Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of California

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The Supreme Court held that a definitive resolution of the question of whether an arbitral scheme resembling civil litigation can constitute a sufficiently accessible and affordable process was unnecessary in this case because the facts involved an unusually high degree of procedural unconscionability, rendering the arbitration agreement in this case unenforceable. During his employment Employee signed an arbitration clause grafted onto an acknowledgment of at-will employment. After his employment ended Employee filed a complaint with the Labor Commissioner for unpaid wages. Employer filed a petition to compel arbitration. The Labor Commissioner proceeded to the hearing without Employer and awarded Employee unpaid wages and liquidated damages. The trial court vacated the award, concluding that the hearing should not have proceeded in Employer's absence. The court, however, did not compel arbitration, finding that the agreement was both procedurally and substantively unconscionable. The court of appeal reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) even if a litigation-like arbitration procedure may be an acceptable substitute for the Berman process, an employee may not be coerced or misled into accepting this trade; and (2) under the oppressive circumstances of this case, the agreement was unconscionable, rendering it unenforceable. View "OTO, L.L.C. v. Kho" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that when an agency considers increasing a property-related fee, the fee payor challenging the method of fee allocation need not exhaust administrative remedies by participating in a Proposition 218 hearing that addresses only a proposed rate increase. Cal. Const. art. XIII D, 6, which was added in 1996 by Proposition 218, requires that before a local governmental agency may impose or increase property-related fees and charges it must notify affected property owners and hold a public hearing. The representative plaintiffs in this class action sought to invalidate a wastewater service charge imposed by a water district, claiming that the district's method for calculating the charge violated one of the substantive requirements of Proposition 218. The trial court concluded that the suit was barred because the plaintiffs failed to exhaust administrative remedies by raising their challenge at public hearings on proposed increases to the rate charged for services. The court of appeal reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that a Proposition 218 rate hearing was not an administrative remedy that the plaintiffs were required to exhaust under these particular circumstances. View "Plantier v. Ramona Municipal Water District" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeal affirming the denial of Defendant’s special motion to strike, holding that the evidence produced by Plaintiff was properly considered by the trial court in ruling on a pretrial anti-SLAPP motion in determining Plaintiff’s probability of success. Plaintiff, Sweetwater Union High School District, sued to void contracts it approved with Defendants to manage certain projects after a criminal bribery investigation into the awarding of the contracts resulted in a number of guilty or no contest pleas. Plaintiff also sought to secure disgorgement of funds already paid. Defendants brought a special motion to strike under the Anti-SLAPP Statute, Cal. Code Civ. Proc. 425.16. Plaintiff’s response relied on evidence of the various guilty and no contest pleas. The court overruled Defendants’ evidentiary objects and denied their special motion to strike. The Court of Appeal affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that, at the second stage of an anti-SLAPP hearing, the court may consider affidavits, declarations, and their equivalents if its reasonably possible the proffered evidence set out in those statements will be admissible at trial. View "Sweetwater Union High School District v. Gilbane Building Co." on Justia Law

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At issue was what standards of review apply to the Public Employment Relations Board’s (PERB) legal interpretations and findings of fact when a final decision by PERB under the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act (MMBA), Cal. Gov’t Code 3500 et seq., is appealed. The Supreme Court held (1) PERB’s legal findings are entitled to deferential review, and PERB’s factual findings are “conclusive” “if supported by substantial evidence”; and (2) governing bodies or representatives properly designated are required to engage with unions on matters within the scope of representation prior to arriving at a determination of policy or course of action, even if that action is not a formal one taken by the governing body itself. Here, unions filed unfair practice claims after San Diego’s mayor sponsored a citizen’s initiative to eliminate pensions for new municipal employees and denied union demands to meet and confer over the measure. The Court of Appeal annulled PERB’s finding that the failure to meet and confer constituted an unfair labor practice. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the MMBA applied to the mayor’s official pursuit of pension reform as a matter of policy; and (2) the Court of Appeals improperly reviewed PERB’s interpretation of the governing statutes de novo and took an unduly constricted view of the duty to meet and confer. View "Boling v. Public Employment Relations Board" on Justia Law

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The California Table Grape Commission’s advertisements and related messaging represent government speech, as opposed to private speech, and the Ketchum Act’s (Cal. Food & Agric. Code 65500) scheme providing that the Commission’s activities are funded by assessments on shipments of California table grapes does not violate Plaintiffs’ rights under Cal. Const. art. I, 2. Plaintiffs, five growers and shippers of California table grapes, brought suit arguing that the collection of assessments under the Act to subsidize promotional speech on behalf of California table grapes as a generic category violates their right to free speech under Cal. Const. art. I, 2(a). Plaintiffs claimed specifically that the table grapes they grow and ship are exceptional and that the assessment scheme requires them to sponsor a viewpoint that they disagree with. The Supreme Court held that Plaintiffs failed to advance a viable claim under article I, section 2. Specifically, the Court held that there was sufficient government responsibility for and control over the messaging at issue for the communications to represent government speech that Plaintiffs can be required to subsidize without implicating their article I, section 2 rights. View "Delano Farms Co. v. California Table Grape Commission" on Justia Law

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The State Water Resources Control Board’s adoption of a permit fee schedule was proper and violated neither Cal. Water Code 13260(d)(1)(B) or (f)(1) nor Cal. Const. art. XIII A. By statute, the Board has five members. At the time of the meeting at which the Board members voted to approve the fee schedule, two of those seats were vacant. Two of the three members voted to approve one of the proposed fee schedules, and the third member abstained. Based on that vote, the Board adopted emergency regulations retroactively revising the fee schedule. Plaintiff challenged the Board’s approval of the fee schedule. The trial court entered judgment for the Board. The court of appeal affirmed. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) procedural challenge; (2) the fee schedule did not violate section 13260(d)(1)(B) or (f)(1); and (3) the fees did not violate constitutional restrictions contained in article XIII A. View "California Building Industry Association v. State Water Resources Control Board" on Justia Law

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Statutory developments warranted modification of a settlement order between Petitioner and the Board of Parole Hearings (Board) to relieve the Board of any obligation to calculate “base terms” of an inmate serving an indeterminate sentence for use at the inmate’s initial parole hearing. Petitioner filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in December 2012 against the Board seeking to avoid parole determinations leading to grossly disproportionate prison terms. An ensuing settlement agreement required the Board to calculate “base terms” under the agreement. At the time of the agreement, “base terms” governed the earliest possible release date for inmates serving indeterminate sentences. Since then, statutory developments altered the statutory landscape such that “base terms” no longer governed the release dates of inmates subject to indeterminate sentences. The Court of Appeal concluded that the settlement order could remain in force despite the statutory changes. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding (1) the elimination of “base term” calculations from any statutory role in determining release dates for those sentenced to indeterminate terms was a sufficiently material change that it required modification of the settlement by the Court of Appeal; and (2) the Board was not constitutionally required to continue calculating base terms as required in the settlement order. View "In re Butler" on Justia Law

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Statutory developments warranted modification of a settlement order between Petitioner and the Board of Parole Hearings (Board) to relieve the Board of any obligation to calculate “base terms” of an inmate serving an indeterminate sentence for use at the inmate’s initial parole hearing. Petitioner filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in December 2012 against the Board seeking to avoid parole determinations leading to grossly disproportionate prison terms. An ensuing settlement agreement required the Board to calculate “base terms” under the agreement. At the time of the agreement, “base terms” governed the earliest possible release date for inmates serving indeterminate sentences. Since then, statutory developments altered the statutory landscape such that “base terms” no longer governed the release dates of inmates subject to indeterminate sentences. The Court of Appeal concluded that the settlement order could remain in force despite the statutory changes. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding (1) the elimination of “base term” calculations from any statutory role in determining release dates for those sentenced to indeterminate terms was a sufficiently material change that it required modification of the settlement by the Court of Appeal; and (2) the Board was not constitutionally required to continue calculating base terms as required in the settlement order. View "In re Butler" on Justia Law

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For the reasons set forth in a companion case issued today, Gerawan Farming, Inc. v. Agricultural Labor Relations Board, the Supreme Court held that the court of appeal correctly rejected Employer’s defense that Union had abandoned its employees and thus forfeited its status as bargaining representative. In this case, Employer refused to bargain with the labor union that its employees had elected as their bargaining representative under the Agricultural Labor Relations Act (ALRA). The Agricultural Labor Relations Board (Board) rejected Employer’s abandonment defense and determined that Employer’s refusal constituted an unfair labor practice under the ALRA. The Board ordered Employer to pay make-whole relief under Cal. Labor Code 1160.3. The court of appeal affirmed the Board’s rejection of Employer’s abandonment defense but reversed the Board’s make-whole relief award. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding that the court of appeal (1) properly rejected Employer’s abandonment defense, but (2) did not accord the Board sufficient deference as to the issue of make-whole relief and improperly exercised the Board’s remedial authority. View "Tri-Fanucchi Farms v. Agricultural Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law

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For the reasons set forth in a companion case issued today, Gerawan Farming, Inc. v. Agricultural Labor Relations Board, the Supreme Court held that the court of appeal correctly rejected Employer’s defense that Union had abandoned its employees and thus forfeited its status as bargaining representative. In this case, Employer refused to bargain with the labor union that its employees had elected as their bargaining representative under the Agricultural Labor Relations Act (ALRA). The Agricultural Labor Relations Board (Board) rejected Employer’s abandonment defense and determined that Employer’s refusal constituted an unfair labor practice under the ALRA. The Board ordered Employer to pay make-whole relief under Cal. Labor Code 1160.3. The court of appeal affirmed the Board’s rejection of Employer’s abandonment defense but reversed the Board’s make-whole relief award. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding that the court of appeal (1) properly rejected Employer’s abandonment defense, but (2) did not accord the Board sufficient deference as to the issue of make-whole relief and improperly exercised the Board’s remedial authority. View "Tri-Fanucchi Farms v. Agricultural Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law