On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed and remanded an Eleventh Circuit Court order affirming the decision of the City of Roswell, Georgia to inform T-Mobile South LLC of the denial of the carrier’s request to build a 108- foot cellular transmission tower by providing T-Mobile with a general letter of rejection that was later followed with a transcript of the city council’s hearing.
Handed down by a 6-3 margin, the high court ruling represents an important win for T-Mobile in its claim that city’s actions violated Section 332(c)(7)(B)(iii) of the 1934 Communications Act, which states that any state or local decision to deny a wireless siting request “shall be in writing and supported by substantial evidence contained in a written record.” Although Roswell officials argued that they had satisfied Section 332 by providing T-Mobile with a copy of hearing transcript that spells out the reasons for the denial, T-Mobile countered that the city’s basis for denial had to be “contemporaneously available with the initial rejection letter to fulfill statutory requirements while providing rejected applicants with sufficient time to seek judicial review.
Notwithstanding the 6-3 vote, all of the Supreme Court justices agreed that Section 332 does not require local governments to provide their reasons for denying tower siting requests in letters of denial. Nevertheless, the high court majority decreed that while the city “issued its reasons in writing and did so in acceptable form, it did not provide its written reasons . . . contemporaneously with its written denial when it issued detailed minutes 26 days after the date of the written denial and four days before expiration of petitioner’s time to seek judicial review.” Writing for the majority, Justice Sonya Sotomayor noted that while Section 332 does not require localities to state reasons for denial “in any particular format . . . we agree with the Solicitor General that ‘the local government may be better served by including a separate statement covering its reasons’” at the time of denial.
In a dissenting opinion, however, Chief Justice John Roberts maintained that the city “fully complied with its obligations” as Justice Clarence Thomas observed in a separate dissenting statement that “the Court’s eagerness to reach beyond the bounds of the present dispute to create a timing requirement . . . finds no support in the text or structure of the statute.” Declaring, “transparent and fair decision-making by local government will allow wireless service providers to improve the nation’s wireless networks,” T-Mobile welcomed the decision as “a great victory.”