TAYLOR — The Town of Taylor has 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, (“Hatch”) the purported developer of the park and its principal, Jason Hatch. The plaintiffs say that these allegedly nefarious actions make null and void any of the recent actions the town has taken with regard to the park. Plaintiffs are Aaron and Gary Solomon, Marion Hatch and Richard and Alice Franco, represented by the Radix Law firm of Scottsdale.
The Town of Taylor has responded. It filed an answer with a blanket denial of the claims; the town has retained The Doyle Firm P.C. of Phoenix and Hatch has appeared as an intervenor on the town’s side, represented by Copper Canyon Law of Mesa. When the case started in May, the plaintiffs asked for and received a temporary injunction — contingent upon the plaintiffs posting a $12,000 bond — which would enjoin the town from taking an upcoming vote to finalize the remaining land purchase for the park. The purchase is in two parts; the town bought Parcel A from Hatch in November, 2018; Parcel B is next. The parties agreed that the council would not take the vote on Parcel B until the court had a chance to rule on the various disputes about it. The trial is set to start July 20.
On June 17, defendant town and “Intervenor Hatch” penned a motion seeking to have the whole thing thrown out without a trial, arguing that there are no facts in dispute to be sorted out at trial, that Taylor and Hatch should win outright, as a matter of law, they write. Under the rules of court, the time it will take for the motion to be briefed and argued will probably push the trial date further out, if indeed a trial is still needed after the dust settles from this latest motion.
In that motion, Taylor and Hatch urge a number of points; namely that plaintiffs themselves don’t have standing to bring the suit and waited too long to do it, that their claims in the May, 2020, suit are barred by the one-year written statute of limitations and also by an unwritten common law doctrine called “laches.” Defendant’s motion is peppered with snarky language such as plaintiffs’ “glaringly deficient” complaint being “a mockery of (court rules)...rife with opinion, innuendo...factual error and pure chaff.”
It is apparent by the tone that the some of the parties involved in this case have tangled before and have a rancorous history. In fact, the town claims in its motion that “Plaintiff Gary Solomon lost two cases against Intervenor Jason Hatch and now owes Hatch or his entities over $500,000 for two judgments,” Solomon’s appeals of which were not successful, they say.
The standing issue
Regarding standing to sue, defendant says that just because persons reside in a town, or own property there, and pay taxes there, does not mean that they have “automatic standing” to sue the town.
That notion goes back to the idea that political differences are better resolved at the ballot box than in the halls of courts. In order to sue, defendant says, plaintiffs must have an interest under the contract complained about or can show an “effect on his rights, status or legal relations,” citing a 1980 case against the City of Phoenix over a water contract with a developer.
Plaintiffs have no such interest here, the town says. It is unknown how plaintiffs intend to respond, but Plaintiff Richard Franco in an e-mail to The Independent disclosed that seven other persons want to join the suit as plaintiffs.
The one-year statute
The statute of limitation issue affects nearly all of plaintiffs’ claims. They sued because, among other things, plaintiffs say the defendant town didn’t wait the required 30 days from its approval on Nov. 20, 2018 of the purchase of Parcel A to close on it. In fact, plaintiffs say the town forked over $292,000 to Hatch the very next day. Any deal executed in violation of state law is null and void, say plaintiffs.
In response, the town argues that the statute of limitations to bring such a claim is one year from when the deed was done, in November, 2018, and plaintiffs missed that one-year deadline. Likewise, with regard to alleged open meeting law violations in October and November, 2018 and January 2019, defendant also points out that those meetings happened over a year before plaintiffs sued and are therefore barred.
That leaves the April 2, 2020 meeting which did happened within one year of the May 2020 suit. In that meeting the purchase of the second parcel of land from Hatch, Parcel B, was to be decided — during the pandemic. Plaintiffs say that the town didn’t tell the public about the meeting within 24 hours as the law requires, and any action taken in violation of the open meeting law is null and void. The town denies that and submitted to the court a record of the town posting a notice of the meeting on March 31.
But plaintiffs have another beef about the April 2, meeting. They claim that the town allowed attendance by Facebook, but not everyone has Facebook. They also say, the town did invite the public to appear by phone, but waited until only 17 minutes before the meeting started before telling some of the plaintiffs that they had to do so by calling a special number, not published beforehand.
Conflict of interest
Regarding sweetheart deals, technically characterized as transactions in violation of the Arizona constitution’s anti-gift clause, and conflict of interest statutes, plaintiffs say that Hatch gave a one-third acre portion of Parcel A to Mayor David Smith’s daughter and son in law. Defendant Taylor and Hatch deny that, and claim that the one-third acre in question that was given to the couple came from the mayor’s mother-in-law who bought it from Hatch for $2,500 in 2018; that the one-third acre was never actually a part of Parcel A to begin with, and any confusion about that was due to a mix-up in its legal description. In any event, it’s simply too late now for plaintiffs to sue on that, they say.
Noticeably absent in defendant’s motion is any argument about a one-acre plus portion of Parcel A which the plaintiffs claim was supposed to go to the town, but which Hatch sold to Kay Supply for $18,000, thus allegedly providing a windfall to Hatch at the town’s expense. Defendant town denied wrongdoing in that regard in its answer, but neither the town nor intervenor Hatch argued it in this most recent motion.
Whether the court will rule that the statute of limitations sink plaintiffs’ case is yet to be seen. However, the law favors resolution of disputes on the merits of the dispute, not on technicalities. Plaintiff Richard Franco in an email to The Independent also says that the plaintiffs haven’t missed the deadline to file their claims, because the wrongdoing by the town hasn’t even ended yet; that the November 20, 2018 purchase of Parcel A from Hatch was only one part of the larger deal, a “down payment” he says, and the whole transaction has to be seen as one wrongful act that is still happening.
Meantime, plaintiffs have filed their own motion for summary judgment, to win the case without a trail. Once each side responds to each other’s filings, the Navajo County Superior Court will set a time to hear arguments.
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