Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal

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Plaintiff-appellant Golden Eagle Land Investment, L.P. (Golden Eagle) and its coplaintiff-appellant Mabee Trust owned real property in the vicinity of Rancho Santa Fe. Appellants sought approvals for a joint development project (the project) from San Diego County land use authorities. At the same time, they began the process of seeking land use approvals for the project from defendant, respondent and cross-appellant, the Rancho Santa Fe Association (the Association or RSFA), whose activities in this respect were governed by a protective covenant and bylaws, as well as County general planning. Appellants sued the Association on numerous statutory and tort theories, only some of which were pled by the Trust, for injuries caused by allegedly unauthorized discussions and actions by the Association in processing the requested approvals, in communicating with County authorities and others. Appellants contended that these Association activities and communications took place without adequate compliance with the Common Interest Development Open Meeting Act. Appellants challenged the trial court's order granting in large part (eight out of nine causes of action) the Association's special motion to strike their complaint, based on each of the two prongs of the anti-SLAPP test. Appellants contended that none of these related tort and bylaws claims arose out of or involved protected Association activity, but rather they were mixed causes of action that were "centered around" alleged earlier false promises by Association representatives to abide by the provisions of the Open Meeting Act. The trial court denied the Association's motion as to one remaining cause of action, in which Golden Eagle alone alleged violations of the Open Meeting Act. The court ruled that the Association's challenged conduct in that respect was not on its face entitled to the benefits of Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, because it did not fall within the statutory language that defined protected communications during "official" proceedings. On that cause of action only, the trial court did not find it necessary to reach the second portion of the statutory test under the anti-SLAPP statute, on whether Appellants are able to establish a probability that they will prevail on their claims. The Association cross-appealed that portion of the order, arguing the trial court erred as a matter of law in finding the anti-SLAPP statute was inapplicable by its terms. The Court of Appeal concluded the trial court correctly applied the anti-SLAPP statutory scheme in granting the Association's motion to strike the second through ninth causes of action, as variously alleged by one or both Appellants. In addition, the Court reversed the order in part, concluding that the trial court should have granted the motion to strike the first cause of action regarding alleged violations of the Open Meeting Act. View "Golden Eagle Land Inv. v. Rancho Santa Fe Assn." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Clews Land and Livestock, LLC; Barbara Clews; and Christian Clews (collectively, CLL) appealed a judgment in favor of defendant City of San Diego (City) on CLL's petition for writ of mandate and complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief, violation of procedural due process, and equitable estoppel. CLL challenged the City's approval of a project to build a private secondary school on land neighboring CLL's commercial horse ranch and equestrian facility and the City's adoption of a mitigated negative declaration (MND) regarding the project. CLL contended the City should not have adopted the MND because the Cal Coast Academy project would cause significant environmental impacts in the areas of fire hazards, traffic and transportation, noise, recreation, and historical resources, and because the MND identified new impacts and mitigation measures that were not included in the draft MND. CLL further argued the City should not have approved the project because it is situated in designated open space under the applicable community land use plan and because the City did not follow the provisions of the San Diego Municipal Code (SDMC) applicable to historical resources. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded CLL's challenge to the MND was barred because it did not exhaust its administrative remedies in proceedings before the City. In doing so, the Court rejected CLL's argument that the City's process for administrative appeals (at least as implicated by this project) violated the California Environmental Quality Act by improperly splitting the adoption of an environmental document (e.g., the MND) from the project approvals. In addition, the City complied with all applicable requirements of the SDMC regarding historical resources and the City's approval of the project did not conflict with the open space designation because the project would be located on already-developed land. View "Clews Land & Livestock, LLC v. City of San Diego" on Justia Law

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In 1998, Modesto, its Sewer District, and its Redevelopment Agency (RDA) sued retail dry cleaning businesses operating in Modesto, the manufacturers of dry cleaning equipment used at those establishments, and the manufacturers and distributors of dry cleaning solvent, alleging that the city’s groundwater, sewer system and easements, and the soil of property within the RDA project area were contaminated with perchloroethylene, a “toxic chlorinated solvent” and seeking recovery for past, present and future costs of investigation and remediation. The Polanco Redevelopment Act (Health & Saf. Code, 33459), which authorized redevelopment agencies to remediate contamination found in property, including private property, located in a redevelopment project area, and to recover costs from the “responsible parties” was central to the suit. After 14 years of litigation, with three appeals, a final judgment awarded damages with respect to three dry cleaning sites, including an award of punitive damages against three defendants; as to all other claims, judgment was entered in favor of defendants. The court of appeal vacated, holding that no special causation standard applies to Polanco Act claims. The court also: remanded with directions to deny motions for summary adjudication on the nuisance claims; reversed a punitive damages award; and vacated a directed verdict regarding property damage. View "City of Modesto v. Dow Chemical Co." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's denial of the Conservancy's petition for a writ of mandate to compel the City of West Hollywood to set aside the City's approval of a real estate development project. The court held that the environmental impact report's (EIR) analysis of alternatives to the project was adequate. Although the EIR did not include a conceptual design of Alternative 3, the Conservancy did not cite any legal authority requiring an EIR to include design plans for project alternatives, and the court declined to so hold. Furthermore, the imprecision inherent in the estimates of space reduction did not render the EIR defective. The court also held that the EIR's response to public comments was adequate, and there was substantial evidence to support the finding of infeasibility of Alternative 3. View "L.A. Conservancy v. City of West Hollywood" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellant Creed-21 appealed the dismissal of its petition for writ of mandate and complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief under the California Environmental Quality Act (Petition). The trial court imposed an issue sanction on standing, which terminated the action, for the misuse of the discovery process in response to a motion for sanctions pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 2023.030 filed by real party in interest and respondent Wal-Mart Real Estate Business Trust (Wal-Mart). The project being challenged was a 185,682 square foot Walmart retail complex (the Project) located in the City of Wildomar. On March 11, 2015, the City’s council approved the Project. Creed-21 alleged that the Project violated CEQA and other laws. Creed-21 alleged against the Wal-Mart and the City (collectively, the Wildomar Defendants) that they failed to prepare an adequate environmental impact report and they violated the planning and zoning law within the meaning of Government Code section 65860. Creed-21 sought to stop the Wildomar Defendants from taking any action on the Project until they complied with CEQA and the planning and zoning laws. The Court of Appeal concluded the trial court did not abuse its discretion in imposing the terminating sanction. View "Creed-21 v. City of Wildomar" on Justia Law

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After the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) certified an environmental impact report (EIR) for its 2050 Regional Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy (transportation plan), CREED-21 and Affordable Housing Coalition of San Diego filed a petition for writ of mandate challenging the EIR's adequacy under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Cleveland National Forest Foundation and the Center for Biological Diversity filed a similar petition, in which Sierra Club and the State later joined. The superior court granted the petitions in part, finding the EIR failed to carry out its role as an informational document because it did not analyze the inconsistency between the state's policy goals reflected in Executive Order S-3-05 (Executive Order) and the transportation plan's greenhouse gas emissions impacts after 2020. The court also found the EIR failed to adequately address mitigation measures for the transportation plan's greenhouse gas emissions impacts. The California Supreme Court granted review on the sole issue of whether the EIR should have analyzed the transportation plan's impacts against the greenhouse gas emission reduction goals in the Executive Order and reversed the Court of Appeal "insofar as it determined that the [EIR's] analysis of greenhouse gas emission impacts rendered the EIR inadequate and required revision." Cleveland and the State requested the Court of Appeal keep the remainder of its decision substantially intact and publish it as revised. SANDAG asserted the case was moot because the EIR and the transportation plan have been superseded by more recent versions, which Cleveland and the State did not challenge. The Court of Appeal agreed with Cleveland and the State that SANDAG did not establish this case was moot. The Court exercised its discretion and reversed to the extent the superior court determined the EIR failed to adequately analyze the transportation plan's greenhouse gas emissions impacts. The judgment was affirmed to the extent the superior court determined the EIR failed to adequately address the mitigation measures for the transportation plan's greenhouse gas emissions impacts. The judgment was modified to incorporate this court's decision on the cross-appeals. The matter was remanded to the superior court with directions to enter a modified judgment and order the issuance of a peremptory writ of mandate conforming to the Supreme Court's decision in Cleveland II and to this court's decision on remand. View "Cleveland Nat. Forest Foundation v. San Diego Assn. etc." on Justia Law

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The state acquired land on the Upper Truckee River in the Lake Tahoe Basin: 608 acres for Washoe Meadows State Park plus the 169-acre Lake Valley State Recreation Area, to continue operation of an existing golf course. Golf courses are not allowed in state parks. Erosion of the River’s bed raised concerns about wildlife habitat, water table, and sedimentation of Lake Tahoe. Studies identified the state land among the worst contributors. The golf course's layout had altered the river's course, CEQA review (Pub. Resources Code 21000) commenced on the “Upper Truckee River Restoration and Golf Course Reconfiguration Project,” identifying four alternatives: no project; river restoration with reconfiguration of the 18-hole golf course; river restoration with a nine-hole golf course; river stabilization with continuation of the existing golf course; and restoration of the ecosystem and decommissioning the golf course. Relocating some holes inside the Park would necessitate adjustment of the Park/Recreation Area boundary. A draft environmental impact report (DEIR) did not identify a preferred alternative but analyzed the alternatives in detail. The final EIR identified river restoration with a reconfigured 18-hole golf course as the preferred alternative, taking about 40 acres from the Park. The court of appeal affirmed an order directing reversal of approval of the project. The DEIR did not identify a proposed project, but described five very different alternatives; the public was not provided with “an accurate, stable and finite” project description on which to comment. View "Washoe Meadows Community v. Department of Parks and Recreation" on Justia Law

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Defendants-appellants the City of Huntington Beach and the City Council of Huntington Beach (collectively, City) appealed mandamus relief to plaintiffs-respondents The Kennedy Commission, William Adams and Jason Puloe (collectively, Kennedy) invalidating City’s amendment to the Beach Edinger Corridors Specific Plan (BECSP). Kennedy filed a complaint alleging in the first cause of action that the amended BECSP was inconsistent with the housing element in violation of California’s Housing Element Law (Gov. Code) sections 65454, 65580, 65583, 65587 and 65860. Kennedy argued that the amended BECSP was void as it was not consistent with the housing element in the general plan, and therefore the amendment should have been invalidated. City responded that it was amending its housing element and was seeking approval from the Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD). The trial court applied section 65454, which required a specific plan be consistent with the general plan, and declared the amended BECSP was void. The Court of Appeal granted City’s petition for writ of supersedeas staying the writ of mandate. City argued: (1) for the first time on appeal, the City of Huntington Beach was a charter city, making it exempt from a consistency requirement of its specific plans to the general plan pursuant to section 65700; (2) if City was subject to the consistency requirement, the trial court erred by invalidating the entire BECSP amendment because it contained provisions that did not refer to housing; (3) the trial court’s judgment and writ are overbroad and overreaching and therefore violated constitutional separation of powers; (4) the issues are not ripe for adjudication because Kennedy cannot show harm; and (5) Kennedy has no standing to bring a claim under section 65454. The Court of Appeal concluded Kennedy’s attempts to show City adopted the consistency requirement in section 65454 failed. Even if the exemption applied, the remedy would not be that the amended BECSP was void. Rather, according to section 65750, City should have been granted time to amend its housing element. “As noted, City had already submitted an amended housing element to the HCD for approval prior to the trial court’s decision in this case. Moreover, the trial court ruled that it would not grant relief on Kennedy’s claim that City must implement the housing element in its current state. It was without dispute that City was working with the HCD to have the housing element comply with state law. City was free to amend its housing element to comply with state law while leaving the amended BECSP in place.” The Court of Appeal reversed the superior court’s grant of a writ of mandate and remanded this matter for further proceedings. View "Kennedy Commission v. City of Huntington Beach" on Justia Law

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Defendants-respondents the City of Davis (City) and the City Council of the City of Davis (City Council) approved a conditional use permit authorizing the use of a single family home in a residential zoning district as professional office space for three therapists. Petitioner-appellant and next door neighbor Michael Harrington, filed a petition for an administrative writ of mandate asking the trial court to set aside the conditional use permit. The trial court denied the petition. Harrington appealed, arguing: (1) the conditional use permit violated an ordinance prohibiting parking in the front yard setback; (2) the issuance of the conditional use permit resulted in a change in occupancy triggering accessible parking requirements under the California Building Standards Code (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 24, pt. 2); (3) the conditional use permit contemplated alterations triggering the accessible parking requirements; (4) the City Council failed to make sufficient findings to support a conclusion that compliance with accessible parking requirements would be technically infeasible, and the findings are not supported by substantial evidence; and (5) the City Council failed to make sufficient findings to support a conclusion that the permitted use is consistent with the zoning designation, and the findings are not supported by substantial evidence. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded: (1) the conditional use permit did not require parking in the front yard setback; (2) the City’s reasonable construction of the Building Code is entitled to deference, and its determination that the issuance of the conditional use permit did not result in a change in occupancy is supported by substantial evidence; (3) Harrington forfeited the argument that the conditional use permit contemplated alterations within the meaning of the Building Code; (4) technical infeasibility findings were not necessary, as the City Council did not rely on that theory; and (5) the City Council’s consistency findings were legally sufficient and supported by substantial evidence. View "Harrington v. City of Davis" on Justia Law

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In 2001, Michael Durkin, through two limited liability companies, purchased two lots directly adjacent to the McClellan Palomar Airport (Airport) in the City of Carlsbad (City). His development plans for the two lots were initially successful despite determinations by the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority (Authority) that the proposed projects were not compatible with the Airport. Overriding the Authority's objections, the City issued a planned industrial permit and Durkin completed the construction of a commercial building on one of the lots in 2005. He also obtained a permit from the City for construction of a second building on the other lot. Both permits included provisions in which Durkin agreed to hold the City harmless for any liability arising out of approval of the projects. Durkin's permit on the second lot expired in 2012 without the commencement of any construction. By the time Durkin sought to restart the permitting process with the City, the Authority had adopted an Airport Land Use Compatibility Plan (ALUCP) that designated Durkin's properties as being within a Safety Zone that carried specific limiting recommendations for compatible land uses. Despite having approved Durkin's previous permit application, the City now refused to override the recommendations in the ALUCP. Durkin filed an inverse condemnation action against the Authority and San Diego County, arguing the value of his property was depressed by the Authority’s adoption of the ALUCP and that decrease in value constituted a governmental taking. The Court of Appeal concluded the trial court properly entered summary judgment in favor of the County and the Authority on the ground that undisputed evidence shows there was no taking by these defendants. View "Dryden Oaks v. San Diego County Regional Airport Authority" on Justia Law