Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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Plaintiffs filed suit alleging discrimination under Government Code section 11135 based on a requirement that all San Diego County applicants eligible for the state's CalWORKs (welfare) program participate in a home visit. The County demurred, arguing there was no discriminatory effect on of the program, no disparate impact caused by the home visits, and the parties lacked standing to sue. The superior court granted the demurrer without leave to amend, and entered judgment. Plaintiffs argued on appeal that their complaint stated a viable cause of action. The Court of Appeal disagreed, finding the complaint did not allege a disparate impact on a protected group of individuals and could not be amended to do so. Therefore, the Court affirmed the superior court. View "Villafana v. County of San Diego" on Justia Law

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In May 2014, George Gonzalez pled guilty to two misdemeanor counts of using his premises without a permit or variance, and one count of maintaining an unauthorized encroachment. The trial court placed Gonzalez on probation for three years, subject to various stipulated conditions, including that he must bring all properties up to code. Gonzalez violated probation on five separate occasions; each time, the court revoked and then reinstated Gonzalez’s probation, with terms to which Gonzalez expressly agreed, including stayed terms of custody of increasing lengths. During a hearing on the third of these violations, Gonzalez agreed to additional specific probation conditions relating to property that he owned on Aldine Drive. Gonzalez specifically agreed to a probation condition that required he sell the Aldine Property for fair market value if he failed to comply with various probation conditions mandating that he undertake specified corrective work on the property. In March 2017, after admitting a fourth probation violation, Gonzalez agreed to an extension of the probationary period and to modify the stayed term of custod. After a hearing concerning the Aldine Property, the trial court found Gonzalez in violation of probation for a fifth time. Gonzalez was again given an opportunity to cure the violations prior to the next hearing; when conditions were not cured, the court ordered Gonzalez to sell the Aldine Property. Gonzalez challenged the order to sell the Aldine Property, arguing, among other things, the order to sell the Aldine Property was invalid because it was entered after the expiration of the maximum three-year probation period as authorized by his 2014 guilty plea, and an order directing the sale of real property was not specified as a potential punishment for municipal code violations in the San Diego Municipal Code. The Court of Appeal determined: (1) the order to sell the Aldine Property was a condition of probation, not a punishment; (2) Gonzalez’s takings claim was without merit; and (3) Gonzalez forfeited any challenge to the reasonableness of the probation condition by failing to raise such a challenge in the trial court or in his opening brief on appeal. The trial court’s order directing the sale of the Aldine Property was affirmed. View "California v. Gonzalez" on Justia Law

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Defendants, who at the time of trial were current or former California Coastal Commissioners (Commissioners), appealed a nearly $1 million judgment after the court found they violated statutes requiring disclosure of certain ex parte communications. The Court of Appeal surmised the case turned on whether: (1) plaintiff Spotlight on Coastal Corruption (Spotlight) had standing to pursue these claims under Public Resources Code sections 30324 and 30327; and (2) the up to $30,000 penalty for “any” violation of the Coastal Act in section 30820(a)(2) applied to such ex parte disclosure violations. Concluding that Spotlight lacked standing and that section 30820(a)(2) was inapplicable, the Court reversed with directions to enter judgment for Defendants. View "Spotlight on Coastal Corruption v. Kinsey" on Justia Law

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Environmental groups challenged the constitutionality of Public Resources Code section 25531, which limits judicial review of decisions by the Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission on the siting of thermal power plants. Section 25531(a) provides that an Energy Commission siting decision is “subject to judicial review by the Supreme Court of California.” The plaintiffs contend this provision abridges the original jurisdiction of the superior courts and courts of appeal over mandate petitions, as conferred by California Constitution Article VI, section 10. Section 25531(b) provides that findings of fact in support of a Commission siting determination “are final,” allegedly violating the separation of powers doctrine by depriving courts of their essential power to review administrative agency findings (Cal. Const., Art. III, section 3; Art. VI, section 1).The court of appeal affirmed summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs. The Article VI grant of original jurisdiction includes the superior courts and courts of appeal and may not be circumscribed by statute, absent some other constitutional provision. Legislative amendments to section 25531 have broken the once-tight link between the regulatory authority of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and Energy Commission power plant siting decisions, such that the plenary power Article XII grants the Legislature over PUC activities no longer authorizes section 25531(a). Section 25531(b) violates the judicial powers clause by preventing courts from reviewing whether substantial evidence supports the Commission’s factual findings. View "Communities for a Better Environment v. Energy Resources Conservation & Development Commission" on Justia Law

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Proposition 218, the Right to Vote on Taxes Act, generally required local governments obtain voter approval prior to imposing taxes. Plaintiffs Jess Willard Mahon, Jr. and Allan Randall brought this certified class action against the City of San Diego (City) claiming that the City violated Proposition 218 by imposing an illegal tax to fund the City’s undergrounding program. Specifically, plaintiffs contended the City violated Proposition 218 through the adoption of an ordinance that amended a franchise agreement between the City and the San Diego Gas & Electric Company (SDG&E). The ordinance, together with a related memorandum of understanding, further specifies that part of the money to fund the undergrounding budget will be collected by SDG&E through a 3.53 percent surcharge on ratepayers in the City that will be remitted to the City for use on undergrounding (Undergrounding Surcharge). Plaintiffs claim that the surcharge is a tax. Plaintiffs further claim that the surcharge violates Proposition 218 because it was never approved by the electorate. Plaintiffs note that the City has imposed more than 200 million dollars in charges pursuant to the Undergrounding Surcharge during the class period. Through this action, plaintiffs seek a refund of those amounts, among other forms of relief. The City moved for summary judgment, which the trial court granted on two grounds: (1) the Undergrounding Surcharge constituted compensation for franchise rights and thus was not a tax; alternatively, (2) the Undergrounding Surcharge was a valid regulatory fee and not a tax. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded the trial court properly granted the City’s motion for summary on the ground that the Undergrounding Surcharge was compensation validly given in exchange for franchise rights and thus, was not a tax subject to voter approval. View "Mahon v. City of San Diego" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff County of Monterey (County) appealed when the trial court denied its petition for writ of mandate and complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief. The County was the successor agency for its former redevelopment agency ("RDA"), and challenged decisions by the Department of Finance (Department) relating to a development known as the East Garrison Project, which was part of the Fort Ord Redevelopment Project located on a closed military base in Monterey. The County claimed the trial court erroneously determined that a written agreement entered into between its former RDA and a private developer (real party in interest, UCP East Garrison, LLC) was not an enforceable obligation within the meaning of the dissolution law because the former RDA did not have the authority to approve the agreement on the date the governor signed the 2011 dissolution legislation. The County further contended the trial court erred in determining the County failed to show the Department abused its discretion in disapproving two separate requests for funding related to administration of the East Garrison Project. The County claimed these administrative costs were expended to complete an enforceable obligation within the meaning of the dissolution law, and therefore the Department should have approved its requests for payment of such costs. Finally, the County argued the Department’s application of the dissolution law improperly impaired UCP’s contractual rights. The Court of Appeal rejected each of the County's contentions and affirmed judgment. View "County of Monterey v. Bosler" on Justia Law

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Defendant Wedbush Securities, Inc. (Wedbush) was a securities broker-dealer firm that provided financial planning and investment products through its financial advisors. It classified its California financial advisors as exempt under the administrative exemption to California wage-and-hour law; the administrative exemption only applied if an employee earned a monthly “salary” equivalent to at least twice the state minimum wage. Wedbush pays its financial advisors on a commission-only basis. It uses a computer program to track the trades they make in a given month and then calculates the compensation owed based on what commission tier the employee met that month. The higher the employee’s total monthly gross product sales, the higher the percentage used to calculate the employee’s monthly commission payment. The central issue in this case is whether the Wedbush compensation model meets that administrative exemption requirement. The Court of Appeal determined the compensation plan based solely on commissions, with recoverable advances on future commissions, did not qualify as a “salary” for purposes of this exemption. Since the trial court found the employees in question were exempt and entered judgment for the employer, the Court reversed and remanded this matter for further proceedings. View "Semprini v. Wedbush Securities, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff AMCAL Chico, LLC (AMCAL) constructed a dormitory complex that would house unmarried university students within the boundaries of defendant Chico Unified School District (the District). The District imposed school impact fees on the complex, and AMCAL filed suit seeking a refund of the fees. The trial court granted the District’s motion for summary judgment. AMCAL appealed, arguing the fees had to be refunded because: (1) the District failed to comply with Government Code section 66001; (2) the fee was an invalid special tax; and (3) the fee was an improper taking. The Court of Appeal determined the imposed fee was reasonable and complied with the Mitigation Fee Act. Therefore, the fee was not an invalid tax, nor was it a taking. View "AMCAL Chico LLC v. Chico Unified School Dist." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's denial of a writ of mandate to compel the Civil Service Commission to complete a deputy sheriff's administrative appeal. The court held that a deputy sheriff who has obtained and continues to receive service-connected disability retirement benefits is no longer an employee of the county, and thus his appeal to the Civil Service Commission of his discharge by the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, filed before his disability retirement, is no longer viable. The court held that the Commission has no authority to order reinstatement or any other relief to a retired person whose future status as an employee is not at issue. View "Deiro v. L.A. County Civil Service Commission" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Kathleen Carroll sued her former employer, defendant California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (Commission), for terminating her employment in retaliation for her reporting Commission mismanagement to the state auditor. Prior to bringing this action, plaintiff appealed her termination to the State Personnel Board (Board), claiming the Commission fired her in retaliation for her whistleblower activities. She also filed a separate whistleblower retaliation complaint with the Board. The Board denied her claims. After the Commission removed the matter to federal court, the district court dismissed the section 1983 claim and remanded the matter to state court. A jury found for plaintiff and awarded her substantial damages. The Commission appealed, contending: (1) the district court’s judgment was res judicata as to this action; (2) the Board’s decisions collaterally estopped this action; (3) the trial court abused its discretion in evidentiary matters by (a) permitting plaintiff’s counsel to question witnesses on and asking the jury to draw negative inferences from the Commission’s exercise of the attorney-client privilege, (b) denying the admission of the Board’s findings and decisions, (c) denying the admission of after-acquired evidence, and (d) denying the admission of evidence mitigating plaintiff’s emotional distress; and (4) the damages award was unlawful in numerous respects. Although the district court’s judgment was not res judicata and the Board’s decisions did not collaterally estop this action, the Court of Appeal reversed, finding the trial court committed prejudicial error when it allowed plaintiff’s counsel to question witnesses on and ask the jury to draw negative inferences from the defendants’ exercise of the attorney-client privilege and did not timely instruct the jury with the mandatory curative instruction provided in Evidence Code section 913. Because judgment was reversed on this ground, the Court did not address the Commission’s other claims of error. View "Carroll v. Commission on Teacher Credentialing" on Justia Law