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SCOTUS to Decide If Local Governments Must Give Detailed Written Reasons When Cell Towers Denied

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by Publius
Posted May 06, 2014, 10:13 AM

The Wall Street Journal reports:

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Monday to decide whether local governments must provide detailed written explanations when denying wireless providers' applications to build new cell towers in their jurisdictions.

The court will hear an appeal by a T-Mobile US Inc.subsidiary that was turned away for a permit in Roswell, Ga. The company said certain city council members raised various objections to the T-Mobile tower proposal and voted it down. But, the company argued, the city never provided an official written explanation for the denial.

In subsequent litigation, a federal trial judge ruled for T-Mobile and ordered Roswell to issue the permit, saying the city violated a requirement in federal communications law mandating that government officials provide a denial "in writing and supported by substantial evidence contained in a written record."

An Atlanta-based U.S. appeals court reversed that ruling and sided with the city, saying a basic written notification informing T-Mobile of the denial was enough because the minutes from the city council meeting recounted all the reasons for the rejection.

The court will hear arguments in T-Mobile South v. City of Roswell during its next term, which begins in October. Lower courts have issued conflicting rulings on what local governments must do to satisfy the "in writing" requirement.

T- Mobile said in a court brief that a win for the Georgia city "will seriously impede the prompt deployment of wireless services to consumers." When governments don't provide written explanations of their decisions, it is more difficult for courts to consider appeals by wireless providers, the company said.

Roswell urged the Supreme Court to reject the case, saying the claim raised by T-Mobile was a "truly non-issue" that didn't affect the rights of wireless providers.

If T-Mobile wins, "it is the local governments who would be harmed, as they would be forced to allow cellular towers in the heart of their residential communities based upon a mere technicality," the city said in a court brief.

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