Court denies Summit County injunction in Dakota Pacific lawsuit
Tuesday morning, attorneys argued about whether Dakota Pacific can build in Kimball Junction while being sued by Summit County.
Judge Richard Mrazik denied Summit County a preliminary injunction that would pause a potential mixed-use development in Kimball Junction. But, if Dakota Pacific, the developer, does try to build, Mrazik signaled he may change his mind.
The injunction hearing was the first major battle in the county’s case against Dakota Pacific Real Estate and the state of Utah over a state bill, Senate Bill 84. County officials say S.B. 84 violates local land use authority—illegally and unconstitutionally—because it could allow the developer the right to build a mixed-use community on land zoned for tech offices.
The hearing was not long, just a little more than 30 minutes. Attorney Mitch Stephens represented the county Tuesday and Richard Burbidge spoke for Dakota Pacific.
The issue was narrow too: without an injunction would there be irreparable harm to Summit County?
Mrazik thought no. He said the county can still exercise control over other aspects of construction at the Kimball Junction tech park, like building permits.
“The court is simply not persuaded that there is any likelihood that the status quo is going to change until the court makes final decisions,” Mrazik said.
That’s in spite of Stephens’ argument that the court can’t be certain of that unless it grants the injunction.
“It's anticipatory, it's the threat,” Stephens said. “The basis for a preliminary injunction, and the goal of a preliminary injunction, is to preserve the status quo.”
The judge didn’t think an injunction was necessary because construction is conspicuous and slow. He signaled that if it did in fact begin, he would stop it.
“If circumstances change,” Mrazik said, “the court may make a different decision.”
In advance of that hearing, Dakota Pacific CEO Marc Stanworth filed an affidavit declaring the developer has no plans to build right now. That was the company lawyer’s main argument Tuesday.
“We would be foolish in the extreme to go out and start building without a building permit. That's not going to happen,” Burbidge said. “They're casting Dakota Pacific as some rogue developer.”
But Summit County argued words are just words and there needs to be a way to enforce them. Mrazik seemed to agree, but any enforcement is on ice until and only if Dakota Pacific attempts to build.
Both parties told KPCW they were pleased with the result.
"While the County Council believe the requested injunction is warranted, we are pleased Judge Mrazik left open the option for Summit County to again seek an injunction if DPRE attempts development outside of Summit County approval processes," Summit County Council Chair Roger Armstrong said, "which should include Summit County's approval rights under the existing development agreement."
Dakota Pacific attorney Carolyn LeDuc said there is no immediate threat of construction.
“We think that was the right result,” LeDuc said. “As we pointed out at the hearing, Dakota Pacific doesn't have any shovels in the ground and doesn't have any bulldozers on the property.”
Mrazik used the rest of the hearing to decide the order of future proceedings.
Monday evening, the state of Utah and Dakota Pacific both filed motions to dismiss the county’s various claims against them.
But Summit County filed in March for partial summary judgements on two of its claims. That means the county thinks it's entitled to early judgements because aspects of its case are obviously correct and haven’t been contested by countervailing evidence.
So the court needs to decide which to consider first: the motions to dismiss the claims or the motion for early judgments on some of those same claims.
Mrazik decided to put all pending deadlines for briefs on hold. That includes the briefs Summit County would ordinarily have 14 days to file in response to Utah and Dakota Pacific’s motions to dismiss.
In the meantime, the court will decide which motions to consider next.