X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:Super Wash Inc., a car-wash business, is seeking to estop the city of White Settlement from enforcing an ordinance that requires Super Wash to maintain a continuous fence along one side of its property. On competing motions, the trial court granted summary judgment for the city. The court of appeals reversed and remanded, holding that issues of material fact precluded summary judgment. HOLDING:Reversed and rendered. Generally, a city cannot be estopped from exercising its governmental functions. Super Wash is seeking to estop the city from enforcing the fence requirement so that Super Wash can build a second entrance/exit to assist with traffic flow. The business has been operating for years without this second entrance/exit, and there is nothing in the record to indicate that it is necessary for its continued operation. There are other remedies available to Super Wash � such as seeking a variance or a repeal of the ordinance � that it has yet to pursue. Justice may require estoppel if that is the only available remedy; conversely, the existence of alternative remedies weighs strongly against the doctrine. While it is true the city issued the building permit in error, the ordinance was a matter of public record and discoverable by Super Wash before it purchased the lot. The evidence also demonstrates that the city acted quickly to notify Super Wash of the ordinance. Finally, while Super Wash argues that the city should be estopped because it benefitted from adding a commercial business to its tax base due to the erroneously issued building permit, this benefit is simply too attenuated to establish grounds for equitable relief. There is no evidence that the city received any direct benefit from Super Wash in exchange for the erroneously issued permit. Super Wash does not present an exceptional case in which justice requires estoppel. Estopping the city from enforcing the ordinance will prevent it from freely performing at least one of its governmental functions. In determining whether a case presents an appropriate instance in which to apply the exception, the relevant inquiry is whether estopping the city in a single instance will bar the future performance of that governmental function or impede the city’s ability to perform its other governmental functions. In conducting this inquiry, the court should first determine what municipal governmental functions, if any, would be affected by estopping the city. The court defines governmental functions generally as those that are public in nature and performed by the municipality as the agent of the state in furtherance of general law for the interest of the public at large. Generally, a court may estop a city only if it would not interfere with the city’s ability to perform any act that the Legislature has deemed, or that the court determines to be, a municipal governmental function. In the context of estopping a city’s enforcement of a duly enacted ordinance, the court should consider whether estoppel will affect public safety, bar future enforcement of the ordinance, or otherwise impede the city’s ability to serve the general public. A city should not be estopped if doing so would hinder its ability to ensure public safety. The city may be estopped, however, if doing so will not frustrate the purpose for which the ordinance was enacted nor bar the city from enforcing the ordinance in the future. In this case, the court of appeals held that fact issues exist concerning whether the city’s ability to perform its governmental functions would be impaired if it was estopped from barring the Longfield Drive exit. The evidence demonstrates, however, that estopping the city would impede the city’s attempt to answer the concerns of residents in the neighborhood abutting the commercially zoned property on which Super Wash now stands. The residents sought to have a fence erected along Longfield Drive in order to prevent commercial traffic from directly accessing the residential street. Assuming without deciding that estopping the city from enforcing the ordinance would leave the city free to enforce other zoning laws, it would nevertheless preclude the city from employing its chosen method of regulating traffic along Longfield Drive and, thereby, remove some of its discretion in determining how to best protect the public’s safety, both of which are classic governmental functions. Because estopping the city would interfere with its performance of its governmental functions, the exception stated in City of Hutchins v. Prasifka, 450 S.W.2d 829 (Tex. 1970), does not apply. OPINION:Jefferson, CJ, delivered the court’s opinion.

Want to continue reading?
Become a Free ALM Digital Reader.

Benefits of a Digital Membership:

  • Free access to 1 article* every 30 days
  • Access to the entire ALM network of websites
  • Unlimited access to the ALM suite of newsletters
  • Build custom alerts on any search topic of your choosing
  • Search by a wide range of topics

*May exclude premium content
Already have an account?

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.