Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

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The Alameda County Clerk-Recorder’s Office processes and maintains public records, including documents affecting real property, business records, and marriage, birth and death certificates, so that copies can be made available when requested. In 2010, Alameda County adopted an ordinance increasing various fees charged by the Office, including an increase of the fee for copies of records from $1.50 per page to $3.50 per page, based on fee studies conducted in 2009-2010. Considering its direct and indirect costs, the total cost to the County to copy a recorded document was calculated at $3.60 per page, 10 cents more than the amount it decided to charge. Fees charged by neighboring counties “ranged from $1.00 per page to $7.00 per page.” Government Code section 27366 provides that the fee “shall be set . . . in an amount necessary to recover the direct and indirect costs of providing the product or service.” California Public Records Research successfully challenged the fee increase. The court of appeal reversed. CPRR failed to establish the County’s calculation of recoverable “indirect costs” violated section 27366. The County did not act arbitrarily or otherwise abuse its discretion when it determined that charging $3.50 per page was necessary to recover the direct and indirect costs of making copies. View "California Public Records Research, Inc. v. County of Alameda" on Justia Law

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This appeal centered on whether a solar energy project proposed by a local agency, the Lake Arrowhead Community Services District (District), was exempt from, or whether the District must comply with, the zoning ordinances of the city in which the project is to be developed, the City of Hesperia (City). The District adopted a resolution that its proposed solar energy project was both (1) absolutely exempt from the City's zoning ordinances under Government Code section 53091(e) and (2) qualifiedly exempt under section 53096(a), following the requisite determination that there was no feasible alternative to the proposed location of the project. The City successfully challenged the resolution in the underlying superior court proceedings, where the court issued a judgment in favor of the City and a related writ of mandate directing that the District and its board comply with the City's zoning ordinance prior to implementing the project. The Court of Appeal affirmed: because the District's proposed project included the transmission of electrical energy, the exemption contained in section 53091(e) did not apply to the project; and because the administrative record did not contain substantial evidence to support the District's board's finding that there was no feasible alternative to the proposed location of the project, the District prejudicially abused its discretion in determining that the exemption contained in section 53096(a) applied to the project. View "City of Hesperia v. Lake Arrowead Comm. Serv. Dist." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Sacramentans for Fair Planning contended the City of Sacramento violated zoning law and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) when it approved entitlements for real party 2500 J Owners, LLC, to construct a high-rise condominium building in the City’s Midtown area. The project was not consistent with the general plan and zoning code standards for building intensity and height. But the City approved it pursuant to a general plan policy authorizing more intense development than zoning otherwise allowed if the project provided a significant community benefit. The City also conducted a streamlined CEQA review. CEQA authorized the less intense review for a type of residential mixed-use development such as the proposed project which, because of its proximity to mass transit services, may help reduce regional greenhouse gas emissions by generating less use of motor vehicles. In a petition for writ of mandate, plaintiff argued that approving the project under the general plan policy violated constitutional law and an implied-in-law zoning contract that required identical uses in a zoning district to be treated uniformly and prohibited a delegation of legislative authority without sufficient standards to govern its use. Plaintiff also claimed the City violated CEQA because the streamlined review did not analyze all of the project’s environmental effects. The trial court denied plaintiff’s petition. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s order and judgment. View "Sacramentans for Fair Planning v. City of Sacramento" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against DCFS and a private foster care agency, alleging claims of negligence and failure to perform statutorily mandated duties which resulted in sexual abuse by her foster mother's two sons. The Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment of nonsuit and postjudgment awards of attorney fees, but reduced costs by $6,988.37. The court held that the trial court properly granted nonsuit, because plaintiff failed to present sufficient evidence to permit the jury to find in her favor. In this case, there was no evidence Children's Institute owed plaintiff a duty to protect her from the brothers because their sexual abuse was not foreseeable or imminent. Furthermore, the evidence presented by plaintiff was insufficient to permit a jury to find the county's breach of three mandatory duties was a proximate cause of her injuries. The court also held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it denied leave to file a fifth amended complaint, and the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it awarded attorney fees for unreasonably denied requests for admission. Finally, the court modified the postjudgment order to reflect trial costs are additionally taxed for disallowed costs for investigative expenses. View "Doe v. Department of Children & Family Services" on Justia Law

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This appeal arising from a mandamus action presented a matter of first impression for the Court of Appeal regarding the proper scope of judicial review of a school district's decision to deny a petition to renew a charter school. The trial court concluded it had to apply an extremely deferential standard of review because it believed the governing board of the Chino Valley Unified School District (District) was performing a quasi-legislative action when it denied the renewal petition submitted by Oxford Preparatory Academy (the Academy), an existing charter school within the District. Finding that the District's decision was not arbitrary or capricious, the trial court denied the Academy's writ petition. On appeal, the Academy contended the trial court applied the incorrect standard of review because the District's decision was quasi-judicial in nature and, therefore, the trial court should have applied a less deferential standard of review. The Court of Appeal concluded that a school district's decision pursuant to Education Code sections 47605 and 476071 to deny a charter school's renewal petition was a quasi-judicial action subject to review via a petition for administrative mandamus. In considering a renewal petition, the school district is not acting in a legislative function by creating new policy, but rather performing a quasi- judicial function by applying existing standards and rules defined by state statute to determine whether the evidence presented by the charter school regarding its past performance was sufficient to satisfy those standards. The applicable statutes allowed the District to deny a renewal petition only after conducting a hearing and making specific factual findings. Additionally, the Court concluded that after a charter school's initial petition was approved by a school district, the petitioner has a fundamental vested right to continue operating the charter school such that a school district's decision that deprives the petitioner of that right is subject to independent judicial review. The trial court did not apply these standards when reviewing the District's decision. Accordingly, the Court of Appeal reversed and remanded for reconsideration of the Academy's writ petition under the correct standards. View "Oxford Preparatory Academy v. Chino Valley Unified School Dist." on Justia Law

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Petitioners, three rural telephone companies, challenged the Commissions' decision establishing petitioners' "cost of capital," which reflects a company's cost of generating or obtaining capital investment in assets that provide utility services to customers. Petitioners alleged that the Commission failed to adequately consider certain risks that exist for investing in small, rural telephone companies, and therefore the cost of capital was set at an unreasonably low level, resulting in a confiscatory rate of return. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment, holding that petitioners failed to meet their burden of demonstrating that the Commission's cost of capital determination was arbitrary, capricious, lacking in any evidentiary support, or that it otherwise fell short of constitutional standards regarding a reasonable rate of return. View "Ponderosa Telephone Co. v. California Public Utilities Commission" on Justia Law

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Julian Union Elementary School District (Julian) and Diego Plus Education Corporation (Diego Plus) doing business as Diego Valley Public Charter (Diego Valley, together appellants) appealed an attorney fee award to Sweetwater Union High School District (Sweetwater) made under Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5. Sweetwater and Julian were public school districts in San Diego County, California. Diego Plus operated the charter schools Diego Valley and Diego Springs Academy (Diego Springs). Diego Plus paid fees to Julian for its Diego Valley charter school program. In March 2015 Sweetwater sent letters to Julian and Diego Valley requesting that they stop operating within Sweetwater's geographic boundaries. In June 2015, after neither Julian nor Diego Valley responded, Sweetwater filed this action to enforce the Charter Schools Act (CSA). In its petition for a writ of mandate, Sweetwater alleged Julian approved a charter petition for Diego Valley and that Diego Valley was operating charter schools outside Julian's geographic boundaries. Appellants claimed Sweetwater did not qualify as a successful party under section 1021.5 because Sweetwater: (1) failed to achieve its primary litigation goal; (2) the relief it achieved was illusory; and (3) its suit was not a catalyst in motivating either Julian or Diego Valley to take or not take any particular action. Even assuming the trial court did not err in awarding Sweetwater successful party status, appellants claim that Sweetwater was not entitled to a fee award because Sweetwater failed to carry its burden of establishing all requirements for a fee award under section 1021.5. Assuming the Court of Appeal rejected its other arguments, appellants claimed the trial court abused its discretion by rubberstamping the amount of attorney fees that Sweetwater requested. On this record, the Court of Appeal could not conclude the trial court abused its discretion in awarding Sweetwater all its requested fees. View "Sweetwater Union HS Dist. v. Julian Union Elementary Sch." on Justia Law

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Medi–Cal, California’s program under the joint federal-state Medicaid program (Welf. & Inst. Code 14000), provides health care services to certain low-income individuals and families, including the aged, blind, disabled, pregnant women, and others. (42 U.S.C. 1396). Beginning in 2013-2014, there were delays in the determination of applications for Medi-Cal benefits, sometimes with severe consequences for applicants who did not obtain needed medical care. Applicants and an advocacy organization sued the California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS). The court ordered DHCS to make Medi-Cal eligibility determinations within 45 days unless certain exceptions applied. The court of appeal reversed. The trial court did not abuse its discretion by declining to abstain but California law does not impose on DHCS a duty to make all Medi-Cal eligibility determinations within 45 days. There is an obligation to determine Medi-Cal eligibility within 45 days under federal regulation 32 CFR 435.912(c)(3)(ii), but that obligation is subject to exceptions so that the underlying obligation is not sufficiently clear and plain to be enforceable in mandate. It was not clear whether DHCS was out of compliance with an overall performance benchmark of processing 90% of applications within 45 days; absent such evidence, it was error to issue writ relief applicable across-the-board. View "Rivera v. Kent" on Justia Law

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After 14 years of employment, Clare Byrd received a Notice of Pending Dismissal from her position as Administrative Analyst/Specialist at San Diego State University (SDSU), part of the California State University (CSU) system. In December 2014, SDSU provided Byrd with a Notice which stated that she was dismissed from her employment effective December 15. Byrd then filed a Service Retirement Election Application with CalPERS, with a retirement date of December 31, 2014. CalPERS accepted her application and proposed effective retirement date. Byrd appealed after she was denied by a trial court for writ of mandate and declaratory judgment, asking the court to intervene following the breakdown of a settlement agreement between her and CSU, which the State Personnel Board (SPB) initially approved. But following a refusal to comply with material terms of the settlement by CalPERS, SPB changed its position and rejected the settlement in a decision vacating its prior approval. Among other provisions, the settlement agreement directed that Byrd would be reinstated to a classification with a significantly higher salary, which she had never held, and that she would receive compensation at the higher salary during the period that CSU, with her assistance, would apply for medical retirement benefits. Byrd requested that the trial court compel CalPERS to process her reinstatement at the higher salary level. CalPERS maintained it was unable to do so because Government Code section 21198 only authorized Byrd's reinstatement to a job classification she previously held before her termination. The trial court agreed with CalPERS and denied Byrd's petition. On appeal, Byrd argued section 21198 allowed CalPERS to reinstate Byrd to employment as a straightforward matter and did not require reinstatement to the same specific classification or pay rate. She emphasized that the bargained-for terms of the settlement agreement contemplated a scenario in which Byrd would return to work, at least for a short period, while her application for medical retirement benefits was processed. The Court of Appeal determined that in the typical case, section 21198 directs CalPERS to reinstate an employee who was involuntarily terminated but then returned to that same classification as a result of an administrative or judicial proceeding. There may be atypical circumstances in which an individual can be properly reinstate, but if there are those instances, the statute requires a nexus between the new classification and the underlying dispute. In the absence of any such connection here, the Court found section 21198 prevented CalPERS's compliance with the settlement agreement. View "Byrd v. State Personnel Bd." on Justia Law

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January 13, 2017, a Sonoma County Permit and Resource Management Department engineer inspected respondent’s property and observed inadequate and unpermitted retaining walls, one of which directed water to a single point directly above a failed 25-foot bank that had deposited five cubic yards of earth onto Riverview Drive. Unpermitted grading and terracing had contributed to bank failure and deposit of material into a nearby watercourse. On January 19, a rainstorm caused a four-foot wall of mud to slide onto Riverview Drive. Respondent moved earthen materials from the road, resulting in the runoff of materials into a local stream and on neighboring private property. Respondent believed his actions either did not require permits or were emergency measures. Respondent failed to comply with an administrative order requiring him to abate the code violations and pay abatement costs and civil penalties. Sonoma County filed suit. Respondent did not file a responsive pleading. The court entered a default judgment that ordered penalties significantly lower than ordered by the administrative hearing officer. The court of appeal reversed the order imposing civil penalties at the rate of $20 per day and directed the court to modify its judgment to require payment at $45 per day. That provision of the court’s order altered a final administrative order, was entirely unexplained, and provided respondent with a windfall he did not request. View "County of Sonoma v. Gustely" on Justia Law