March 2013

Ninth Circuit Permits Plaintiffs One More Chance to Amend Retiree Healthcare Lawsuit

The Ninth Circuit has reversed the District Court's dismissal of a lawsuit brought by retired employees against their former employer seeking to avoid the reduction of retiree healthcare benefits.

In Sonoma County Ass'n of Retired Employees v. Sonoma County, No. 10-17873 (9th Cir. Feb. 25, 2013), the Ninth Circuit cited and relied on the California Supreme Court's recent holding that a public agency may form a contract with implied terms with its employees under specified circumstances.  (See Retired Employees Ass'n of Orange Cnty., Inc. v. Cnty. of Orange (REAOC II), 52 Cal. 4th 1171, 1176 (2011).)

Federal Circuit Finds No Foul From Fish Flows

The Federal Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a decision from the Court of Federal Claims finding that appropriative water rights in California are property interests only to the extent the water is put to beneficial use.  See Casitas Municipal Water District v. United States, Court of Appeals Case No. 2012-5033 (Fed. Cir. 2013).  Casitas Municipal Water District claimed that the National Marine Fisheries service had forced it to build a fish ladder and divert flows from the Ventura River for the benefit of the endangered Southern California Steelhead, which resulted in a taking of its water right.  The District has a license from the State Water Resources Control Board allowing it to divert a maximum of 107,800 acre feet per year for storage and authorizing it to use 28,000 acre feet per year for beneficial use.  The court explained that storage itself is not a beneficial use under California law, so there can be no taking unless and until diversions for the endangered fish result in an impact to the District’s maximum allowable water deliveries of 28,500 acre feet per year. 

Court Finds 482 Page Biological Opinion for Pesticide Registration Is Not Long Enough

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has vacated the National Marine Fisheries Service’s (“NMFS”) 482 page biological opinion finding that the EPA’s proposed process for reregistration of pesticides would jeopardize the continued existence of 27 species of Pacific salmonids.  See Dow Agrosciences LLC v. National Marine Fisheries Service, 2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 3650 (4thCir.

Potential Signature Gatherers Challenge Elections Code Prohibition

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A 9th Circuit panel has found that the Libertarian Party of Los Angeles County and two signature gatherers had standing to challenge the Elections Code requirement that signature gatherers must be voters in the political subdivision as the candidate.  Libertarian Party v. Bowen (March 6, 2013)

The U.S. Forest Service Gets a Mixed Bag from the U.S. Supreme Court

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review the process by which the federal government measures the environmental impact of its land use plans, granting the U.S. Forest Service's appeal of a controversial Ninth Circuit decision which found a forest plan deficient for failing to analyze its impact on area fish species.  (See United States Forest Service et al. v. Pacific Rivers Council et al., 689 F.3d 1012 (2012), cert. granted and motion granted 2013 U.S. LEXIS 2177 (U.S., Mar. 18, 2013).)  The Forest Service argued that it had been held to an unfair standard because a broad programmatic environmental impact statement conducted for the proposed changes covering 11.5 million acres near the Sierra Nevada isn't required to go into as detailed an analysis as a study tied to a specific project..  The Forest Service also asserted that requiring such detailed analysis for a programmatic environmental document would increase compliance costs and slow the review process. 

Major League Baseball May Throw Non-Uniformed Employees Out of the Pension Game

In a climate where many employers are strongly considering pension reform, Major League Baseball’s owners may eliminate defined benefit pension plans for non-uniform wearing personnel (all employees besides players and coaches).  The move is being proposed, and apparently supported by the majority of owners, despite the fact that the league brings in billions of dollars in annual revenues.  This proposed change serves as a reminder that profitability alone will not guarantee the continuation of defined benefit plans for an entity’s employees.

For more on MLB’s plans, go here.

Superior Court Rules CPRA Requires Disclosure of Private Emails and Text Messages

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A Santa Clara County Superior Court judge ruled this week that the California Public Records Act (“the Act”) requires City officials to turn over private emails and texts messages related to City business.

What is the Difference Between a City Council Meeting and a Public Park?

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On February 25, 2013, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to rehear a case in which it had found a Costa Mesa ordinance governing rules of decorum at city council meetings to be unconstitutionally overbroad because the ordinance prohibited insolent behavior by someone attending the meeting even if such behavior did not cause a disruption of the meeting.  (Acosta v. City of Costa Mesa (2012) 694 Fl.3d 960.)