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Court of Appeals Holds Right to Farm Act Did Not Apply to the Denial of a Permit for a Field Driveway




by:
Liza C. Moore
Foster, Swift, Collins & Smith, P.C. - Lansing Office

 
December 20, 2013

Previously published on December 17, 2013

The Michigan Court of Appeals recently held that a road commission’s denial of a farm’s permit application for a field driveway did not implicate the Right to Farm Act (RTFA), MCL 286.471 et seq.

On Oct. 24, 2013, the Court of Appeals issued a for-publication decision (meaning that the decision will be binding precedent for other courts) in Sena Scholma Trust v. Ottawa County Rd Comm’n. In this case, the Sena Scholma Trust owned farmland. During wet weather, the farmer was unable to access the field from the existing driveway on 56th Avenue. At the farmer’s request, the land owner submitted a permit application to the county road commission for a new field driveway that would grant access to the field from Horizon Lane. The road commission denied the permit, and the land owner and farmer sued under the Driveway Act, MCL 247.321 et seq. and the RTFA. After a bench trial, the trial court held that the road commission was required to grant access to the property from Horizon Lane, relying on both the Driveway Act and the RTFA. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals analyzed both the Driveway Act and RTFA. The Court determined that the road commission had a sufficient basis for the denial of the permit application and that the land owner and farmer were not entitled to any relief under the Driveway Act. In its analysis, the Court described the differences in the traffic, road width and population along 56th Avenue, where the existing driveway was located, and Horizon Lane, where the new driveway was desired. The Court determined that the permit denial was within the road commission’s discretion.

The Court of Appeals then determined that the RTFA was not implicated by the road commission’s actions, and did not apply. The Court analyzed the part of the RTFA that preempts farms and farm operations for certain local laws, MCL 286.474(6). The Court explained that an action by a local unit of government that impairs a farm or farm operation is not preempted by the RTFA if it is not an ordinance, regulation or resolution that purports to extend or revise or that conflict with the RTFA or the GAAMPs. The Court determined that the denial of the permit was not an ordinance, regulation, or resolution that conflicted with or extended or revised the GAAMPs. The Court also wrote that the RTFA was intended to be used as a shield by farmers, rather than a sword. The Court wrote that no provision of the RTFA required local governments to take an affirmative action to allow a farmer to more effectively comply with the GAAMPs.

On Dec. 5, 2013, the landowner filed an application for leave to appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court, seeking review of this Court of Appeals decision. It will likely be some time before the Supreme Court decides whether to review the case.

To read the full opinion in Sena Scholma Trust v. Ottawa County Rd Comm’n, please visit: http://1.usa.gov/18iKV3G



 

The views expressed in this document are solely the views of the author and not Martindale-Hubbell. This document is intended for informational purposes only and is not legal advice or a substitute for consultation with a licensed legal professional in a particular case or circumstance.
 

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