In a 3–2 decision on the five-member panel, Indiana’s Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the city of Bloomington in a case that was prompted by the state legislature’s passage of a law in 2017 that stopped the annexation process Bloomington was pursuing.
The highest court in the state upheld the lower court’s ruling that the law enacted in 2017 by the General Assembly was unconstitutional, because it was impermissible special legislation, applying uniquely to Bloomington, when general legislation could have been enacted.
Tuesday’s opinion does not appear to take up the other constitutional argument made by Bloomington. That argument was that the 2017 annexation law violated the single-subject rule of the state’s constitution, because it was included as part of the biennial budget bill.
The decision comes almost a year after oral arguments were heard, in early January. City attorney Mike Rouker appeared before the court on behalf of the city.
Bloomington mayor John Hamilton told The Square Beacon, “I am frustrated, of course, that we had to wait three and a half years to have the conclusion that the state legislature overreached, and violated the state constitution, but it is good to have that affirmed.”
As far as restarting an annexation process, Hamilton said, “Nothing is imminent.” He added, “We have to figure out, with advice of counsel and our county counterparts, how to proceed.”
On Thursday morning, oral arguments will be heard by Indiana’s Supreme Court in the case involving Bloomington’s constitutional challenge to a 2017 law that suspended its in-progress annexation process.
Bloomington won a favorable ruling on both of its constitutional arguments in the lower court. Briefly put, the court agreed with Bloomington that the law was impermissible special legislation and that it violated the single-subject rule.
It’s Gov. Eric Holcomb, the defendant in the case, who has appealed to the state’s highest court.
People who want to watch the city argue the case in front of the state’s highest court can watch the online video stream on Thursday, Jan. 9, starting at 8:58 a.m. That’s two minutes before the five justices are scheduled to hear arguments.
Oral arguments have now been scheduled by Indiana’s Supreme Court in the lawsuit that Bloomington filed against Gov. Eric Holcomb in May 2017.
Th case stems from a law enacted by the state legislature that year, which effectively ended Bloomington’s annexation process that was underway.
Each side will have a chance to argue in front of the state’s highest court on Jan. 9 next year.
The state legislature incorporated a law on annexation into its biennial budget bill for 2017, which effectively ended the process Bloomington was working through at the time to add geographic area to the city.
In May 2017, Bloomington filed suit challenging the law on two separate constitutional grounds—that it violated the state constitution’s single-subject rule, and that it violated the constitutional provision against impermissible specific legislation.
The total time allotted for arguments in front of the five-member Supreme Court is 40 minutes, to be divided equally at 20 minutes a side. The location of the arguments will be in the Supreme Court’s chambers at the Statehouse in Indianapolis. The appointed hour is 9 a.m.
On Wednesday, Bloomington filed with the Indiana Supreme Court its response to the State of Indiana’s appeal of a lower court ruling made in April, which found that a 2017 law blocking Bloomington’s annexation process was unconstitutional on two separate grounds.
Bloomington’s brief uses words like “nonsense,” “preposterous,” and “outlandish” in its response to some of the State’s arguments.
The law, enacted by the state legislature in its 2017 session, was included as part of the biennial budget bill that year. The law’s inclusion in the budget bill is one reason the Monroe County Circuit Court found it to be unconstitutional. The annexation law violated the state constitution’s “single subject” rule for legislation, according to the circuit court.
The circuit court found that the 2017 annexation law also violated the state constitution’s prohibition against “special legislation.” It’s a prohibition that doesn’t rule out legislation affecting just one municipality, which the 2017 annexation law does. Both sides agree that the 2017 law affected only Bloomington and was designed that way. The legal question is whether the special law falls within the definition of “permissible special legislation”—a kind of question on which courts have ruled in the past.
So the first briefs, which have now been filed by both sides with the Indiana Supreme Court, include dozens of citations to previous rulings on the question of what counts as permissible special legislation.
After a couple of quiet months, late July has brought some activity in the legal proceedings about the state legislature’s enactment of a 2017 law, as a part of the biennial budget bill. The law blocked specifically Bloomington’s attempt in 2017 to annex some land into the city.
Indiana’s attorney general has filed the first brief on behalf of Gov. Eric Holcomb, in an appeal to the state’s Supreme Court, which seeks to overturn a lower court ruling made earlier this year in April. The lower court ruling, in favor of Bloomington, found that the law violates two parts of the state’s constitution: the prohibition against special legislation; and the single subject rule.
In 2017, Indiana’s state legislature passed a law terminating the annexation process that Bloomington was undertaking at the time. The city of Bloomington filed suit and in late April won a judgement in the Monroe Circuit Court against the state: The court concluded that the annexation law, passed as a part of the budget bill, violated two different parts of the state constitution.
The state of Indiana has already taken the first step to appeal the Monroe County court’s ruling—to give formal notice of appeal.
The state’s deadline for the next step, filing a brief with the state’s Supreme Court, would have been this Thursday, June 27. The time limit is 30 days after the date when the trial court clerk gave notice that the record was complete—which was May 28.
In a ruling issued late Thursday afternoon, Judge Frank Nardi found that legislation enacted by the Indiana state legislature in 2017—a law that halted the city of Bloomington’s annexation efforts—is unconstitutional for two separate reasons.
The city brought suit against Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb two years ago over the issue. Nardi’s ruling agreed with Bloomington’s position on both substantive points. First, Nardi found that the legislation was impermissible special legislation under the state constitution, because there were no unique characteristics of Bloomington that justified singling out only Bloomington as the one city that needed to pause its annexation efforts for five years. Second, Nardi found that the legislation violated the single subject clause of the state constitution, because it was included in the biennial budget bill of 2017. Continue reading “Judge says legislation that halted Bloomington’s annexations in 2017 is unconstitutional for two reasons”→
At a Tuesday afternoon hearing lasting around an hour, the two sides in an ongoing annexation lawsuit between the City of Bloomington and Gov. Eric Holcomb presented oral arguments.
Judge Frank Nardi did not issue a ruling from the bench. The March 26 hearing was held at the Charlotte Zietlow Justice Center in downtown Bloomington.
The City of Bloomington filed the lawsuit in 2017 over the state legislature’s decision to build into its budget bill a change to state annexation law. It was a change that effectively singled out Bloomington and paused any annexation plans by the city for five years.
Bloomington contends that because the new annexation law was incorporated into the 2017 biennial budget bill, it violates the State Constitution’s requirement that legislation be confined to a single subject.
Bloomington’s lawsuit also states that the new annexation law violates the State Constitution’s clause prohibiting “special” legislation. The constitutional claim involving special legislation hinges not merely on the fact that the new annexation law applies only to Bloomington. The claim arises from the city’s contention that the attempted justification for the law’s unique application is not adequate.
To some extent, the two sides spent their time on Tuesday rehashing arguments they’d already submitted to the court.