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Utah Supreme Court hears oral arguments in Summit County v. Hideout

 Appellate Attorney Caroline Olsen states Hideout's case before the Utah Supreme Court Monday morning in Summit County v. Hideout.
Connor Thomas
Appellate Attorney Caroline Olsen states Hideout's case before the Utah Supreme Court Monday morning in Summit County v. Hideout.

Summit County sued the nearby town of Hideout back in 2020 for attempting to annex county land. The lawsuit ended up before the state’s highest court Monday morning.

Attorneys representing the town of Hideout and Summit County argued before the Utah Supreme Court about whose laws govern a parcel of land in the Richardson Flat area.

Hideout began the process to annex the land in 2020, taking advantage of a law state legislators passed amending Utah Annexation Code.

At first, Hideout attempted to annex over 600 acres, but Summit County won an initial lawsuit stopping the annexation. Then Hideout put out another annexation notice, this time for 350 acres.

Legislators fairly swiftly repealed the language that legalized annexation in a special session. Sen. Kirk Cullimore (R-Salt Lake), who sponsored the bill, later said he was misled about what it allowed.

By then it had become a matter of debate: whose land is it anyway?

Summit County sued again, which has put any development on pause until the courts sort out the dispute. A lower court ruled in favor of Summit County, and Hideout appealed that to the state Supreme Court.

Aside from the legal question, Hideout said in its court brief it intends to develop the land with amenities for its residents, who the brief says have been priced out of the more expensive areas in Summit County. The town and developer Nate Brockbank envision a new town center.

 The land under dispute is in blue.
Brief of Appellee
Summit County
The land under dispute is in blue.

Summit County’s brief called the annexation “petitionless, cross-county, hostile, non-contiguous, [and] cherry stem.” Summit County contends that Hideout has no plan to provide municipal services to the area, except through a contract with the county itself.

Now the Supreme Court must decide whether to overturn the lower court’s ruling against annexation.

Appellate Attorney Caroline Olsen argued Hideout’s case. Olsen’s argument was twofold.

“One, is that Summit County lacks statutory standing. Nothing in the annexation statutes granted it a right to challenge Hideout’s annexation,” Olsen said. “The other is that the legislature authorized what Hideout did. Every step in the annexation process occurred at a time when the law, then in effect, authorized that step.”

Monday morning attorneys for both sides reviewed the chronology of events in 2020. They tackled when ordinances and laws were enacted, took effect, and whether enacted and effective are the same thing. The high court’s decision will rest on legal technicalities like these, as well as past court decisions in similar cases.

Summit County Attorney Margaret Olson represented the county. She argued that the county does have standing to bring the case—county code and town code overlap and conflict on the land in question.

Olson’s argument hinges on the same thing that persuaded the lower court—that then-Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox certified Hideout’s annexation only after lawmakers repealed the law that allowed the annexation process to begin in the first place.

“It is a fact that Hideout failed to achieve that final annexation step—step seven—before House Bill 359 expired,” Olson said.

Summit County has four other main arguments, which the lower court ruled moot. If the county loses on this main point of argument, the other four could be kicked back down to lower courts to look at again—which could draw out litigation even further.

Judge Amy Oliver sat on the bench for Justice John Pearce, who recused himself for this case.

The court will provide advance notice before issuing any opinions on the Utah Courts website, but attorneys associated with the case don’t expect the court to issue an opinion to the public for months.

Click here for a link to oral arguments.

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Updated: March 7, 2023 at 10:01 AM MST
Justice Pearce has not disclosed a reason for recusing himself and is not required to do so under Utah law. A spokesperson said the court will only disclose a conflict if a justice asks both parties to waive the conflict.
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