Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

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Mendocino County Ballot Measure AI, which imposed a tax on commercial cannabis businesses, was approved by a simple majority of county voters. The trial court dismissed a challenge and denied plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting an argument that under a correct interpretation of article XIII of the California Constitution the tax imposed by Measure AI was not a general tax but, together with a related advisory measure, amounted to a special tax requiring approval by a supermajority of county voters. The court also rejected an alternative argument that Measure AI did not involve a tax at all, and instead imposed an unlawful fee. Because Measure AJ did not in any way limit the County’s ability to spend the proceeds collected under Measure AI, the tax necessarily and by its terms remained a general tax. View "Johnson v. County of Mendocino" on Justia Law

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Renee Estill submitted a government claim against the County of Shasta and others, specifically representing that she first became aware of an alleged incident on September 9, 2011. The County accepted Estill’s representation and denied her claim on the merits. Because it accepted the claim as timely, the County did not warn Estill to seek leave to present a late claim. During Estill’s deposition, defendants learned she was aware of the alleged wrongdoing as early as 2009. The trial court granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment primarily on the ground that Estill’s government claim was untimely, but later granted her motion for a new trial, ruling there were triable issues of fact as to whether defendants waived their defense of untimeliness because the County did not warn Estill that she should seek leave to present a late claim pursuant to Government Code section 911.3(b). Defendants appealed the grant of a new trial, and Estill appealed the judgment in favor of defendants. The Court of Appeal reversed the grant of a new trial, finding that a claimant may be estopped from invoking the section 911.3 waiver provision where a public entity’s failure to notify the claimant that a claim is untimely is induced by the claimant’s representation on the government claim form. The Court found Estill was estopped from asserting that defendants waived their defense of untimeliness because she represented in her government claim that the incident of wrongdoing occurred in September 2009, but that she “first became aware” of the incident on September 9, 2011. She included an attachment to her government claim in which she could have explained what she had learned in 2009 and 2010 about the alleged misconduct, but she did not mention her prior knowledge. Thus, the record indicated she intended for the County to rely on her representation in the government claim, and the County did in fact rely on the representation. View "Estill v. County of Shasta" on Justia Law

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The Network petitioned for a writ of mandate to compel the County to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) before issuing well permits. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's dismissal of the petition on demurrer, holding that the well permits were ministerial actions under Chapter 8.40 of the San Luis Obispo County Code exempt from review under CEQA. The court reasoned that, if an applicant meets fixed standards, the County must issue a well permit. On the other hand, the ordinance did not require use of personal or subjective judgment by County officials. Therefore, there was no discretion to be exercised and CEQA was inapplicable. View "CA Water Impact Network v. County of San Luis Obispo" on Justia Law

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H.S. and James E. appealed an order terminating parental rights to their son, Collin E. In July 2015, the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency (Agency) filed a petition under Welfare and Institutions Code section 300 (b) on behalf of the 13-month-old Collin. The petition alleged Collin's mother, H.S., had left him unattended in her car while she was under the influence of a prescription narcotic medication. Police officers arrested H.S. for willful cruelty to a child and being under the influence. H.S. told officers she had taken 50 mg of morphine prescribed for pain caused by a brain tumor. The Agency alleged Collin had suffered, or was at substantial risk of suffering, serious physical harm or illness due to his parents' inability to provide adequate care. James (father) and H.S. argued there was no substantial evidence to support the Indian Child Welfare Act finding that continued custody of the child by the parents was likely to result in serious emotional or physical damage to the child. They also argued the juvenile court erred when it determined the beneficial parent-child relationship exception did not apply and terminated parental rights. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "In re Collin E." on Justia Law

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LandWatch filed a petition for writ of administrative mandate, alleging that the District, in approving an emergency water supply project, failed to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). LandWatch elected to prepare the administrative record, but the District ended up preparing the record. After the District prevailed, it moved for costs that included the costs of preparing the administrative record and an appendix. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's finding that the agency acted properly in preparing the record and appendix and held that the trial court had the discretion to award the agency costs for preparing the record notwithstanding the petitioner's election under Public Resources Code 21167.6, subdivision (b)(2). Finally, the court held that the trial court did not err by awarding fees for the appendix and for fees to CourtCall for 12 telephonic appearances. View "LandWatch San Luis Obispo County v. Cambria Community Services District" on Justia Law

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In 2015, the Sacramento News and Review (the newspaper), published by appellant Chico Community Publishing, Inc., investigated Sacramento’s then-Mayor Kevin Johnson and his staff’s use of city resources in the take over and eventual bankruptcy of the National Conference of Black Mayors (the National Conference). As part of that investigation, the newspaper made a request to the City of Sacramento (the City) pursuant to the Act for e-mails in the City’s possession that were sent from private e-mail accounts associated with Johnson’s office. In the City’s review of the records on its servers, it identified communications between Johnson’s office and the law firm which represented the National Conference in its bankruptcy proceedings and Johnson, along with the National Conference, in litigation connected with Johnson’s contested election as the National Conference’s president. The City flagged these e-mails as potentially containing attorney-client privileged information. It then contacted the law firm to notify it that the City was compelled to release these emails because the City had no authority to assert attorney-client privilege over the records on behalf of outside counsel. The law firm contacted the newspaper and asked it to agree the City could withhold any records it determined included attorney-client communications. The newspaper refused and contacted the City, which admitted telling the law firm that some of the emails may have been privileged. Following the newspaper’s refusal to allow the City to withhold e-mails containing attorney-client communications, the National Conference, Johnson in his official capacity as the former president of the National Conference, and Edwin Palmer in his official capacity as Chapter 7 Trustee for the National Conference filed a petition for peremptory writ of mandate against the City and its City Attorney’s Office to prevent disclosure of records to the newspaper. A requester of public records who successfully litigates against a public agency for disclosure of those records is entitled to reasonable attorney fees under the California Public Records Act. The issue this case presented for the Court of Appeal's review was whether the Act also allowed for an award of attorney fees to a requester when the requester litigates against an officer of a public agency in a mandamus action the officer initiated to keep the public agency from disclosing records it agreed to disclose. The Court concluded the answer was "no." View "Nat'l Conference of Black Mayors v. Chico Community Publishing, Inc." on Justia Law

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This appeal stemmed from a dispute between the parties as to how the County may tax Time Warner's possessory interests in using public rights-of-way. The trial court found that the Assessor may tax the possessory interests only on the franchise fee because anyone can obtain an identical franchise for five percent of television revenue. The Court of Appeal held that there was no legal restriction on the County valuing the possessory interests in providing television, broadband, and telephone services. The court agreed with the trial court that the Assessor's valuation was not supported by substantial evidence; that the County erred in taxing the entire five percent of revenue rather than the value of the possessory interests alone; and that substantial evidence supported the Los Angeles County Assessment Appeals Board's finding that the reasonably anticipated term of possession of Time Warner's rights-of-way was 10 years. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. View "Time Warner Cable Inc. v. County of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

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Dembowsky repeatedly hit a parked car in 2011; Santa Rosa police requested that the DMV perform a regular reexamination. Dembowsky passed the written test, and vision and physical examinations but failed to appear for her driving test. The DMV suspended Dembowsky’s license in May 2011. In February 2012, Dembowsky caused another accident in which both vehicles sustained major damage and Dembowsky’s ankle was injured. In May 2012, Dembowsky submitted updated medical and vision evaluations, which again revealed no condition that would affect her ability to drive safely during the day. Dembowsky took her behind-the-wheel driving test in July and received an unsatisfactory score with seven critical errors. The DMV continued Dembowsky’s license suspension. Dembowsky enrolled in a private driving school and later took the driving test and received a satisfactory score, ending her license suspension. On July 3, 2013, Dembowsky, then age 93, unlawfully turned into oncoming traffic and collided with Richardson’s motorcycle. The accident severed Richardson’s leg, broke his other leg and pelvis, damaged his spine, and left him paralyzed from the waist down. Richardson sued Dembowsky, the state, and the DMV. The court of appeal affirmed summary judgment for the DMV, finding that there was no material disputed fact that the DMV’s decision to lift Dembowsky’s license suspension was a discretionary act, so that the DMV was entitled to immunity under Government Code section 818.4. View "Richardson v. Department of Motor Vehicles" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose out of the 2007 subprime mortgage crisis. In March 2014, the National Asian American Coalition, COR Community Development Corporation, and the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference filed a petition for writ of mandate and complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief against the Governor, the Director of Finance, and the Controller, seeking the immediate return of approximately $350 million they alleged was unlawfully diverted from the National Mortgage Settlement (“NMS”) Deposit Fund to the General Fund in contravention of both Government Code section 12531 and the federal consent judgments. The trial court concluded section 12531 was intended to effectuate the terms of the federal consent judgments, which required compliance with the instructions provided by former Attorney General Harris in Exhibit B-2 to the National Mortgage Settlement designating the permissible uses of the $410 million direct payment. The court determined defendants’ contention subdivision (e) permitted the Director of Finance to use the NMS Deposit Fund to offset General Fund expenditures regardless of whether such offsets were consistent with these instructions, the trial court reasoned such a reading of the statute would “raise serious doubts about the legality of the statute, not only as to whether the Legislature may override a federal judgment, but also whether the Legislature constitutionally may delegate to an agency the authority to decide how millions of dollars of state funds shall be spent with virtually no guidance or direction from the Legislature.” Turning to the question of whether the particular offsets were consistent with the former Attorney General’s instructions, the trial court concluded $331,044,084 was unlawfully appropriated from the NMS Deposit Fund for purposes inconsistent with these instructions. Nevertheless, pointing out that it lacked the constitutional authority to order the Legislature to appropriate funds, the trial court declared an obligation to restore the unlawfully diverted funds and ordered such restoration “as soon as there is a sufficient appropriation ‘reasonably’ and ‘generally’ available for such purpose.” The Court of Appeal concluded: (1) plaintiffs had public interest standing to seek a writ of mandate; (2) section 12531 was intended by the Legislature to effectuate the terms of the NMS regarding the proper uses of the money; (3) $331 million was unlawfully appropriated from the NMS Deposit Fund for purposes inconsistent with the NMS; however, (4) because the unlawfully diverted funds were “in law still in the [NMS Deposit Fund],” separation of powers principles did not preclude the Court of Appeal from ordering the immediate return of these funds. The Court therefore reversed judgment in part and remanded the matter to the trial court with directions to issue a writ of mandate directing the immediate retransfer from the General Fund to the NMS Deposit Fund the sum of $331,044,084. View "National Asian American Coalition v. Brown" on Justia Law

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In this appeal, the issue the Court of Appeal was asked to determine whether a state entity whose employees were exempt from state law requiring the payment of overtime compensation was nevertheless required to pay overtime compensation to such employees when the state entity jointly employed the employees with a non-state employer. Although the Court concluded in a prior appeal in this case that the matter should have been remanded to the trial court to permit the plaintiffs to amend their complaint to attempt to state a cause of action premised on such a theory, the Court now concluded such a cause of action would not be legally viable. Furthermore, the Court concluded the law-of-the-case doctrine did not require the Court reverse the trial court's order sustaining a demurrer to the plaintiffs' second amended complaint. View "Moreles v. 22nd District Agricultural Assn." on Justia Law