Ex parte Richard and Betty Chesnut.Annotate this Case
Richard and Betty B. Chesnut petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari seeking review of the Court of Civil Appeals' opinion affirming the Madison Circuit Court's summary judgments in favor of the City of Huntsville, the Board of Zoning Adjustment of the City of Huntsville, Denton-Niemitz Realty, LLC, and Guild Building and Remodeling, LLC. In 1983, the Chesnuts purchased a house and the adjacent lot to the east of their house, which was in a Huntsville neighborhood that had been established in 1908. The neighborhood was zoned as a 'Resident 1-B' district. In October 2012, Denton-Niemitz purchased the house on the west side of the Chesnuts' house. Subsequently, Denton-Niemitz obtained a permit to raze the house it purchased. Denton-Niemitz hired Guild Building & Remodeling, LLC to demolish the Denton-Niemitz house. The city issued the permits and construction began on the new house. Richard Chesnut was concerned the new house did not comply with the applicable set-back line requirement, and requested the zoning code be enforced. When no action was taken, the Chesnuts filed suit. The Chesnuts argued that the Circuit Court erred in entering a summary judgment in the civil action because, they said, Jim McGuffey (the zoning-enforcement coordinator for the City) incorrectly interpreted Articles 12.2.4 and 73.7.4 of the City's zoning code; that, when McGuffey issued the permits, he used an "extralegal dictionary definition" of "developed" and "undeveloped"; that McGuffey ignored a mandate of the Huntsville City Council that he did not have the power to permit construction that did not conform with the zoning code; and that McGuffey and the City ignored well established rules of statutory construction and ignored their statutory mandate to administer ordinances according to their literal terms. After review, the Supreme Court reversed in part the judgment of the Court of Civil Appeals because the zoning enforcement coordinator's interpretation of the zoning ordinance was unreasonable. The Supreme Court affirmed in part the appellate court's judgment because the summary judgment and the Court of Civil Appeals' affirmance of that judgment was appropriate, not because the Chesnuts' appeal was untimely but because the Chesnuts' administrative appeal was barred by the doctrine of res judicata. The case was remanded for further proceedings.