Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal

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Plaintiff-homeowners alleged the copper piping in their homes was damaged by a chemical the defendant water districts added to tap water. Adding the chemical was authorized by regulation, however, and it was undisputed that the water districts complied with all statutory and regulatory standards. After a bifurcated bench trial on certain legal issues, the trial court entered judgment for the water districts, finding plaintiffs’ causes of action for nuisance and inverse condemnation were preempted by federal and state laws, and otherwise insufficient on the merits. The plaintiff homeowners appealed. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded plaintiffs’ causes of action failed on the merits, and thus affirmed. View "Williams v. Moulton Niguel Water Dist." on Justia Law

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Appellants challenged the trial court's order and judgment dismissing appellants' petition for writ of mandate and complaint. At issue was whether Proposition 65's reliance on the International Agency for Research on Cancer to identify known carcinogens violated various provisions and doctrines of the California and United States Constitutions. The Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment, rejecting appellants' arguments that the Labor Code listing mechanism violated article II, section 12 of the California Constitution, because the Agency did not qualify as a private corporation under the constitutional provision; that the Labor Code listing mechanism was an unlawful delegation of authority; that the Labor Code listing mechanism violated procedural due process rights; and that the Labor Code listing mechanism violated the Guarantee Clause of the United States Constitution. View "Monsanto Co. v. Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment" on Justia Law

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Contra Costa County certified an environmental impact report (EIR) and approved a land use permit for a “Propane Recovery Project” at a Rodeo oil refinery owned and operated by Phillips 66. The trial court ordered the county to set aside the certification of the EIR and approval of the land use permit and to correct specified inadequacies in the EIR in the analysis of air quality issues. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting arguments by project opponents that the trial court erred in rejecting its additional arguments that the project description and the analysis of greenhouse gas emissions and environmental hazards failed to comply with the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) (Pub. Resources Code 21000). With respect to the description, the court noted substantial evidence that Phillips’ propane recovery project is independent of any purported change in the crude oil feedstock used at the Refinery and will not increase its present capacity to refine heavier crude oils. View "Rodeo Citizens Association. v. County of Contra Costa" on Justia Law

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Verizon Wireless obtained approval from the City of San Diego (the City, together respondents) to construct a wireless telecommunications facility (WCF, the Project) in Ridgewood Neighborhood Park (the Park), a dedicated park. Don't Cell Our Parks (DCOP), a not-for-profit entity, filed a petition for writ of mandate challenging the City's determination. The trial court denied the petition, concluding that under San Diego City Charter section 55 (Charter 55), the City had control and management of dedicated parks and the discretion to determine whether a particular park use would change the use or purpose of the Park and thus require a public vote. The Court of Appeal concluded the Project did not constitute a changed use or purpose that required voter approval. DCOP also claimed the Project did not qualify under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) for a categorical exemption under CEQA Guidelines section 153031 which pertained to the construction of new small facilities. The Court rejected this argument too, and thus affirmed the trial court in full. View "Don't Cell Our Parks v. City of San Diego" on Justia Law

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Verizon Wireless obtained approval from the City of San Diego (the City, together respondents) to construct a wireless telecommunications facility (WCF, the Project) in Ridgewood Neighborhood Park (the Park), a dedicated park. Don't Cell Our Parks (DCOP), a not-for-profit entity, filed a petition for writ of mandate challenging the City's determination. The trial court denied the petition, concluding that under San Diego City Charter section 55 (Charter 55), the City had control and management of dedicated parks and the discretion to determine whether a particular park use would change the use or purpose of the Park and thus require a public vote. The Court of Appeal concluded the Project did not constitute a changed use or purpose that required voter approval. DCOP also claimed the Project did not qualify under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) for a categorical exemption under CEQA Guidelines section 153031 which pertained to the construction of new small facilities. The Court rejected this argument too, and thus affirmed the trial court in full. View "Don't Cell Our Parks v. City of San Diego" on Justia Law

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In 2003, the Legislature enacted Water Code section 1525, which required the holders of permits and licenses to appropriate water to pay an annual fee according to a fee schedule established by the Board. At the same time, the Legislature enacted sections 1540 and 1560, which allowed the Board to allocate the annual fee imposed on a permit or license holder who refuses to pay the fee on sovereign immunity grounds to persons or entities who contracted for the delivery of water from that permit or license holder. Plaintiffs Northern California Water Association, California Farm Bureau Federation, and individual fee payors claimed that the annual fee imposed in fiscal year 2003-2004 constituted an unlawful tax, as opposed to a valid regulatory fee because it required fee payors to pay more than a de minimis amount for regulatory activities that benefited nonfee-paying right holders. Plaintiffs also claimed that the fees allocated to the water supply contractors violated the supremacy clause of the United States Constitution because they exceeded the contractors’ beneficial interests in the USBR’s water rights. The California Supreme Court previously ruled sections 1525, 1540, and 1560 were constitutional on their face. The Supreme Court found that the record was unclear as to: (1) “whether the fees were reasonably apportioned in terms of the regulatory activity’s costs and the fees assessed;” and (2) “the extent and value of the [contractors’ beneficial] interests.” Accordingly, the Supreme Court directed the Court of Appeal to remand the matter to the trial court to make findings on those issues. Following a 10-day bench trial, the trial court issued a statement of decision that determined inter alia that the statutory scheme as applied through its implementing regulations imposed a tax, as opposed to a valid regulatory fee, by allocating the entire cost of the Division’s regulatory activities to permit and license holders, while nonpaying-water-right holders who benefit from and place burdens on the Division’s activities pay nothing. The trial court likewise found that the fees passed through to the water supply contractors in fiscal year 2003-2004 pursuant to regulation 1073 ran afoul of the supremacy clause “because the allocation of fees [was] not limited to the contractors’ beneficial or possessory use of the [USBR’s] water rights.” In addition, the trial court found that the fee regulations were invalid because they operated in an arbitrary manner as to a single payor, Imperial Irrigation District. Accordingly, the trial court invalidated regulations 1066 and 1073, “as adopted by Resolution 2003-0077 in 2003-2004.” The Board appealed, contending the trial court erred in invalidating the fee regulations. The Court of Appeal concluded the trial court’s central premise was wholly incorrect because it failed to recognize the role that general fund money played in fiscal year 2003-2004: the fees assessed on permit and license holders were proportionate to the benefits derived by them or the burdens they placed on the Division. The trial court erred in determining that the fee regulations were invalid based on their application to a single payor. Accordingly, the Court reversed the judgment invalidating the fee regulations. View "No. CA Water Assn. v. St. Water Resources Control Bd." on Justia Law

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Crown proposed to install 13 microcell transmitters on utility poles, primarily in the public right of way, as part of a Distributed Antenna System (DAS) in the Day Valley area, a rural portion of unincorporated Aptos. A staff report characterized the microcells as “relatively visually inconspicuous” small structures Santa Cruz County concluded that Crown’s DAS project was categorically exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) (Pub. Resources Code 21000) and rejected a claim that an exception to the exemption applied for “unusual circumstances” or “cumulative impact.” The court of appeal affirmed the superior court in upholding the approval. The court rejected arguments that the county: failed to consider the entire project and instead improperly segmented the project by considering each microcell individually; in determining that the “cumulative impact” exception did not apply, failed to consider information submitted by opponents that AT&T was interested in putting cell transmitters in the Day Valley area; erroneously concluded that the “location” exception and the “unusual circumstances” exception did not apply based on the residential agricultural nature of the area. Opponents produced no evidence that it is unusual for small structures to be used to provide utility extensions in a rural area. View "Aptos Residents Association v. County of Santa Cruz" on Justia Law

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In 2014, the Board adopted proposed modifications to the Truck and Bus Regulation, extending certain deadlines for small fleet operators to comply with the regulations. Respondents filed a writ petition against the Board and others, alleging that the 2014 modifications were improper under both the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and California's Administrative Procedures Act (APA). The Court of Appeal held that the trial court correctly determined that the Board's actions violated CEQA, but that the violations were narrower than found by the trial court. The court also found that the Board's conduct violated the APA, voiding the modified regulations. View "John R. Lawson Rock & Oil, Inc. v. State Air Resources Bd." on Justia Law

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In a challenge to an update of the City's general plan, which included an update to areas designated "Neighborhood Commercial," plaintiff claimed that the City violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by failing to analyze the potential for the land use policy to cause a phenomenon called urban decay. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment denying plaintiff's petition for a writ of mandate, holding that plaintiff failed to present substantial evidence from which a fair argument could be made that there was a reasonable possibility physical urban decay would result from the general plan; the general plan was not intentionally inconsistent; and the City did not violate the planning and zoning law by failing to provide 10 days notice of the October 14 meeting. View "Visalia Retail, LP v. City of Visalia" on Justia Law

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The Ventura River watershed is home to Southern California steelhead trout, a species listed as endangered since 1997. San Buenaventura has been diverting water from the Ventura River since 1870. Channelkeeper sued, alleging that the city’s current diversions are “unreasonable” because of the effect they have on the fish during summer months when water levels are low. The city holds water rights that would otherwise allow it to divert this water, but under the California Constitution there “is no property right in an unreasonable use” of water. The city cross-complained against other entities that draw water from the Ventura River watershed, alleging that their water use is unreasonable. The court of appeal held that the trial court abused its discretion in striking the city’s cross-complaint because the water that the cross-complaint seeks to prevent cross-defendants from using is effectively the same water that Channelkeeper asserts the city must leave in the river for the fish. View "Santa Barbara Channelkeeper v. City of San Buenaventura" on Justia Law