Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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This putative class action against California and San Diego County officials challenged California Governor Gavin Newsom’s emergency orders and related public health directives restricting business operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Plaintiffs, owners of affected restaurants and gyms (Owners), primarily contended the orders were procedurally invalid because they were adopted without complying with the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). Furthermore, Owners contended that the business restrictions were substantively invalid because they effected a taking without compensation, violating the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Rejecting these claims, the superior court sustained demurrers to the third amended complaint without leave to amend and dismissed the action. While the Court of Appeal sympathized with the position some Owners find themselves in and the significant financial losses they alleged, the unambiguous terms of the Emergency Services Act and controlling United States Supreme Court regulatory takings caselaw required that the judgment be affirmed. View "640 Tenth, LP v. Newsom" on Justia Law

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Martha owns the largest undeveloped parcel of property in the vicinity of Tiburon, 110 acres on top of a mountain, overlooking much of the town and commanding a stunning view of San Francisco Bay. For decades, Martha has sought approval from the County of Marin to develop the property. Local opposition has been intense, including federal court litigation, starting in 1975 and resulting in stipulated judgments in 1976 and 2007. The county twice publicly agreed to approve Martha building no fewer than 43 units on the property. In 2017, the county certified an environmental impact report and conditionally approved Martha’s master plan for 43 single-family residences. The county believed its actions were compelled by the stipulated judgments.The town and residents sued, claiming that the county effectively agreed it would not follow or enforce state law, specifically, the California Environmental Quality Act, to prevent the development of an anticipated project. The court of appeal upheld the approvals. Governmental powers are indefeasible and inalienable; they cannot be surrendered, suspended, contracted away, waived, or otherwise divested. Government cannot bind the hands of its successors. In this case, the county did not abdicate its authority or otherwise undertake not to comply with CEQA. “With its eyes wide open,” the county complied with a binding, final judgment; that judgment in no way anticipated or legitimated ignoring CEQA. View "Tiburon Open Space Committee v. County of Marin" on Justia Law

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Crystal Geyser Water Company bought a closed water bottling facility and sought to revive it. Both the County and the City ultimately granted the necessary permits. This appeal concerned one of two lawsuits challenging these approvals, brought pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). In one suit, Appellants We Advocate Thorough Environmental Review and Winnehem Wintu Tribe alleged that the County’s environmental review for the bottling facility was inadequate under CEQA. In another, they alleged that the City’s decision to issue the wastewater permit for the bottling plant was also improper under CEQA. In this case, the County served as the lead agency and considered the potential environmental impacts of permitting the bottling facility before it or any other public agency issued a permit for the facility. But in Appellants’ view, the County’s analysis was inadequate. Appellants alleged the County: (1) provided a misleading description of the project; (2) defined the project’s objectives in an impermissibly narrow manner; (3) improperly evaluated the project’s impacts to aesthetics, air quality, climate change, noise, and hydrology; and (4) approved the project even though it would result in violations of the County’s and the City’s general plans. The trial court rejected all Appellants’ arguments. But the Court of Appeal found two contentions had merit: (1) the County defined the project’s objectives in an overly narrow manner; and (2) the process for evaluating the project’s impacts to climate change was flawed. Relevant to this point, the County initially informed the public that the bottling project would result in greenhouse gas emissions of one amount, but, after the period for public comments had ended, the County disclosed that the project would actually result in emissions nearly double what it initially estimated. Under the circumstances of this case, the appellate court found the County should have allowed the public further opportunity to comment on the project after this late disclosure. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "We Advocate Through etc. v. County of Siskiyou" on Justia Law

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Crystal Geyser Water Company bought a closed water bottling facility and sought to revive it. Both the County and the City ultimately granted the necessary permits. This appeal concerned one of two lawsuits challenging these approvals, brought pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). In one suit, Appellants We Advocate Thorough Environmental Review and Winnehem Wintu Tribe alleged that the County’s environmental review for the bottling facility was inadequate under CEQA. In another, they alleged that the City’s decision to issue the wastewater permit for the bottling plant was also improper under CEQA. The Court of Appeal addressed Appellants’ challenge to the City’s approval of the wastewater permit. The County served as the lead agency and the City served as one of several responsible agencies for the proposed bottling facility. According to Appellants, the City failed to comply with its obligations as a responsible agency for three reasons: (1) the City failed to make certain findings that were required under CEQA before issuing the wastewater permit for the bottling facility; (2) the City should have adopted mitigation measures to address some of the bottling facility’s environmental impacts before approving the permit; and (3) the City should have performed additional environmental review following a late revision to the permit. The trial court rejected all Appellants’ arguments. But the Court of Appeal agreed with Appellants on one point: The City should have made certain findings under CEQA before issuing the wastewater permit. Apart from needing to make one or more of these findings for each significant impact, the City also needed to supply a brief explanation of the rationale for each finding. The City, however, never complied with these requirements. “It instead, in a single sentence, said only this: The City has reviewed the County’s report on the project and ‘finds no unmitigated adverse environmental impacts relating to the alternate waste discharge disposal methods.’” Because the Court found this brief statement inadequate to satisfy CEQA, judgment was reversed. View "We Advocate Through Environmental Review v. City of Mt. Shasta" on Justia Law

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Sky Posters, Inc. appealed from a judgment entered after the trial court denied in part its petition for writ of administrative mandate.   The California Department of Transportation (“Caltrans”) issued notices to Plaintiff alleging violations of the Outdoor Advertising Act (“OAA”) in connection with two large advertising displays. Plaintiff contended the advertising displays were lawful under sections 5272 and 5273, which exempt advertising displays located within a redevelopment project area (“redevelopment displays”) from the OAA as on-premises displays if they met certain requirements. The administrative law judge (“ALJ”) and the trial court found the exemptions did not apply to Plaintiff’s advertising displays because the business location taglines on the displays were visually dwarfed by the advertising copy. Caltrans adopted the ALJ’s proposed decision as its final decision, and the trial court upheld the portion of the decision sustaining the violations.   The Second Appellate District reversed the trial court’s decision. The court concluded that the ALJ and trial court applied erroneous legal standards in determining the displays were not authorized. The court reasoned that a redevelopment display qualifies as an on-premises display exempt from the OAA’s requirements under sections 5272 and 5273 if it advertises goods or services that are not incidental or secondary to the principal business activity of a business within the redevelopment project area. Nowhere in the statute or Caltrans’s regulations is there an additional requirement that the business location tagline not be “visibly dwarfed” by the advertising copy for the goods or services advertised. View "Sky Posters Inc. v. Dept. of Transportation" on Justia Law

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Seventeen retired city employees who receive retiree health benefits through CalPERS under the city’s Medical After Retirement (MAR) plan filed suit. Five were union members before their retirement. The memorandums of understanding (MOU) and other benefits documents applicable to each of the bargaining units state: “ The City shall pay the PERS required Minimum Employer Contribution (MEC) per month on behalf of each active and retired employee who participates in the City’s health insurance plans.” The city pays the MEC to CalPERS and then deducts that amount from the retiree’s premium reimbursement owed under the MAR plan.Plaintiffs alleged the practice amounted to improper use of their MAR benefits, resulted in improper reductions of benefits, and violated Government Code section 228923 and the applicable MOUs. The city argued the complaint was barred by issue preclusion based on a 2017 administrative proceeding between the city and the union, following a union grievance. The trial court dismissed, based upon issue preclusion, stating: “[T]he emphasis is not on a concept of identity of parties but on the practical situation.” The court of appeal reversed, citing due process requirements. There is no basis for concluding that the plaintiffs should reasonably have expected to be bound by, or were even aware of, the union’s grievance proceeding. The city has not demonstrated that the claims are barred for failure to allege exhaustion of administrative procedures. View "Bullock v. City of Antioch" on Justia Law

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This action stemmed from the San Bernardino County registrar of voters (ROV) initially miscalculating the number of signatures needed in support of plaintiffs and real parties in interest’s (RPI) initiative petition to repeal a special tax associated with a fire protection zone. The ROV told RPI the incorrect number, resulting in RPI incurring unnecessary costs in obtaining far more signatures than were required. Defendants and Petitioners County of San Bernadino and its ROV, Bob Page, (collectively, the County) petitioned for a writ of mandate to direct the respondent trial court to vacate its order overruling the County’s demurrer and to enter an order sustaining the without leave to amend. The County contended that, when RPI requested the County to inform it of the number of signatures required for its initiative petition, the County did not owe RPI any statutory or constitutional duty to provide the information when requested. The County further argues it was immune from liability for communicating to RPI the incorrect number under Government Code sections 818.8 and 822.2. The Court of Appeal agreed that under Government Code sections 815 and 815.6, the County was not subject to liability because there was no breach of any statutory or constitutional duty. "[E]ven if the County owed RPI such a duty, the County was immune from liability under Government Code sections 818.8 and 822.2." The Court therefore concluded the trial court erred in overruling the County’s demurrer. View "County of San Bernardino v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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After a hearing, the California Gambling Control Commission (Commission) revoked and refused to renew the gambling license of cross-appellant Eric Swallow. The Commission also imposed a monetary penalty and costs against Swallow. Swallow petitioned the trial court for a writ of mandate, challenging the revocation and nonrenewal of his gambling license, the amount of the monetary penalty, and the costs. The trial court granted Swallow’s petition in part and denied it in part, concluding the Commission did not violate Swallow’s due process rights when it revoked and refused to renew Swallow’s gambling license, except that the Commission may have relied on unproven misconduct. The trial court therefore remanded to the Commission “to ensure that Swallow is not disciplined based on misconduct that was not proven.” The trial court also concluded the amount of the monetary penalty imposed by the Commission was not supported by law, and the costs could only be assessed by the ALJ on remand. It therefore vacated the penalty and costs imposed and remanded for the Commission to redetermine the amount of the penalty and to refer the issue of costs to the ALJ. Both the Commission and Swallow appealed. The Court of Appeal concluded: (1) Business and Professions Code section 19930(c), when considered within the statutory and regulatory framework of the Gambling Control Act, did not authorize the monetary penalty; (2) the Commission had jurisdiction to revoke Swallow’s gambling license; (3) the Commission did not violate Swallow’s due process rights; (4) Swallow failed to present a proper argument challenging the sufficiency of the evidence; and (5) the trial court properly remanded the issue of costs for further proceedings. The Court modified the judgment granting the peremptory writ of mandate to order the Commission to reconsider the monetary penalty in a manner consistent with its opinion instead of the trial court’s order. View "Swallow v. Cal. Gambling Control Commission" on Justia Law

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Hospitals provided emergency medical services to members of the county’s health plan, which is licensed and regulated by the state Department of Managed Health Care under the Knox-Keene Health Care Service Plan Act, Health & Saf. Code 1340. The county reimbursed the Hospitals for $28,500 of a claimed $144,000. The Hospitals sued, alleging breach of an implied-in-fact or implied-in-law contract. The trial court rejected the county’s argument that it is immune from the Hospitals’ suit under the Government Claims Act (Gov. Code 810).The court of appeal reversed. The county is immune from common law claims under the Government Claims Act and the Hospitals did not state a claim for breach of an implied-in-fact contract. The county does not contest its obligation to reimburse the Hospitals for the reasonable and customary value of the services; the issue is what remedies may be pursued against the county when the reasonableness of the reimbursement is disputed. The Knox-Keene Act provides alternative mechanisms to challenge the amount of emergency medical services reimbursements. A health care service plan has greater remedies against a private health care service plan than it does against a public entity health care service plan, a result driven by the Legislature broadly immunizing public entities from common law claims and electing not to abrogate that immunity in this context. View "County of Santa Clara v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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The City of San Diego (the City) sued Experian Data Corp. (Experian) on behalf of the State of California for violating the Unfair Competition Law (UCL). The City hired three private law firms to represent it in the litigation against Experian on a contingency fee basis. The trial court denied Experian’s motion to disqualify the private law firms. In affirming the trial court, the Court of Appeal found the contingency fee arrangements between the City and the private law firms in a UCL action filed by the City’s attorneys did not violate the prosecutor’s duty of neutrality and therefore did not require disqualification. Further, the Court found agreements to pay the private law firms from any penalties recovered from Experian did not violate Business and Professions Code section 17206’s requirement that all funds recovered in a UCL action be paid to the City’s treasurer. View "California ex rel. City of San Diego v. Experian Data Corp." on Justia Law