Judge: No more time for remonstrators to collect signatures against Bloomington annexation

Screen shot of text from ruling. The text reads: 94. As to Count II only of Remonstrators’ Petition for Appeal of Annexation, for Declaratory Judgment, and for Damages filed on March 16, 2022, the Court GRANTS Bloomington’s Rule 12(C) motion that was treated as a motion for summary judgment and disposed of under rule 56 of the Indiana Rules of Trial Procedure; and DENIES Remonstrators’ Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. 95. The Court sets an attorney-only telephonic scheduling conference for March 3, 2023, at 9:00 a.m. for purposes of setting the date(s) for a remonstrance hearing and deadlines. Counsel for Remonstrators to initiate the call with the Court.

Remonstrators against Bloomington’s annexation efforts will not be given any extra time to collect signatures.

The 90-day period for collecting remonstration signatures against Bloomington’s annexation efforts ended over a year ago, on Jan. 6, 2022.

A court ruling against any additional time for signature collection came Thursday from the special judge in the case, Nathan Nikirk out of Lawrence County.

They had asked the judge to grant them additional time for signature collection, under a state statute that provides certain emergency powers [IC 34-7-6-1].  The emergency in question is the COVID-19 pandemic.

A status conference with the judge and the parties to the lawsuit is set for March 3.

Reached on Friday by The B Square, Margaret Clements, with County Residents Against Annexation, which is a plaintiff in the case, said that all legal options will be considered in response to Nikirk’s ruling, including an interlocutory appeal of Thursday’s decision.

An interlocutory appeal is one that is filed about an intermediate ruling, in the course of litigation that involves more than just that one issue, especially when that one issue is pivotal to the outcome of the overall case.

The case is one that involves just two of the seven areas that Bloomington’s city council voted in September of 2021 to annex into the city—Area 1A and Area 1B.

Area 1A is just west of Bloomington. Area 1B lies to the southwest.

In those areas, remonstrators collected signatures from more than 50 percent of property owners, which qualified them to bring Bloomington’s annexation in front of a court for review. But in both areas they fell short of the 65-percent threshold to stop Bloomington’s annexation outright.

Assuming that Nikirk’s ruling on extra signature collection time remains intact, the next phase would be the usual judicial review of Bloomington’s annexation of the two areas.

In the other five annexation areas, the 65-percent threshold was reached, stopping annexation. But the city of Bloomington has filed a lawsuit against the county auditor for each area, alleging that signatures were counted unlawfully— because there were waivers attached to properties that should have disqualified those signatures. There’s been little recent substantive activity in those cases.

The city’s lawsuits have been consolidated into a single case, because the legal status of remonstrance waivers plays the same role in every lawsuit.

Such waivers are legal documents signed by a property owner giving up the right to remonstrate against annexation, in consideration of the ability to purchase sewer service from the city.

The city of Bloomington’s legal position is that any such waivers are valid, despite a 2019 law that invalidated all such waivers signed before July 1, 2003.

In Nikirk’s Thursday ruling, a key question was whether there was a pending proceeding to which the emergency powers act could be applied. Nikirk cited the three separate processes that make up annexation: (1) legislative adoption of an ordinance annexing of certain territory and pledging to deliver certain services within a fixed period, (2) an opportunity for remonstrance by affected landowners, and (3) judicial review.

Nikirk is presiding over the third proceeding. He concluded that the emergency powers act, which applies only to a pending proceeding, would have had to be invoked by the county auditor during the remonstrance period.

One thought on “Judge: No more time for remonstrators to collect signatures against Bloomington annexation

  1. Didn’t this seem sensible? If all of the other areas had enough time to collect signatures, wouldn’t that had been enough time for the other 2 areas?

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