sic) to forbear filing suit.” The court could not find for either side on that issue, because there are still details to be determined at a trial about that.
It is noteworthy that a quick-kill device like a judgment on the pleadings or a motion for summary judgment is available if there aren’t any disputes about the facts of the case. On the time issue, the court found there are facts in dispute about that and that a judge or jury must have the chance to hear testimony, like a witness under pressure of contrary facts, (cross examination) to judge his or her credibility, mannerisms, body language, possible biases, etc. to determine the facts that are in dispute. Such a critical determination can’t be made by reading type on pages. Once the facts are determined, then the law can be applied to determines who wins.
Speaking of a motion for summary judgment, the plaintiffs are expected to file one claiming, like the town and Jason Hatch did with their motion, that remaining plaintiff Franco should win without a trial. That fight is next up but court records do not list a date for argument yet.