Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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Over 20 years ago, numerous parties alleged in the Antelope Valley Groundwater Cases (AVGC) that, without a comprehensive adjudication of all competing parties' rights to produce water from and a physical solution for the aquifer, the continuing overdraft of the basin would negatively impact the health of the aquifer. In this case, the trial court was required to find a physical solution that balanced the needs of thousands of existing users, all of whom competed for the scarce water that replenished the aquifer underlying the Antelope Valley Adjudication Area (AVAA), and to craft its provisions to protect the long-term health of the aquifer and the region's residents. The trial court determined that severely reduced water usage was required of existing users, and that severely curtailed access was required for future users. On appeal, the Willis Class challenged the judgment approving the Physical Solution, a proposed plan designed to bring the AVAA basin into hydrological balance.The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment and concluded that the Physical Solution adequately balanced the competing interests of the parties within the parameters of governing California law and was not inconsistent with the terms of the Settlement. Thus, the court did not abuse its discretion when it equitably apportioned the available groundwater and placed limits and conditions on future pumping. Furthermore, the court rejected Willis's claims that the limits placed on Willis's post-Settlement participation in the litigation amounted to a denial of due process. The court explained that Willis was afforded an adequate notice and opportunity to present its contentions as part of the lengthy process of crafting the final Physical Solution. View "Willis v. Los Angeles County Waterworks District No. 40" on Justia Law

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Humboldt County Ballot Measure S proposed a tax on commercial cultivators of marijuana and was approved by the voters. The tax became operative on January 1, 2017. Measure S allows the Board of Supervisors to amend the law or approve enforcement regulations promulgated by the administrative officer if the action “does not result in an increase in the amount of the tax or broaden the scope of the tax.” The Supervisors amended Measure S in June 2017, and again in April 2018, making the tax applicable to all persons with a cultivation permit, as opposed to just those engaged in cultivation; redefining “cultivation area”; and changing the time when the taxes start to accrue.Silva owns property in Humboldt County. No one cultivated cannabis on the property in 2017. The County sent her an invoice of $40,000 in commercial cannabis cultivation taxes under Measure S for the year 2017–2018. Silva paid the invoice. The County sent an invoice of $54,025 for the year 2018–2019. Silva again paid the invoice.A 2018 petition argued that the amendments impermissibly broadened Measure S. The court of appeal affirmed a ruling in Silva's favor. The trial court was not procedurally barred from considering the challenge to the Board’s amendments. The doctrine of exhaustion of administrative remedies does not apply and the amendments expanded, rather than just clarifying, Measure S. View "Silva v. Humboldt County" on Justia Law

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Built Pacific, Inc. (BPI) appealed a judgment entered against it and in favor of the California Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE). The DLSE issued a Civil Wage Penalty Assessment (CWPA) against BPI for labor law violations on a public works project. BPI entered into a settlement agreement with the DLSE but failed to timely pay the settlement amount. As a result, BPI was not released from liability, the DLSE sought judgment based on the final CWPA, and the superior court entered judgment on the CWPA pursuant to Labor Code section 1742 (d). BPI appealed, arguing that the judgment was based on an unreasonable and unenforceable liquidated damages clause of the settlement agreement under Civil Code section 1671 (b), and should be reversed. The Court of Appeal concluded Civil Code section 1671 did not apply because judgment was entered pursuant to the Labor Code and not a “contract.” Even if section 1671 were to apply, the Court concluded the disputed provision in the settlement agreement was both reasonable and enforceable. View "Department of Industrial Relations, etc. v. Built Pacific, Inc." on Justia Law

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Defendant Daniel Clapp plead no contest to concealing the true extent of his physical activities and abilities from his employer, the Department of the California Highway Patrol (CHP), and the State Compensation Insurance Fund (SCIF). Consistent with a resolution negotiated by the parties, the trial court granted defendant three years’ probation, and as a condition of probation, ordered him to pay restitution. Following a hearing, defendant was ordered to pay $30,095.68 to SCIF for temporary disability benefits and $81,768.01 to CHP for benefits wrongfully obtained. He was also ordered to pay $1,350 and $70,159 to SCIF and CHP respectively for investigative costs. Defendant appealed the restitution award as to investigation costs contending that, as public investigative agencies, neither SCIF nor CHP was entitled to reimbursement for the costs of investigating his claim. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded that as direct victims of defendant’s fraud, both CHP and SCIF were indeed entitled to restitution for investigative costs incurred in an effort to justify discontinuance of payments and recoup money defendant fraudulently obtained. View "California v. Clapp" on Justia Law

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The Board licensed Redko as a doctor of podiatric medicine in 2003. In 2017, the Board filed an accusation seeking to have him disciplined for unprofessional conduct and inadequate record-keeping. The Board issued a subpoena duces tecum to Dr. Chang, whom Redko had designated as his expert witness, Business and Professions Code 2334. Redko moved to quash the subpoena, unwilling to produce the requested communications. The Board moved to exclude expert testimony by Chang based on his “failure to comply with Duly Issued Subpoena Duces Tecum.” Five days before the adjudicatory hearing, the presiding ALJ rejected Redko’s arguments. Redko was placed on probation.Redko petitioned for a writ of administrative mandate, which the trial court granted because the Administrative Procedure Act provisions governing contested adjudicatory hearings (Gov. Code 11400) do not expressly provide for the imposition of witness exclusion as a discovery sanction. The court of appeal upheld the decision. The ruling to exclude Redko’s expert was made before the hearing by the presiding ALJ, not the ALJ who actually conducted the hearing, so the implied power “relating to the conduct of the hearing” is not implicated. There are other APA mechanisms for resolving discovery disputes; witness preclusion is not identified in the APA as a sanction for misuse of the discovery process in administrative proceedings. View "Podiatric Medical Board of California v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Julian Volunteer Fire Company Association (Volunteer Association) through a local fire district (Julian-Cuyamaca Fire Protection District (District)) provided fire prevention and emergency services to the Julian and Cuyamaca rural communities. In 2018, the District voted to dissolve and be replaced by the County of San Diego (County) fire authority. This triggered a mandatory review process by the San Diego Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), and spawned several lawsuits by those opposing dissolution and the replacement of local volunteers with professional County firefighters. Here, Volunteer Association and related individuals alleged the District violated California’s open meeting law (Brown Act) when its board of directors (Board) first voted to begin the dissolution process. The Court of Appeal determined these claims were barred because plaintiffs unreasonably delayed in prosecuting their lawsuit until after a districtwide special election approving the dissolution, and this delay substantially prejudiced the parties and the general public. View "Julian Volunteer Fire Co. Assn. v. Julian-Cuyamaca Fire etc." on Justia Law

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The 1993 National Voter Registration Act, 52 U.S.C. 20501(b)(1), requires states to register voters for federal elections, including “by application in person” at designated state offices. Each state must designate all offices that provide public assistance, all offices that provide state-funded programs primarily engaged in providing services to persons with disabilities, and “other offices. ” Each designated agency must offer certain voter registration services and, in California, must assign an employee to be responsible for the agency’s compliance (Elec. Code, 2406.) California’s Secretary of State coordinates the state’s responsibilities under the Act.The plaintiffs sought additional designations. The Secretary committed to designating as voter registration agencies programs for students with disabilities at community colleges, certain county welfare departments, and the Office of Services to the Blind. The trial court held, and the court of appeal affirmed, that the Secretary had a mandatory duty to designate as voter registration agencies state offices that administer General Assistance or General Relief programs and California Student Aid Commission Financial Aid Programs, as well as all private entities under contract to provide services on behalf of a voter registration agency. The court found that no mandatory designation duty existed as to offices administering the California Department of Education Nutrition Programs, special education offices, and Area Agencies on Aging. View "Senior Disability Action v. Weber" on Justia Law

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The issue presented for the Court of Appeal in this case centered on whether Alicia Clark exhausted her administrative remedies under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) prior to filing suit against her former employer, Arthroscopic & Laser Surgery Center of San Diego, L.P. (ALSC). Clark filed an administrative complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) alleging ALSC committed various acts of employment discrimination against her. While Clark’s DFEH Complaint contained an inaccuracy as to ALSC’s legal name, it clearly and unequivocally reflected Clark’s intent to name ALSC as a respondent. Specifically, Clark’s DFEH Complaint named, as respondents, “Oasis Surgery Center LLC,” and “Oasis Surgery Center, LP,” which are variants of ALSC’s registered business name, “Oasis Surgery Center.” In addition, Clark’s DFEH Complaint referenced the names of her managers, supervisors, and coworkers. The same day that Clark filed her DFEH Complaint, the DFEH issued a right-to-sue notice and Clark filed this action against “Oasis Surgery Center LLC,” and “Oasis Surgery Center, LP.” One week after filing her DFEH Complaint and the initial complaint in this action, Clark filed an amended complaint in this action, properly naming ALSC as a defendant. Notwithstanding that Clark’s DFEH Complaint clearly identified her former employer as the intended respondent, the trial court granted ALSC’s motion for summary judgment as to all of Clark’s FEHA claims brought against it because Clark “named the wrong entity in her DFEH [C]omplaint, and . . . never corrected that omission.” Clark then filed a petition for writ of mandate to the Court of Appeal, requesting that it vacate the trial court’s order granting ALSC’s motion for summary judgment. After considering the text and purpose of the relevant statutory exhaustion requirement, administrative regulations, and applicable case law, the Court of Appeal concluded Clark exhausted her administrative remedies against ALSC. "This is particularly true in a case such as this, in which the plaintiff’s error could not possibly have hampered any administrative investigation or prejudiced the defendant in any judicial proceedings." Accordingly, Clark’s writ petition was granted and the trial court directed to vacate its order granting ALSC’s motion for summary judgment. View "Clark v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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After a political action committee and two political candidates successfully campaigned for a ballot measure in a Redondo Beach municipal election, two citizens filed suit against the committee and the candidates, claiming the candidates had controlled the committee, which had used an improper title for itself. The trial court ruled in favor of the committee and candidates, awarding them attorney fees.In consolidated appeals, the Court of Appeal concluded that the nonparties have standing to appeal the judgment; substantial evidence supported the trial court's finding that Rescue was a general purpose committee and that neither candidate controlled it; and the trial court acted beyond its authority by issuing a judgment against nonparties to the action. The court affirmed the trial court's award of attorney fees to defendants, who were unquestionably the prevailing party. Finally, the court denied the request for sanctions because the appeal of the attorney fees was not frivolous. View "Travis v. Brand" on Justia Law

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Rush retired in 2012. The California State Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS) calculated his pension as 92.58 percent of his final compensation. Rush disputed the determination of his “final compensation,” defined as “the highest average annual compensation earnable by a member during any period of 12 consecutive months” For 12 consecutive months over portions of two school years, Rush served as an associate dean at a salary significantly higher than his salary during the other portions of those years.CalSTRS applied Education Code section 22115(d): If a member worked at least 90 percent of a school year at the higher pay rate, compensation earnable was to be calculated as if the member earned all service credit for the year at the higher rate. If the member worked less than 90 percent of the year at the higher rate, as Rush did, compensation earnable “shall be the quotient obtained when creditable compensation paid in that year is divided by the service credit for that year.” The court of appeal upheld CalSTRS’s calculation as within the range of reasonable statutory construction. View "Rush v. State Teachers' Retirement System" on Justia Law