Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

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Plaintiff-respondent San Diego Unified Port District (District) unsuccessfully asked defendant-appellant California Coastal Commission (Commission) to certify an amendment of District's port master plan to authorize hotel development in the East Harbor Island subarea, including construction of a 175-room hotel by real party in interest Sunroad Marina Partners, LP (Sunroad). District filed a petition for peremptory writ of mandate challenging Commission's denial of certification, and the trial court in January 2017 issued the writ, finding Commission violated provisions of the California Coastal Act of 1976 and "impermissibly set policy" by setting a maximum rental rate or fixing room rental rates. Commission did not appeal that ruling, but reheard District's application and again denied certification, finding the master plan amendment lacked sufficient specificity to adequately protect lower cost visitor and public recreational opportunities, including overnight accommodations. On objections by District and Sunroad, the trial court in August 2017 ruled that Commission had essentially conditioned its certification on the provision of lower cost overnight accommodations, which "infring[ed] on the wide discretion afforded to the District to determine the contents of land use plans and how to implement those plans." The court ruled that Commission acted in excess of its jurisdiction and did not proceed in the manner required by law. Commission appealed the August 2017 postjudgment order, contending it complied with the writ, but afterwards, in the face of Port's and Sunroad's objections, the trial court expanded the writ's scope, thereby exceeding its jurisdiction. Commission asked the Court of Appeal to find it complied with the writ as issued, reverse the order sustaining District and Sunroad's objection, and direct the trial court to discharge the writ. Furthermore, the Commission contended it properly denied District's proposed amendment on remand. The Court of Appeal narrowly reviewed the correctness of the trial court's postjudgment ruling that Commission exceeded its jurisdiction or acted contrary to law in denying certification of District's proposed master plan amendment. Doing so, the Court held the trial court erred by relying in part on provisions of the Act governing a local government's authority and imposing limits on Commission's jurisdiction with respect to local coastal programs, which did not pertain to port master plans or master plan amendments. Furthermore, the Court concluded the lower court engaged in an impermissibly broad interpretation of a provision of the Act barring Commission from modifying a master plan amendment as a condition of certification. View "San Diego Unified Port Dist. v. Cal. Coastal Commission" on Justia Law

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In the event a local agency believes it is entitled to subvention for a new unfunded state mandate, the agency may file a “test claim” with the Commission on State Mandates (Commission). Here, the Commission denied consolidated test claims for subvention by appellants Paradise Irrigation District (Paradise), South Feather Water & Power Agency (South Feather), Richvale Irrigation District (Richvale), Biggs-West Gridley Water District (Biggs), Oakdale Irrigation District (Oakdale), and Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District (Glenn-Colusa) (collectively, the Water Districts). The Commission determined the Water Districts had sufficient legal authority to levy fees to pay for any water service improvements mandated by the Water Conservation Act of 2009. The trial court agreed and dismissed a petition for writ of mandate brought by the Water Districts. On appeal, the Water Districts presented a question left open by the Court of Appeal's decision in Connell v. Superior Court 59 Cal.App.4th 382 (1997), addressing the statutory interpretation of Revenue and Taxation Code section 2253.2 (recodified in pertinent part without substantive change in Government Code section 17556). Connell held local water districts were precluded from subvention for state mandates to increase water purity levels insofar as the water districts have legal authority to levy fees to cover the costs of the state-mandated program. In so holding, Connell rejected an argument by the Santa Margarita Water District and three other water districts that they did not have the “practical ability in light of surrounding economic circumstances.” The Connell Court reasoned that crediting Santa Margarita’s argument “would create a vague standard not capable of reasonable adjudication. Had the Legislature wanted to adopt the position advanced by [Santa Margarita], it would have used ‘reasonable ability’ in the statute rather than ‘authority.’ ” This appeal addresses that issue by considering whether the passage of Proposition 218 changed the authority of water districts to levy fees so that unfunded state mandates for water service must now be reimbursed by the state. The Court of Appeal concluded Proposition 218 did not undermine Connell, thus, the Commission properly denied the reimbursement claims at issue here because the Water Districts continued to have legal authority to levy fees even if that authority was subject to majority protest of customers. View "Paradise Irrigation Dist. v. Commission on State Mandates" on Justia Law

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The Guild served on the City requests for public records relating to a 2014 demonstration held to protest incidents of police violence toward private citizens, at which the Hayward Police Department provided security. The City provided copies over 200 public records, including more than six hours of police body camera videos from the demonstration, which had been redacted to exclude material exempt from disclosure under the California Public Records Act (Gov. Code 6250) on privacy or security grounds. City employees spent approximately 170 hours identifying, compiling, reviewing and redacting exempt portions from these videos, which required the use of specialized software with audio/video editing capabilities (Windows Movie Maker). The City sent the Guild an invoice for $2,939.58. The Guild paid under protest, then requested a second set of videos encompassing recordings from specific time periods. The City permitted the Guild to view the redacted videos without charge and offered to produce copies for $308.89. The Guild sought a refund of $2,939.58 and release of the second set of videos for “[no] more than the direct costs of production” then paid the second invoice under protest and received the videos. The court of appeal held that, based on the statutory language, the legislative history, and policy considerations, costs allowable under section 6253.9(b)(2) include the City’s actual expenditures to produce a copy of the video recordings, including the cost of extracting exempt material with the aid of special computer programming. View "National Lawyers Guild v. City of Hayward" on Justia Law

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The County of San Diego (the County) challenged a peremptory writ of mandate and injunction, along with a judgment directing it to set aside and vacate the "2016 Climate Change Analysis Guidance Recommended Content and Format for Climate Change Analysis Reports in Support of CEQA Document" and prohibiting it from using the Guidance Document or the "Efficiency Metric" defined in it as part of its California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review of greenhouse gas (GHG) impacts for development proposals in unincorporated areas of San Diego County. The County argued the matter was not justiciable because it was not ripe and the Guidance Document did not establish a threshold of significance for use in environmental review, nor did its use violate CEQA. Furthermore, the County contended its separate development of a Climate Action Plan (CAP) and threshold of significance was evidence the Guidance Document did not violate a previous writ or use piecemeal environmental review. The Court of Appeal disagreed with the County and affirmed the trial court writ and judgment in their entirety. View "Golden Door Properties v. Co. of San Diego" on Justia Law

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Paolo Pedrazzani was the owner, president, secretary, and director of Pama, Inc. which did business as Via Italia Trattoria (Via Italia), a restaurant in Encinitas. During the time period for which the trial court awarded the civil penalties at issue, Pama employed 71 individuals at Via Italia. Labor Code section 558 (a) provided that an employer "or other person acting on behalf of an employer" who violates or causes a violation of the state's applicable overtime laws shall be subject to a civil penalty. Similarly, section 1197.1 (a) provided that an employer "or other person acting either individually or as an officer, agent, or employee of another person" who pays or causes to pay an employee less than the state's applicable minimum wage shall be subject to a civil penalty. Following a trial, the superior court issued civil penalties against Pedrazzani as the corporate employer's owner as the "other person" who caused violations of these two statutes. The issue on appeal was whether any individual other than the corporate employer can ever be found liable for the civil penalties associated with statutory violations in the payment of wages to a corporate employee where, as here, there is no allegation or finding that the corporate laws have been misused or abused for a wrongful or inequitable purpose. The Court of Appeal modified judgment against Pedrazzani to the extend that civil penalties assessed were not distributed in accordance with the applicable statutory scheme; otherwise, the judgment was affirmed. View "Atempa v. Pedrazzani" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-appellants The Inland Oversight Committee (IOC), CREED-21, and Highland Hills Homeowners Association (HOA) filed the underlying lawsuit in 2015, contending that proposed changes to a Highland Hills development project violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), and certain provisions of the Water Code. Real party in interest and respondent First American Title Insurance Company (First American) was the developer that proposed the changes at issue. Defendant-respondent City of San Bernardino (the City) approved the changes under an expedited procedure for minor modifications. The expedited procedure was incorporated into a stipulated judgment in a previous lawsuit regarding the development brought by HOA against the City and the former developer (First American’s predecessor in interest) concerning the development. This case was the second appeal regarding the same proposed changes. In a related but separate lawsuit, HOA challenged the trial court’s order confirming that the proposed changes constituted minor modifications appropriately approved under the above-mentioned expedited procedure. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s order. Now in this case, plaintiffs appealed judgment entered against them after the trial court sustained without leave to amend the City’s and First American’s demurrer to plaintiffs’ first amended petition for writ of mandate and complaint. Applying the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel, the trial court found that plaintiffs’ CEQA claims were barred by the preclusive effect of HOA’s previous lawsuit, and that judicially noticeable documents showed the City did not violate the Water Code. Finding no reversible error to that judgment, the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment. View "The Inland Oversight Committee v. City of San Bernardino" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal granted the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s (Department) petition for review (Petition) of a Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (Board) opinion, which raised an issue of statutory construction. The Petition posited whether a finding of permanent total disability had to be made in accordance with Labor Code section 4660, or did section 4662 (b), provide a separate path to such a finding. The Court of Appeal concluded section 4660 governed how the finding and award of permanent total disability shall be made “in accordance with the fact,” as provided in section 4662 (b). View "Department of Corrections etc. v. W.C.A.B. etc." on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant, C.T. (Mother), appealed the dependency court’s dispositional judgment granting Mother reunification services in her absence, under Welfare and Institutions Code section 361.5. Mother claimed that her whereabouts were unknown on the date of the dispositional hearing for purposes of subdivision (b)(1) of section 361.5, thus entitling her to set a six-month hearing rather than a selection and implementation hearing. If the court denied reunification services under section 361.5(b)(1) and if the whereabouts of the parent become known within the first six months, the court may then order reunification services. As a result, a parent could potentially gain six more months to reunify with the child up to the maximum 12-month period of reunification services from the date of entry into the dependency system. Relevant here, 361.5(b)(1) was found not applicable and reunification services were ordered in Mother's absence. Mother contended the dependency court abused its discretion by commencing reunification services rather than withholding services. The Court of Appeal reduced Mother's argument to one in which she sought to use this bypass provision (361.5 (b)(1)) as a sword by arguing that the trial court abused its discretion by granting her reunification services instead of denying them under section 361.5 (b)(1). Plaintiff-respondent, San Bernardino County Children and Family Services (CFS), argued Mother’s contention lacked merit. Finding that the dependency court did not misconstrue 361.5(b)(1) or act contrary to its intent, the Court of Appeal affirmed its judgment. View "In re Molly T." on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant, S.A. (Mother), appealed the termination of her parental rights to N.G., a boy born in 2005. She argued the juvenile court erroneously failed to ensure that plaintiff-respondent, Riverside County Department of Public Social Services (DPSS), fully investigated N.G.’s paternal lineal ancestry and gave adequate notices of the proceedings to all federally recognized Cherokee tribes and to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), pursuant to the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) and related California law. After review, the Court of Appeal agreed Mother’s claim had merit and conditionally reversed the judgment. The Court also concluded that DPSS had to be ordered to further investigate N.G.’s paternal lineal ancestry, and include any newly discovered information concerning N.G.’s paternal lineal ancestry in the ICWA notices to all federally recognized Cherokee tribes, the BIA, and all previously noticed tribes. DPSS was also ordered to inquire whether N.G. may have maternal lineal ancestry and, if so, send additional ICWA notices, as appropriate. View "In re N.G." on Justia Law

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Dave Jones, in his capacity as Insurance Commissioner of the State of California (the Commissioner), appealed an order enjoining him from enforcing three regulations, adopted in 1992, to implement the unfair claims settlement practices provision of the Unfair Insurance Practices Act (UIPA). The injunction was issued at the conclusion of the first phase of a trial in which PacifiCare Life and Health Insurance Company challenged the Commissioner’s finding that it had committed over 900,000 acts and practices in violation of the Insurance Code. The Court of Appeal reversed the order imposing the injunction in its entirety. The trial court determined the first regulation was inconsistent with the language of section 790.03(h), which it concluded had been interpreted by the California Supreme Court in Moradi-Shalal v. Fireman’s Fund Ins. Companies 46 Cal.3d 287 (1988), and in Zhang v. Superior Court, 57 Cal.4th 364 (2013), to apply only to insurers engaged in a pattern of misconduct. The appellate court determined the Supreme Court’s only binding interpretation of that statutory language was found in Royal Globe Ins. Co. v. Superior Court, 23 Cal.3d. 880 (1979), which held that section 790.03(h) could be violated by an insurer’s single knowing act. Consequently, the Court was bound by that precedent. View "PacifiCare Life & Health Ins. Co. v. Jones" on Justia Law