Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal

by
This appeal arising from a mandamus action presented a matter of first impression for the Court of Appeal regarding the proper scope of judicial review of a school district's decision to deny a petition to renew a charter school. The trial court concluded it had to apply an extremely deferential standard of review because it believed the governing board of the Chino Valley Unified School District (District) was performing a quasi-legislative action when it denied the renewal petition submitted by Oxford Preparatory Academy (the Academy), an existing charter school within the District. Finding that the District's decision was not arbitrary or capricious, the trial court denied the Academy's writ petition. On appeal, the Academy contended the trial court applied the incorrect standard of review because the District's decision was quasi-judicial in nature and, therefore, the trial court should have applied a less deferential standard of review. The Court of Appeal concluded that a school district's decision pursuant to Education Code sections 47605 and 476071 to deny a charter school's renewal petition was a quasi-judicial action subject to review via a petition for administrative mandamus. In considering a renewal petition, the school district is not acting in a legislative function by creating new policy, but rather performing a quasi- judicial function by applying existing standards and rules defined by state statute to determine whether the evidence presented by the charter school regarding its past performance was sufficient to satisfy those standards. The applicable statutes allowed the District to deny a renewal petition only after conducting a hearing and making specific factual findings. Additionally, the Court concluded that after a charter school's initial petition was approved by a school district, the petitioner has a fundamental vested right to continue operating the charter school such that a school district's decision that deprives the petitioner of that right is subject to independent judicial review. The trial court did not apply these standards when reviewing the District's decision. Accordingly, the Court of Appeal reversed and remanded for reconsideration of the Academy's writ petition under the correct standards. View "Oxford Preparatory Academy v. Chino Valley Unified School Dist." on Justia Law

by
Petitioners, three rural telephone companies, challenged the Commissions' decision establishing petitioners' "cost of capital," which reflects a company's cost of generating or obtaining capital investment in assets that provide utility services to customers. Petitioners alleged that the Commission failed to adequately consider certain risks that exist for investing in small, rural telephone companies, and therefore the cost of capital was set at an unreasonably low level, resulting in a confiscatory rate of return. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment, holding that petitioners failed to meet their burden of demonstrating that the Commission's cost of capital determination was arbitrary, capricious, lacking in any evidentiary support, or that it otherwise fell short of constitutional standards regarding a reasonable rate of return. View "Ponderosa Telephone Co. v. California Public Utilities Commission" on Justia Law

by
Julian Union Elementary School District (Julian) and Diego Plus Education Corporation (Diego Plus) doing business as Diego Valley Public Charter (Diego Valley, together appellants) appealed an attorney fee award to Sweetwater Union High School District (Sweetwater) made under Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5. Sweetwater and Julian were public school districts in San Diego County, California. Diego Plus operated the charter schools Diego Valley and Diego Springs Academy (Diego Springs). Diego Plus paid fees to Julian for its Diego Valley charter school program. In March 2015 Sweetwater sent letters to Julian and Diego Valley requesting that they stop operating within Sweetwater's geographic boundaries. In June 2015, after neither Julian nor Diego Valley responded, Sweetwater filed this action to enforce the Charter Schools Act (CSA). In its petition for a writ of mandate, Sweetwater alleged Julian approved a charter petition for Diego Valley and that Diego Valley was operating charter schools outside Julian's geographic boundaries. Appellants claimed Sweetwater did not qualify as a successful party under section 1021.5 because Sweetwater: (1) failed to achieve its primary litigation goal; (2) the relief it achieved was illusory; and (3) its suit was not a catalyst in motivating either Julian or Diego Valley to take or not take any particular action. Even assuming the trial court did not err in awarding Sweetwater successful party status, appellants claim that Sweetwater was not entitled to a fee award because Sweetwater failed to carry its burden of establishing all requirements for a fee award under section 1021.5. Assuming the Court of Appeal rejected its other arguments, appellants claimed the trial court abused its discretion by rubberstamping the amount of attorney fees that Sweetwater requested. On this record, the Court of Appeal could not conclude the trial court abused its discretion in awarding Sweetwater all its requested fees. View "Sweetwater Union HS Dist. v. Julian Union Elementary Sch." on Justia Law

by
Medi–Cal, California’s program under the joint federal-state Medicaid program (Welf. & Inst. Code 14000), provides health care services to certain low-income individuals and families, including the aged, blind, disabled, pregnant women, and others. (42 U.S.C. 1396). Beginning in 2013-2014, there were delays in the determination of applications for Medi-Cal benefits, sometimes with severe consequences for applicants who did not obtain needed medical care. Applicants and an advocacy organization sued the California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS). The court ordered DHCS to make Medi-Cal eligibility determinations within 45 days unless certain exceptions applied. The court of appeal reversed. The trial court did not abuse its discretion by declining to abstain but California law does not impose on DHCS a duty to make all Medi-Cal eligibility determinations within 45 days. There is an obligation to determine Medi-Cal eligibility within 45 days under federal regulation 32 CFR 435.912(c)(3)(ii), but that obligation is subject to exceptions so that the underlying obligation is not sufficiently clear and plain to be enforceable in mandate. It was not clear whether DHCS was out of compliance with an overall performance benchmark of processing 90% of applications within 45 days; absent such evidence, it was error to issue writ relief applicable across-the-board. View "Rivera v. Kent" on Justia Law

by
After 14 years of employment, Clare Byrd received a Notice of Pending Dismissal from her position as Administrative Analyst/Specialist at San Diego State University (SDSU), part of the California State University (CSU) system. In December 2014, SDSU provided Byrd with a Notice which stated that she was dismissed from her employment effective December 15. Byrd then filed a Service Retirement Election Application with CalPERS, with a retirement date of December 31, 2014. CalPERS accepted her application and proposed effective retirement date. Byrd appealed after she was denied by a trial court for writ of mandate and declaratory judgment, asking the court to intervene following the breakdown of a settlement agreement between her and CSU, which the State Personnel Board (SPB) initially approved. But following a refusal to comply with material terms of the settlement by CalPERS, SPB changed its position and rejected the settlement in a decision vacating its prior approval. Among other provisions, the settlement agreement directed that Byrd would be reinstated to a classification with a significantly higher salary, which she had never held, and that she would receive compensation at the higher salary during the period that CSU, with her assistance, would apply for medical retirement benefits. Byrd requested that the trial court compel CalPERS to process her reinstatement at the higher salary level. CalPERS maintained it was unable to do so because Government Code section 21198 only authorized Byrd's reinstatement to a job classification she previously held before her termination. The trial court agreed with CalPERS and denied Byrd's petition. On appeal, Byrd argued section 21198 allowed CalPERS to reinstate Byrd to employment as a straightforward matter and did not require reinstatement to the same specific classification or pay rate. She emphasized that the bargained-for terms of the settlement agreement contemplated a scenario in which Byrd would return to work, at least for a short period, while her application for medical retirement benefits was processed. The Court of Appeal determined that in the typical case, section 21198 directs CalPERS to reinstate an employee who was involuntarily terminated but then returned to that same classification as a result of an administrative or judicial proceeding. There may be atypical circumstances in which an individual can be properly reinstate, but if there are those instances, the statute requires a nexus between the new classification and the underlying dispute. In the absence of any such connection here, the Court found section 21198 prevented CalPERS's compliance with the settlement agreement. View "Byrd v. State Personnel Bd." on Justia Law

by
January 13, 2017, a Sonoma County Permit and Resource Management Department engineer inspected respondent’s property and observed inadequate and unpermitted retaining walls, one of which directed water to a single point directly above a failed 25-foot bank that had deposited five cubic yards of earth onto Riverview Drive. Unpermitted grading and terracing had contributed to bank failure and deposit of material into a nearby watercourse. On January 19, a rainstorm caused a four-foot wall of mud to slide onto Riverview Drive. Respondent moved earthen materials from the road, resulting in the runoff of materials into a local stream and on neighboring private property. Respondent believed his actions either did not require permits or were emergency measures. Respondent failed to comply with an administrative order requiring him to abate the code violations and pay abatement costs and civil penalties. Sonoma County filed suit. Respondent did not file a responsive pleading. The court entered a default judgment that ordered penalties significantly lower than ordered by the administrative hearing officer. The court of appeal reversed the order imposing civil penalties at the rate of $20 per day and directed the court to modify its judgment to require payment at $45 per day. That provision of the court’s order altered a final administrative order, was entirely unexplained, and provided respondent with a windfall he did not request. View "County of Sonoma v. Gustely" on Justia Law

by
Christopher Ross appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of the County of Riverside on Ross's claims for violation of Labor Code section 1102.5 and for violation of the provisions in the Fair Employment and Housing Act (Gov. Code, sec. 12900 et seq.; FEHA) prohibiting disability discrimination, failure to reasonably accommodate, failure to engage in the interactive process, and failure to prevent disability discrimination. Ross worked for the County as a deputy district attorney. He was assigned to the homicide prosecution unit and was "responsible for however many cases were assigned to [him] by [his] supervisor." In May 2013, Ross learned he was exhibiting neurological symptoms that required evaluation and testing to determine whether he had a serious neurological condition, and told his supervisor he might be very seriously ill with a neurodegenerative disease and needed to undergo medical testing. He requested a transfer to another assignment during the testing. His supervisor declined his request, telling him the district attorney's office would worry about his cases and transferring him if and when he found out he could not continue in his position. Ross also asked not to be assigned any new cases until after he completed the medical testing. His supervisor declined this request without explanation. In late September 2013, Ross met with his supervisor, the chief deputy district attorney, and the assistant district attorney to discuss transferring him from the Homicide Unit to the Filing Unit for the next three months because he was not able to go to trial or accept new cases. In the assistant district attorney's view, Ross's inability to accept new cases or go to trial in the near term made him insufficiently productive to be a member of the Homicide Unit. By April 2014, the County wrote Ross explaining that for the County to engage in a good faith interactive process and to evaluate his request for accommodation the County needed medical documentation from an appropriate healthcare professional or from the board-certified specialist selected to perform the fitness-for-duty examination. Through counsel, Ross deemed himself constructively terminated as of the date of the letter. By June 2014, the County considered Ross to have abandoned his job. The Court of Appeal concluded there were triable issues of material fact on the questions of whether Ross engaged in protected activity under Labor Code section 1102.5 and whether Ross had a physical disability under the FEHA. The Court therefore reversed judgment as to these claims and remanded the matter for further proceedings. View "Ross v. County of Riverside" on Justia Law

by
After years of investigation, the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board (Regional Board), issued a cleanup and abatement order (CAO) to San Diego Gas & Electric Company (SDG&E) and several other entities, in connection with a power plant’s operations that discharged waste into the San Diego Bay. The Regional Board found that SDG&E caused or permitted waste to be discharged into the Bay and thereby created, or threatened to create, pollution and nuisance conditions. SDG&E contested its designation as a responsible "person" under Water Code section 13304 (a), and petitioned for a writ of mandate to have the CAO vacated. The superior court denied the writ. SDG&E argued then, as it did before the Court of Appeal, that shipyard companies comparatively discharged greater amounts of pollutants into the Bay and that two appellate opinions required application of the "substantial factor" causation test to determine whether SDG&E created or threatened to create a condition of pollution or nuisance. The Court of Appeal found it was undisputed that SDG&E directly discharged and thus "caused or permitted" waste to enter the Bay, distinguishing the aforementioned appellate cases. Further, the Regional Board adequately demonstrated that the waste discharged by SDG&E created, or threatened to create, a condition of pollution or nuisance. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the judgment. View "San Diego Gas & Electric Co. v. San Diego Regional Water etc." on Justia Law

by
Hoag, a Newport Beach acute care hospital whose patients include beneficiaries of California’s Medi-Cal program, was audited by the California Department of Health Care Services. Hoag’s cost report for fiscal year 2009 included $2,413,623 in audit reimbursement reductions mandated by Assembly Bill (AB) 5 and AB 1183. Hoag filed an administrative appeal that was a blanket challenge to the legality of those assembly bills and the legality of the reimbursement reductions based upon them. Over 18 months later, Hoag submitted a second administrative appeal regarding an alleged $620,903 calculation error that it requested be “incorporated” into the open administrative appeal. Hoag alleged that if its global challenge failed, the $2,413,623 reduction should not include $620,903 stemming from an erroneous calculation of Medi-Cal days subject to the reductions required by the assembly bills. The Department’s Office of Administrative Hearings and Appeals dismissed the administrative appeal of the alleged calculation error as untimely. The court of appeal affirmed. Hoag’s legal challenge to the Medi-Cal audit reduction is a separate issue from its challenge to the alleged calculation error and was, therefore, untimely. View "Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian v. Kent" on Justia Law

by
Brandon M. was taken to Riverside County Medical Center by the Corona Police Department for an involuntary hold, pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code section 5150. He was released before 72 hours had elapsed, and he returned home, where he bludgeoned three people to death with a baseball bat. Surviving family members, who were successors in interest or heirs, (collectively Respondents) filed lawsuits against the County of Riverside (County) for his release, alleging negligence. The County filed a special motion to dismiss under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, the anti-SLAPP statute. The County contended the complaints should have been struck because they alleged harm arising from protected activity and because Respondents could not show a reasonable probability their suit would be successful on the merits. Respondents countered that the County's actions did not arise from any petition or speech-related activity and so were not subject to the anti-SLAPP statute. The trial court denied the County's motion, and the County appealed. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's ruling that the anti-SLAPP statute did not apply in this instance. View "Swanson v. County of Riverside" on Justia Law