Opinion:Immel v. Tulsa Public Facilities Authority, 2021 OK 39
Subject matter:Municipal law
Date Decided:June 22, 2021
Trial Court:Tulsa County District Court
Route to this Court:Appeal from trial court summary judgment. Retained by OKSCT on parties’ motion
Facts:In 1991, the City of Tulsa purchased 67.3 acres of unimproved land for $4.5 million. Half of the funds were City funds and half were donated, primarily by Walter Helmerich, III, for whom the park was named. The park has been operated, maintained and managed by the City’s Park Department as a public park. Title to the park land is held by the Tulsa Public Facilities Authority (“TPFA”), a public trust with its sole beneficiary being the City of Tulsa. 
In 2014, the TPFA entered into a contract to sell 8.8 acres of the park to a private developer. The contract was approved by the TPFA during a public meeting. Plaintiff/Appellant Immel sought to prevent the sale by seeking an injunction and a temporary restraining order. While the lawsuit was pending, the City of Tulsa passed two Resolutions concerning the property- one agreeing to abandon the property and supports its sale and the other providing up to $570,000 of the City’s tax funds to be paid to the developer for infrastructure improvements. 
All parties moved for summary judgment and in April 2018 the trial court granted the TPFA and the City’s joint motion for summary judgment as to all issues. Taxpayers appealed and OKST retained. 
Standard of Review:De novo review of summary judgment, viewing all facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. 
Analysis:The general rule is that municipal property held in a governmental capacity, which is for public use, cannot be sold without special legislative authority unless the public use has been abandoned or the property has become unsuited for continued use. 
It is undisputed there is no special legislative authority empowering TPFA or the City of Tulsa to sell the park property to a private developer. A municipal public trust cannot do something its beneficiaries cannot do, unless authorized by statute. The park has continually been in use as a city park since 1991 and continues to this day to be in use as a city park. The burden is on the TPFA and the City to prove that the park property they desire to sell has been lawfully abandoned and/or is no longer fit for its intended use as a public park. The Appellants also contend that the property is being sold for approximately 20% of its market value and, in addition, the City is paying the developer over $500,000 to use towards infrastructure development for a privately owned shopping center. While economic development has been recognized as a legitimate public purpose, this power is restrictive and questions remain about the facts of this specific public expenditure. Because questions of fact remain concerning whether the park has been lawfully abandoned and concerning whether the “public purpose” requirement is satisfied, summary judgment was not appropriate. These are questions for a jury. 
Outcome:Reversed and remanded. 
Vote:7-0. Opinion by Kane, V.C.J. Concur: Kauger, Winchester, Edmonson, Combs, Gurich and Rowe, JJ. Not voting: Darby, C.J.