The following is our summary of the Supreme Court’s actions on petitions for review in civil cases from the Court’s conference on Wednesday, August 19, 2015. The summary includes those civil cases in which (1) review has been granted, (2) review has been denied but one or more justices has voted for review, or (3) the Court has ordered depublished an opinion of the Court of Appeal.
Banning Ranch Conservancy v. City Newport Beach, S227473—Review Granted—August 19, 2015
In an action for writ of administrative mandate, this case presents the following issues: (1) Did a city’s approval of a project comport with its general plan’s directives to “coordinate with” and “work with” the California Coastal Commission to identify habitats for preservation, restoration, or development prior to project approval? (2) What standard of review should apply to a city’s interpretation of its general plan? (3) Was the city required to identify environmentally sensitive habitat areas — as defined in the California Coastal Act of 1976 (Pub. Resources Code, § 3000, et seq.) — in the environmental impact report for the project?
The Court of Appeal, Fourth District, Division Three, held in a published decision, Banning Ranch Conservancy v. City of Newport Beach (2015) 211 Cal.App.4th 1209, that the trial court correctly determined the City did not violate the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), but erred when it held the City violated its general plan. The Court of Appeal ruled it was improper for the trial court to micromanage finely tuned questions of policy and strategy left unanswered by a general plan. The Court of Appeal held cities can opt to include clear, enforceable, substantive requirements in their general plans, but courts should not impose obligations not clearly set forth in the general plan at issue.
Gerawan Farming v. Agricultural Labor Relations Board, S227243—Review Granted—August 19, 2015
This case arises from Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) proceedings and presents the following issues: (1) Does the Labor Code’s “Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation” (MMC) process (Lab. Code, §§ 1164-1164.13) violate the equal protection clauses of the state and federal Constitutions? (2) Do the MMC statutes effect an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power? (3) May an employer oppose a certified union’s request for referral to the MMC process by asserting that the union has “abandoned” the bargaining unit?
The Fifth District Court of Appeal reversed a decision of the ALRB and denied a petition for peremptory writ of mandate. It held in a published decision, Gerawan Farming, Inc. v. Agricultural Labor Relations Board (2015) 236 Cal.App.4th 1024, that the MMC process was statutorily and constitutionally unsound and the order stemming from the MMC should be set aside. The court found that the plaintiff company should have been given an opportunity before the ALRB to prove abandonment of the defendant union’s status as the employees’ bargaining representative due to the defendant’s two-decade disappearance. Additionally, the court held that the MMC statute violates equal protection principles and constitutes an improper delegation of authority. The court noted that mediators in charge of an MMC, by design of the MMC statute, set different minimum wages for different companies in the same industry. The court ruled the whole point of the MMC statute is to unconstitutionally single out one employer and create a special set of rules for that employer in violation of the equal protection principals.
Tri-Fanucchi Farms v. Agricultural Labor Relations Board, S227270—Review Granted—August 19, 2015
This is another case arising from ALRB proceedings. This case presents the following issues: (1) May an employer assert as a defense to a request for collective bargaining under the Agricultural Labor Relations Act (Lab. Code, § 1140, et seq.) that the certified union has “abandoned” the bargaining unit? (2) Did the Board err in granting “make whole” relief (Lab. Code, § 1160.3) as a remedy for the employer’s refusal to bargain with the union?
The Fifth District Court of Appeal held in a published decision, Tri-Fanucchi Farms v. Agricultural Labor Relations Board (2015) 236 Cal.App.4th 1079, that there was no defense to excuse the employer from its obligation to bargain in good faith with United Farm Workers (UFW). Instead, the employer’s remedy was dependent on its employees. If the employees no longer wish to be represented by UFW, their recourse is to replace UFW by a new election. The court distinguished this case from Gerawan Farming, Inc. v. Agricultural Labor Relations Board (2015) 236 Cal.App.4th 1024, discussed above, by pointing out that the present dispute arose out of the ordinary bargaining process instead of through the “Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation” (MMC) process in Gerawan.
Williams v. Superior Court, S227228—Review Granted—August 19, 2015
Petition for review after the Court of Appeal denied a petition for peremptory writ of mandate. This case presents the following issues: (1) Is the plaintiff in a representative action under the Labor Code’s Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA) entitled to discovery of the names and contact information of other “aggrieved employees” at the beginning of the proceeding, or is the plaintiff first required to show good cause in order to have access to such information? (2) In ruling on such a request for employee contact information, should the trial court first determine whether the employees have a protectable privacy interest and, if so, balance that privacy interest against competing or countervailing interests, or is a protectable privacy interest assumed?
The Court of Appeal, Second District, Division One, held in a published decision, Williams v. Superior Court (2015) 236 Cal.App.4th 1151, that it would not lightly bestow statewide discovery power to a litigant who has only a parochial claim. The court held the trial court’s measured approach to discovery, which was to compel the employer to produce contact information for only the employees who worked at the plaintiff’s location, was reasonable. The court denied the plaintiff’s petition for writ of mandate.
Friends of the Santa Clara River v. County of Los Angeles, S226749—Review Granted and Held—August 19, 2015
The Supreme Court ordered briefing deferred pending its decision in Center for Biological Diversity v. Department of Fish & Wildlife, S217763, which presents the following issues: (1) Does the California Endangered Species Act supersede other California statutes that prohibit the taking of “fully protected” species, and allow such a taking if it is incidental to a mitigation plan under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)? (2) Does CEQA restrict judicial review to the claims presented to an agency before the close of the public comment period on a draft environmental impact report (EIR)? (3) May an agency deviate from CEQA’s existing conditions baseline and instead determine the significance of a project’s greenhouse gas emissions by reference to a hypothetical higher “business as usual” baseline?
In an unpublished decision following a petition for writ of administrative mandate, the Court of Appeal, Second District, Division Five, affirmed a county’s certification of a final project EIR for a major residential development, its approval of a general plan, and various permits for the project. The court held the county’s conclusion—that the project would have no significant adverse hydromodification and sediment transport impacts—to be supported by substantial evidence produced by a wide array of credentialed scientists after extensive research and collaboration.
Review Denied (with dissenting justices)
Baez v. California Public Employees’ Retirement System, S227537—Depublished—August 19, 2015
The Reporter of Decisions was directed not to publish in the Official Appellate Reports the opinion in Baez v. California Public Employees’ Retirement System (2015) 236 Cal.App.4th 836. There, the Court of Appeal, Second District, Division Two, addressed whether a plaintiff who alleges he was treated differently because he is Latino may state a claim for relief under the anti-affirmative action provision originally enacted as Proposition 209 and now codified in Article I, section 31 of the California Constitution. The Court of Appeal held that the plaintiff did not state a cause of action under section 31 because he was not challenging a preferential treatment program.