January 2007

California Supreme Court Agrees with Meyers Nave Amicus Brief; Holds Newly Incorporated City Not Estopped from Disapproving Final Subdivision Map

Attorney Authors: 

In City of Goleta v. Superior Court (December 21, 2006), the California Supreme Court upheld the discretion of the newly incorporated City of Goleta to deny a "final" subdivision map that complied with a "tentative" map which was previously approved by the County out of which the City was formed. The Court held the new City was not barred from exercising that discretion by its interim adoption of a County subdivision ordinance that mandated approval of final map in conformity with a tentative map previously approved by "the County" – because the City had amended the interim ordinance to refer to maps previously approved by "the City."

The Court also emphasized the difficulty of holding local agencies to be "estopped," on grounds of alleged unfairness, from acting in compliance with their laws. The Court refused to apply estoppel in this case, where there was no evidence that the City expressly promised approval of the final map, and City officials had -- both before and after incorporation -- made public their concerns about the project. Peter Hayes and Amrit Kulkarni of the Meyers Nave Land Use Group, along with Kyle La Londe, supported the City’s estoppel arguments in an amicus brief, filed on behalf of the League of California Cities and the City of Laguna Woods.

For more information, please contact Peter Hayes at phayes@meyersnave.com.

To view the full text of the opinion, please click here.

COURT OF APPEAL INVALIDATES AMENDMENT TO REDEVELOPMENT PLAN

In Neilson v. City of California City (January 9, 2007), the Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's ruling in favor of defendant, the City of California City, and invalidated the amendment to the City's redevelopment plan. The Court of Appeal held that the City misinterpreted Redevelopment Law (California Health & Safety Code Section 33000 et seq) by finding that subdivided lots without legal and physical access to a right-of-way were of "irregular form and shape."



Redevelopment Law defines "the existence of subdivided lots of irregular form and shape and inadequate size for proper usefulness and development that are in multiple ownership" as a physical condition that causes blight. The City interpreted "irregular" to mean "not conforming to the standard of law, propriety, method or custom, lacking an established pattern" and found that vacant, subdivided lots that had no legal or physical access to a public right-of-way were "irregular." The Court of Appeal held that the City misinterpreted and misapplied the term "irregular."  The term "irregular" must be interpreted as describing the "form and shape" of lots that are blighted and not as a definition of blight in and of itself. The lack of legal or physical access to a public right-of-way does not affect the "form and shape" of a lot, thus the City's findings were invalid.

To review the entire opinion, click here:

Contracts for the Sale of Unsubdivided Parcels Violated the Subdivision Map Act Absent the Contracts Being Expressly Conditioned Upon the Approval and Recordation of the Final Parcel Map

In Black Hills Investments, Inc. v. Albertson's, Inc. the Court of Appeal for the Fourth Appellate District, Division One, held that two contracts to sell unsubdivided parcels of real property before the seller recorded a parcel map in compliance with the Subdivision Map Act ("SMA") were void because the contracts violated California Government Code section 66499.30(b). The court also held that the contracts did not comply with the exception set forth in section 66499.30(e)--allowing for a contract for the sale of land to be expressly conditioned upon the approval and filing of a parcel map--because the contracts merely permitted the seller to waive the condition that a parcel map be recorded prior to the closing date and did not expressly condition the contract on the approval and filing of the parcel map.

Albertson's, Inc. ("Albertson's") entered into two contracts to sell two parcels of unsubdivided real property to Black Hills, Investments, Inc. ("Black Hills"). The contracts obligated Albertson's to obtain and record a parcel map legally subdividing the property prior to the agreed-upon closing date; however, this contractual obligation was subject to the express condition that gave Albertson's the right to terminate the contracts in the event Albertson's failed to satisfy the requirements of California Government Code section 66499.30(b) which prohibits the sale of unsubdivided parcels of real property before the seller records a parcel map in compliance with the SMA. Albertson's recorded a parcel map that subdivided the property before the closing date. One day before the closing date Black Hills stated its intent to terminate the contracts and requested that Albertson's return the deposit money. Among other allegations, Black Hills asserted that they had not received its preliminary title report for the two parcels which prevented Black Hills from performing due diligence on the parcels it contracted to buy.

Supreme Court Declines to Hear Eminent Domain Case

The United States Supreme Court bypassed an opportunity to revisit its much publicized 2005 Kelo v. City of New London decision that upheld governmental power to use eminent domain for economic development. Without comment, the Court declined to hear Didden v. Village of Port Chester, a case from New York, that challenged the village's 1999 redevelopment plan and ultimate use of eminent domain to acquire property for development of a run-down 27-acre urban renewal area and replace it with a retail center including a Walgreens. By the time the village was ready to acquire the property in 2002, the property owner had already leased the land to a competing drugstore chain.

Both the Federal District Court in Manhattan and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit dismissed the lawsuit based on the property owner's failure to file his lawsuit within the three-year statute of limitations from the time of the adoption of the redevelopment plan. The property owner had argued the clock did not start running until the village announced it was going to take his property.

Nurse Files Lawsuit Alleging Employer Discrimination Based on Military Service

Attorney Authors: 

A military nurse recently filed a lawsuit alleging that her former employer, Sutter Health, Violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act when the nurse was terminated for informing her former supervisor that she was being deployed to military service in Iraq. In her complaint in Federal Court, the plaintiff nurse also alleges that her former supervisor expressed frustration at her past military deployments. The plaintiff nurse worked at Sutter from 2002 until she was terminated in 2006.

Click here to read an article about this lawsuit.

Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Denies Immunity in Civil Rights Action Filed by Parents of Teenager Shot and Killed by CHP Officer

In Adams v. Speers, eighteen year-old Alan Adams was pursued by numerous Merced County Sheriff's Office deputies, after running numerous stop signs. Paul Speers, a CHP officer, picked up the chase on his radio, and before his assignment ended picked up a friend, and without advising law enforcement vehicles of his identity or his intentions, pulled his car out and tried, but failed, to ram Adams' vehicle. Speers then continued on in the chase and proceeded to the front of the police procession. Finally, Speers crashed his car into Adam's vehicle and pushed it into an embankment. Officers surrounded Adams' vehicle, and one officer used his baton to break the driver's side window in an attempt to extract Adams from the car. Before the officer could act, Speers, without any warning, drew his service weapon and fired six rounds, killing Adams.

The deceased teenager's parents filed suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C section 1983, the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, and wrongful death. Per the standard set forth in the United States Supreme Court case, Saucier v. Katz, the district court first determined that if all facts were viewed in favor of the Adamses, Speers had violated the Fourth Amendment. The court stated that it was unreasonable for a police officer to seize an unarmed, nondangerous suspect. The court determined that per the second Saucier step the actions of Speers were no reasonable, therefore the district court denied him qualified immunity. The Ninth Circuit found the district court's judgment was "impeccable," and therefore upheld the judgment in its entirety.

Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Adopts "Less Rigorous" Scrutiny Standard for City of San Diego's Campaign Contributions Ordinance as Applied to the Signature-Gathering Phase of a Recall Campaign

In Citizens for Clean Government v. City of San Diego, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that the City of San Diego ("City") did not provide evidence demonstrating that the City's ordinance limiting campaign contributions is closely drawn to match a sufficiently important government interest when applied to the signature-gathering phase of a recall campaign.

The City's municipal code bans contributions exceeding $250 to any committee supporting or opposing a candidate for City Council office. In 2003, Citizens for Clean Government ("Citizens") launched an effort to recall a member of the City Council. The recall campaign proceeded in two phases. Phase one required Citizens to gather a requisite number of signatures to file a recall petition. Phase two would occur after the signatures had been collected and verified and the City called a special election. Citizens ultimately failed to collect the required number of signatures for a recall campaign during the signature-gathering phase.

Citizens argued that the contribution limit was unconstitutional as applied to the signature-gathering phase of a recall campaign because it violated its right to freedom of speech and freedom of association under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Applying the "less rigorous" scrutiny standard established in Buckley v. Valeo (424 U.S. 1 (1976)), the court found that the City offered no record evidence or governmental findings of deliberation on the issue of campaign finance in recall campaigns to establish a sufficiently important interest in limiting contributions. The court remanded the case to the district court for further evidentiary development in accordance with the "less rigorous" scrutiny standard.

California Court of Appeal Holds that Claims Against Incorporated Charter School are Excused from Meeting the Claims Presentation Requirements for the Government Tort Claims Act

In Knapp v. Palisades Charter High School, the Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the charter school, its teacher, and the chartering school district because the plaintiff failed to comply with the claim presentation requirements of the Government Tort Claims Act (Government Code section 900, et seq.).

Drawing from the precedent set in Wells v. One2One Learning Foundation (2006) 39 Cal.4th 1164, the Court determined that as a nonprofit benefit corporation, the charter school, was not a "public entity" under the Tort Claims Act. Accordingly, the claim against the charter school was not required to meet the standards set forth in the Tort Claims Act.