December 13, 2014

Summary of December 10, 2014 conference report for civil cases

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, December 10, 2014. 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.

Review Granted

Lynch v. California Coastal Commission, S221980—Review Granted—December 10, 2014

This case presents the following issues: (1) Did plaintiffs, who objected in writing and orally to certain conditions contained within a coastal development permit approved by defendant California Coastal Commission, and who filed a petition for writ of mandate challenging those conditions, waive their right to challenge the conditions by subsequently executing and recording deed restrictions recognizing the existence of the conditions and constructing the project as approved? (2) Did the permit condition allowing plaintiffs to construct a seawall on their property, but requiring them to apply for a new permit in 20 years or to remove the seawall, violate Public Resources Code section 30235 or the federal Constitution? (3) Were plaintiffs required to obtain a permit to reconstruct the bottom portion of a bluff-to-beach staircase that had been destroyed by a series of winter storms, or was that portion of the project exempt from permitting requirements pursuant to Public Resources Code section 30610, subdivision (g)(1)?

In 2003, plaintiff homeowners applied to the City of Encinitas for approval to obtain a coastal development permit. Six years later, defendant Coastal Commission approved respondents’ application and granted a permit containing numerous special conditions and limited the permit’s duration to 20 years. The homeowners obtained the permit, recorded the required deed restrictions, and constructed their project according to the challenged conditions. In the meantime, they filed a petition for writ of mandate challenging the 20 year limit and the conditions, one of which precluded them from rebuilding a staircase. The Coastal Commission argued that the homeowners accepted the benefit of the permit by constructing their project, and thus waived the right to challenge the permit’s conditions. The court granted homeowners’ petition and directed the Coastal Commission to remove the challenged conditions.

The Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division One, held in a published decision, Lynch v. California Coastal Commission (2014) 229 Cal.App.4th 658, that: (1) the homeowners waived their right to challenge the permit’s conditions and their compliance with the permit’s conditions under duress and protest did not fall under either exception to the general waiver rule; (2) the Coastal Commission’s decision to limit the permit’s duration was supported by substantial evidence; and (3) the reconstruction of the homeowners’ staircase was subject to the permitting requirements under the California Coastal Act of 1976, which generally requires a permit for reconstruction, repair, or maintenance projects.  Justice Nares dissented, disagreeing that sufficient evidence supported the majority’s conclusions regarding the 20 year limit and staircase conditions.

For more information about this case, see this Los Angeles Times article.

Friends of the Eel River v. North Coast Railroad Authority (Northwestern Pacific Railroad Company), S222472—Review Granted—December 10, 2014

This case presents the following issues: (1) Does the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act (ICCTA) preempt the application of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to a state agency’s proprietary acts with respect to a state-owned and funded rail line or is CEQA not preempted in such circumstances under the market participant doctrine? (2) Does the ICCTA preempt a state agency’s voluntary commitments to comply with CEQA as a condition of receiving state funds for a state-owned rail line and/or leasing state-owned property?

The North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA) entered into a contract with the Northwestern Pacific Railroad Company (NWPRC), allowing NWPRC to conduct rail service on tracks controlled by NCRA. In addition, NCRA and Caltrans executed an agreement that required NCRA to submit an environmental impact report prior to requesting or receiving funds for the right-of-way purchase or construction of railway tracks. In 2007, NCRA submitted a draft of its EIR, and in addition, NCRA issued notices of exemption for rail line reconstruction concerning work it believed to be categorically exempt from environmental review under CEQA. The proposed action would be “limited to the repair, restoration, replacement-in-kind, or retrofitting, as well as the on-going maintenance of existing railroad facilities.” In 2011, NCRA adopted a resolution approving the EIR. Petitioners filed a petition for writ of mandate, challenging NCRA’s certification of an environmental impact report (EIR) under CEQA. The court dismissed petitioners’ writ of mandate petition.

The Court of Appeal, First Appellate District, Division Five, affirmed in a published opinion, Friends of Eel River v. North Coast Railroad Authority (2014) 230 Cal.App.4th 85. First, the court held that the ICCTA preempted CEQA’s requirement, and explained that when, as here, a party relies on a state law of general application to challenge a state proprietary action, that challenge operates as a regulation, rather than a part of the proprietary action being challenged. Accordingly, the market participation doctrine did not apply. Second, the court concluded that NCRA’s agreement with Caltrans did not unambiguously amount to a commitment to prepare an EIR regarding the resumption of railway operations.

Review Denied (with dissenting justices)





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