Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal

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Before appellants purchased Martins Beach, the public was permitted to access the coast by driving down Martins Beach Road and parking along the coast, usually upon payment of a fee. Because it is sheltered by high cliffs, Martins Beach lacks lateral land access. In 2008, appellants purchased Martins Beach and adjacent land including Martins Beach Road. A year or two later, appellants closed the only public access to the coast at that site. Surfrider, a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of access for recreation, brought suit. The trial court held the California Coastal Act (Pub. Res. Code, 30000–30900) applied and the appellants were required to apply for a coastal development permit (CDP) before closing public access. The court issued an injunction that requires appellants to allow public coastal access at the same level that existed when appellants bought the Martins Beach property. The court of appeal affirmed. Appellants‘ conduct is “development” requiring a CDP under section 30106 of the Coastal Act. Appellants‘ constitutional challenge to the Coastal Act‘s permitting requirement under the state and federal takings clauses is not ripe, The injunction is not a per se taking. The court affirmed an award of attorney fees to Surfrider. View "Surfrider Foundation v. Martins Beach 1, LLC" on Justia Law

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This case arose from a community college’s decision to buy a plot of vacant land from a regional park district for potential future use as the site of a new campus. Plaintiffs-appellants Martha Bridges and John Burkett, residents of Wildomar (where the land was located) sued respondent Mt. San Jacinto Community College District (the community college, or the college) alleging it violated California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by failing to prepare an environmental impact report (EIR) before executing a purchase agreement for the property. Appellants also alleged the community college violated CEQA by failing to adopt local CEQA implementing guidelines. The trial court dismissed the action in its entirety, and the Court of Appeal affirmed: (1) appellants did not exhaust their administrative remedies before filing this suit and did not demonstrate they were excused from doing so; and (2) even if the exhaustion doctrine did not bar appellants’ suit, the Court would have affirmed the trial court’s ruling because both of their CEQA claims lacked merit. View "Bridges v. Mt. San Jacinto Community College Dist." on Justia Law

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Tetrachloroethylene (also known as perchloroethylene or PCE) and trichloroethylene (TCE), were detected in groundwater drawn from a drinking water well in the South Basin area operated by the Irvine Ranch Water District (IRWD). The Orange County Water District (District) undertook efforts to identify the source of groundwater contamination and engaged consultants to recommend further avenues of investigation. Although the District's investigation has continued, it had not yet developed a final treatment plan or remediated any contamination by the time of the underlying litigation. During its investigation, the District filed suit against various current and former owners and operators of certain sites in the South Basin area that it believed were in some way responsible for groundwater contamination. The District asserted statutory claims for damages under the Carpenter-Presley Tanner Hazardous Substance Account Act (HSAA) and the Orange County Water District Act (OCWD Act) and for declaratory relief. The District also asserted common law claims for negligence, nuisance, and trespass. Following numerous motions for summary judgment and summary adjudication, and a limited bench trial on the District's ability to bring suit under the HSAA, the trial court entered judgments in favor of the defendants on all of the District's claims. The District appealed, challenging the judgments on numerous grounds. The Court of Appeal confirmed that the HSAA allowed the District to bring suit under the circumstances here, and that the District could recover certain remediation-related investigatory costs under the OCWD Act. The Court also addressed the HSAA's nonretroactivity provision and concluded its requirements were not satisfied here. Furthermore, the Court concluded the theory of continuous accrual applies to the District's negligence cause of action, such that no defendant except one has shown the statute of limitations barred that claim. As to the District's causes of action for trespass and nuisance, the Court concluded the District raised a triable issue of fact regarding its potential groundwater rights in the South Basin. In doing so, the Court addressed the State’s potential interests in groundwater (as allegedly delegated to the District), the District's regulatory powers over groundwater, and its rights based on its groundwater replenishment or recharge activities. The Court concluded the District's potential rights in groundwater were insufficient, on the current record in this case, to maintain a trespass cause of action. However, triable issues of fact precluded summary judgment on the District's nuisance claim for all defendants except one. Finally, the Court concluded most of defendants' site-specific arguments (primarily based on causation) did not entitle them to summary adjudication of any causes of action. The judgments will therefore be affirmed in part and reversed in part. View "Orange Co. Water Dist. v. Sabic Innovative Plastics" on Justia Law

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The land underlying the 100-unit condominium project was owned and used by Shell as a fuel distribution terminal from 1925-1980, then owned by others. Petroleum products were delivered to the property and stored in aboveground and underground storage tanks. The Estuary Owners Association (EOA) and individual unit owners sued, alleging contamination of the soil and groundwater at the site and improper construction of the condominiums. After the plaintiffs settled with developers and other defendants, the court granted Shell summary judgment, reasoning that the causes of action for negligence and nuisance were barred by a 10-year statute of repose; the negligence claims also were barred by a three-year statute of limitations; and Shell did not owe a duty of care to the plaintiffs. The court of appeal affirmed as to negligence and reversed as to nuisance. The trial court erred in finding the statute of repose applicable but was correct with respect to the statute of limitations. Any claim of negligence causing damage to real property accrued in favor of prior landowners and cannot be pursued by plaintiffs now. Rejecting Shell’s assertion that the plaintiffs were only claiming construction defects as the basis of nuisance, the court noted a possible argument that Shell‘s negligent mishandling of petroleum products and subsequent failure to remediate created a continuing nuisance. View "Estuary Owners Association. v. Shell Oil Co." on Justia Law

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Grist Creek owns property in Mendocino County on which it has aggregate and asphalt processing operations. The County Air Quality Management District approved a permit to construct a “Crumb Rubber Heating and Blending Unit” for the production of rubberized asphalt, on the property. The District Hearing Board’s four members who considered an appeal split evenly on their vote; the Board stated no further action would be taken, leaving the permit in place. Oponents filed a petition for writ of administrative mandate, claiming that Grist Creek should have conducted an environmental review and that the District and Hearing Board violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA, Pub. Resources Code, 21000) and District regulations by failing to require one. The trial court dismissed the action against the Board with leave to amend, finding the tie vote was not a decision, so there was nothing to review. The court of appeals reversed. The Board’s tie vote, in this context, resulted in the denial of the administrative appeal, subject to judicial review. View "Grist Creek Aggregates, LLC v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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In 2004, the District filed this lawsuit against a number of defendants to address current and threatened groundwater contamination in the North Basin. In its operative first amended complaint (FAC), the District alleged each defendant owned or operated one or more industrial sites in northern Orange County where hazardous wastes (i.e., VOC's) had been released into the environment. The release of hazardous wastes had caused or threatened to cause contamination in groundwater within the District's geographic area. The District sought compensatory and punitive damages, attorney fees, costs, an order finding defendants liable for the full cost of remediation, an order declaring the contamination a nuisance and compelling defendants to abate it, and any other proper relief. Defendants cross-complained against the District for, among other things, a declaration of no liability. The trial court found in favor of defendants, and against the District, on its claims under the Orange County Water District Act (OCWD) and the Carpenter-PresleyTanner Hazardous Substances Account Act (HSAA) and for declaratory relief. The court found that each defendant was "entitled to a judicial declaration that it has no liability to the District for damages, response costs, or other costs claimed by the District, or any future costs associated with the NBGPP." The court found that the District's claims for negligence, nuisance, and trespass required the District to establish causation as to each defendant. Given the court's causation findings in its statement of decision, it found that the District could not prevail on its claims. The Court of Appeal reversed in part as to: (1) District's cause of action against Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation under the OCWD Act; and (2) the declaration finding no liability in favor of Northrop. The Court of Appeal remanded for the trial court to reexamine the relevant evidence, receive such additional evidence as the court deemed necessary and appropriate, make new findings of fact and conclusions of law concerning the issues subject to reversal, and enter judgment accordingly. In all other respects, the judgment was affirmed. View "Orange County Water Dist. v. Alcoa Global Fasteners" on Justia Law

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In 2004, the District filed this lawsuit against MAG and several other defendants to address current and threatened groundwater contamination in northern Orange County. In its operative first amended complaint (FAC), the District alleged that MAG owned and operated an industrial site at 1300 East Valencia Drive in Fullerton, California (the Valencia site). The District alleged that MAG and other owners and operators at the Valencia site released hazardous wastes there, including the volatile organic compound PCE (tetrachloroethylene or perchloroethylene). The release of hazardous waste had caused or threatened to cause contamination to groundwater within the District's geographic area. The District alleged injury in the form of investigation and remediation costs to address this contamination and threatened contamination, as well as the ongoing threat to public health, natural resources, and the environment posed by the hazardous waste releases. In appealing the grant of summary judgment in favor of MAG, the District argued: (1) the trial court erred during the bench trial by granting MAG's motion for judgment under Code of Civil Procedure section 631.8 on the District's HSAA claim; (2) the trial court erred under Code of Civil Procedure section 1048, subdivision (b) by scheduling a bench trial on the District's equitable claims before a jury trial on the District's legal claims, thereby depriving the District of its right to trial by jury; (3) the trial court erred by granting declaratory relief in favor of MAG in the absence of a request by MAG; and (4) the trial court erred by applying Evidence Code section 412 to discount the conclusions of the District's expert witness. Finding no reason to disturb the trial court’s judgment, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Orange County Water Dist. v. MAG Aerospace Industries" on Justia Law

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This case concerned residual pollutant discharges from public fireworks displays over the waters of the United States within the jurisdiction of the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, San Diego Region (the Regional Board), which included a large portion of San Diego County, portions of south Orange County, and the southwestern portion of Riverside County (San Diego Region). The Regional Board approved a general permit for public displays of fireworks over the region's surface waters. Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation (CERF) appealed the trial court's denial of its petition for writ of mandamus challenging the approval of the Fireworks Permit. CERF contended: (1) the trial court applied the wrong standard of review in denying its petition, (2) the Fireworks Permit violates federal law regarding water quality monitoring, and (3) the Fireworks Permit violated prohibitions in the State Water Resources Control Board's 2009 California Ocean Plan concerning discharges in areas of special biological significance (ASBS). After review, the Court of Appeal rejected CERF's arguments and affirmed the judgment. View "Coastal Environ. Rights v. Cal. Reg. Wat. Quality Control Bd." on Justia Law

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When ARB's adoption of low carbon fuel standards (LCFS) regulations in 2009 violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the Court of Appeal directed the issuance of a writ of mandate compelling ARB to take corrective action. At issue in this appeal was whether ARB's actions satisfied the writ and corrected one of its CEQA violations. The court concluded that the writ should not have been discharged and the CEQA violation continues uncorrected. Pursuant to the court's discretionary authority to fashion appellate relief, the court reversed the order discharging the writ and remanded for further proceedings under a modified writ. The modifications direct ARB to address NOx emissions from biodiesel in a manner that complies with CEQA, including the use of a proper baseline. View "Poet, LLC v. State Air Resources Bd." on Justia Law

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Since 1972, Mendocino County has approved aggregate and asphalt production on the site; it approved a 2002 permit after review under the California Environmental Protection Act (CEQA). In 2009, the County proceeded under CEQA, prepared an environmental impact report, and updated its General Plan, changing the site’s designation from Rangeland to Industrial, then rezoned 61 parcels, including the site, to conform to updated use designations. Grist Creek acquired the site and wanted to resume aggregate and asphalt production; there had been little production due to market conditions and equipment had been removed. Due to environmental impacts, Grist initially pursued only an aggregate and concrete operation. The Planning Department undertook CEQA review; the County adopted a conditional negative declaration. Later, Grist Creek proposed asphalt production. The County Board of Supervisors declared that proposal was neither a new nor a changed, industrial use. The Planning Department issued a “Notice of Exemption” for “[r]esumption of . . . aggregate processing plant,” The air pollution control officer issued an Authority to Construct without further environmental review. The court dismissed a CEQA suit against the Air Quality Management District. The court of appeal reversed; CEQA claims are allowed against air quality management districts, but the suit does not challenge any land use designations or authorizations. The District (a separate governmental agency) only assessed the proposal’s impact on air quality and issued an “Authority to Construct.” Even under CEQA, this is an administrative proceeding; the only possible relief is invalidation of the Authority to Construct. View "Friends of Outlet Creek v. Mendocino County" on Justia Law