Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

by
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

by
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

by
Governor Brown—faced with a statewide crisis involving the significant underfunding of public pension systems—signed into law the Public Employee Pension Reform Act of 2013 (PEPRA) in an attempt to curb what were seen as pervasive abuses in public pension systems, including those governed by the County Employees Retirement Law of 1937 (CERL), Gov. Code 31450. Public employees and public employee organizations in Alameda, Contra Costa, and Merced Counties challenged the constitutionality of PEPRA as applied to certain CERL plan members who were hired before PEPRA’s effective date (legacy members). The court of appeal rejected an argument that the pension boards possess the ability to include additional pay items in compensation earnable, unmoored by the language of CERL, then remanded for determinations of the reasonableness of PEPRA’s detrimental changes when applied to the vested rights of legacy members. The court examined statutory amendments with respect to in-service leave cash-outs; express exclusion of so-called terminal pay from compensation earnable; express exclusion or payments for additional services rendered outside of normal working hours, whether paid in a lump sum or otherwise, from compensation earnable; and exclusion from compensation earnable “[a]ny compensation determined by the board to have been paid to enhance a member’s retirement benefit.” View "Alameda County Deputy Sheriff's Association. v. Alameda County Employees Retirement Association" on Justia Law

by
Dr. Erdle was arrested for possession of cocaine. He successfully completed drug treatment under a deferred entry of judgment program. Before completion of his drug program and dismissal of his criminal matter, the Medical Board filed an accusation. Erdle argued that he could not be disciplined because the action was based entirely on information obtained from his arrest record. Penal Code 1000.4 provides that “[a] record pertaining to an arrest resulting in successful completion of a pretrial diversion program shall not ... be used in any way that could result in the denial of any employment, benefit, license, or certificate.” Business and Professions Code section 492, however, states: “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, successful completion of any diversion program under the Penal Code . . . shall not prohibit" disciplinary action by specific agencies, "notwithstanding that evidence of that misconduct may be" in an arrest record. The ALJ concluded that section 492 permits discipline but that arrest records should not be permitted at the hearing; that testimony by the arresting officer was allowable; and that cause for discipline existed. The court of appeal held that section 492 creates a blanket exemption from the restrictions contained in section 1000.4 for licensing decisions made by the specified healing arts agencies. View "Medical Board of California v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

by
A Public Records Act request in this case was made on behalf of Fowler Packing Company, Inc. (Fowler) and Gerawan Farming, Inc. (Gerawan) in response to the 2015 enactment of Assembly Bill 1513 (AB 1513) codified in Labor Code section 226.2 (Stats. 2015, ch. 754, § 5 (2015 - 2016 Reg. Sess.) eff. Jan. 1, 2016). AB 1513 addressed the issue of minimum wages for employees paid on a piece-rate basis (i.e., paid per task) and included safeharbor provisions that provide employers with an affirmative defense against wage and hour claims based on piece-work compensation so long as back pay is timely made. The safe-harbor provisions contained carveouts that placed the safe-harbor provisions out of reach for several California companies including Fowler and Gerawan. The Public Records Act request at the heart of this case sought in pertinent part: “Any and all public records referring or relating to communications between the California Labor & Workforce Development Agency, its officers, and its staff and the United Farm Workers of America regarding AB 1513;” “Any and all public records referring or relating to the statutory carve out for any ‘claim asserted in a court pleading filed prior to March 1, 2014,’ as codified in AB 1513 section 226.2(g)(2)(A);” and, “Any and all public records referring or relating to AB 1513” and Fowler and Gerawan. The trial court ordered the Agency to produce “an index identifying the author, recipient (if any), general subject matter of the document, and the nature of the exemption claimed” to justify withholding information in response to a request for documents under the Public Records Act. The Agency petitioned for writ relief to the Court of Appeal to prevent disclosure of the identities of the parties with whom the Agency communicated confidentially in formulating AB 1513, the substance of these communications, and communications with the Office of Legislative Counsel (Legislative Counsel) during the drafting process. The Court of Appeal granted a stay and issued an alternative writ to allow consideration. Based on the California Supreme Court’s guidance in Times Mirror Co. v. Superior Court (1991) 53 Cal.3d 1325, the Court concluded the trial court’s order erred in requiring disclosure of matters protected by the deliberative process and attorney work product privileges. Accordingly, the trial court was directed to vacate its order directing the Agency to produce an index disclosing the author, recipient, and general subject matter of documents generated relating to the process of drafting AB 1513. View "Labor & Workforce Development Agency v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

by
Respondents-petitioners Central Coast Forest Association and Big Creek Lumber Company asked the Fish and Game Commission to remove (delist) coho salmon south of San Francisco from the list of endangered species in California. Petitioners owned and harvested timber from lands in the area of the coho salmon spawning streams in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Timber harvesting is in part responsible for declining coho salmon populations. The petitioners argued: (1) there never were wild, native coho salmon in streams south of San Francisco, a requirement of being listed as endangered; (2) if there were, they were extirpated by environmental conditions unfavorable to the species; and (3) the salmon currently present in the streams are hatchery plants, implying that the fish are not members of the CCC ESU, and consequently are not deemed wild or native to California. They tender evidence in support of the petition, which they claim “may . . . warrant[]” delisting by the Commission. If sufficient scientific evidence contained in the petition, considered in the light of the department’s scientific report and the department’s expertise, would justify delisting of the species, then the Commission might consider delisting. The Court of Appeal concluded, however, that the evidence presented here did not meet that threshold. The Court concluded the petition did not contain sufficient scientific evidence, considered in light of the department’s scientific report and expertise, to justify delisting the coho salmon south of San Francisco; therefore, there was insufficient evidence that the delisting may be warranted. View "Central Coast Forest Assn. v. Fish & Game Com." on Justia Law

by
At issue in this case is the scope of the Governor’s responsibilities upon receiving an allegation brought under the California Military Whistleblower Protection Act, Military and Veterans Code section 56 (Section 56), referred by the inspector general. Major Dwight Stirling, a part-time judge advocate in the California National Guard, brought a petition for writ of mandate in the trial court to compel Governor Edmund Brown, Jr. (the Governor) to act on Stirling’s whistleblower allegation in accordance with Section 56, subdivisions (d) and (f)(1). Stirling argued that Section 56(e) required the Governor to undertake the same preliminary determination, investigation, and reporting that was required of the inspector general under Section 56, subdivisions (d) and (f)(1). The Attorney General, representing the Governor, argued Section 56(e) did not require the Governor to take any particular action on a whistleblower allegation and permitted the Governor to defer to the Chief of the National Guard Bureau, who was a federal military officer responsible for heading the federal agency that controlled the United States Army National Guard. The trial court sustained without leave to amend the Attorney General’s demurrer to Stirling’s amended petition for writ of mandate. Because the Court of Appeal was reviewing a judgment following an order sustaining a demurrer without leave to amend, its analysis was necessarily limited to the pleadings and matters of which it could take judicial notice. The Court concluded Section 56 was unambiguous, and its plain language did not require the Governor to undertake the procedures required of the inspector general in response to a whistleblower allegation. The Court of Appeal also concluded, based on the appellate record, that Section 56 did not violate California’s equal protection clause because in all cases a whistleblower allegation is referred to an impartial decision maker who has discretion whether to undertake a full investigation. View "Stirling v. Brown" on Justia Law

by
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

by
T.C. appealed the juvenile court's dispositional order placing her minor daughter, A.F., in the care of her paternal grandmother, Donna F. T.C. contended the court erred by failing to comply with the placement preferences required under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) (25 U.S.C. 1901 et seq.) and argued the juvenile court should have continued A.F.'s placement with T.C.'s maternal cousin. The Court of Appeal agreed with the Agency that the juvenile court's dispositional order complied with the applicable placement preferences and affirm the order. View "In re A.F." on Justia Law

by
In this redevelopment case, the city of Anaheim, acting in its capacity as successor to the former Anaheim Redevelopment Agency, sought approval from the California Department of Finance (the department) to obtain money from the Redevelopment Property Tax Trust Fund (the fund or, the RPTTF) to pay back the city of Anaheim for payments the City of Anaheim made to a construction company to complete certain real property improvements that the former Anaheim Redevelopment Agency was obligated to provide on a particular redevelopment project (the packing district project). The city and the city-as-successor characterized the transaction between themselves as a loan, but the department ultimately denied the claim for money from the fund because the city did not disburse the loan proceeds to the city-as-successor, but instead paid the construction company directly, and because the city-as-successor did not obtain prior approval for the “loan” agreement with the city from the oversight board. Around the same time, the city-as-successor sought approval from the department to obtain money from the fund to make payments to the Anaheim Housing Authority (the authority) under a cooperation agreement between the agency and the authority, the purpose of which was to provide funding for the Avon/Dakota revitalization project, which was being carried out by a private developer -- The Related Companies of California, LLC (Related) -- pursuant to a contract with the authority. The department denied that claim because the 2011 law that dissolved the former redevelopment agencies rendered agreements between a former redevelopment agency and the city that created that agency (or, a closely affiliated entity like the authority) unenforceable. The city, the city-as-successor, and the authority sought mandamus, declaratory, and injunctive relief on both issues in the superior court, but the trial court denied the writ petition and dismissed the complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief. The Court of Appeal reversed, finding: (1) with respect to the packing district project, the fact that the city contracted directly with the construction company to construct the improvements the agency was legally obligated to provide at that project, and the fact that the city paid the company directly for its work, did not mean the agreement between the city and the city-as-successor with respect to the transaction was not a loan, as the department and the trial court concluded, also, the fact that the city-as-successor did not obtain prior approval from the oversight board to enter into a loan agreement with the city did not give the department a valid reason to deny the city as successor’s request for money from the fund to pay off the loan; and (2) as for the money from the fund claimed for the Avon/Dakota revitalization project, enforcing the provision of the dissolution law that renders unenforceable an agreement between a former redevelopment agency and the city that created it (or an affiliated entity like the authority) would, in this case, unconstitutionally impair Related’s contractual rights under its agreement with the authority. View "City of Anaheim v. Cohen" on Justia Law