Petitioner petitioned for a writ of mandate, claiming the County of El Dorado (County) violated CEQA, the Planning and Zoning Law, and traffic safety regulations when it approved a gas station. County responded with a demurrer to the petition, claiming that the Petitioner lacked the capacity to sue since the Petitioner’s corporate status was suspended when it filed the litigation and that the statute of limitations for CEQA and Planning and Zoning Law challenges had since run. The Superior Court sustained the demurrer without leave to amend. Petitioner appealed asking the Court to apply the substantial compliance doctrine. In determining whether to apply the doctrine to this case, the Court looked into the reasons for the shorter statutes of limitations for CEQA and Planning and Zoning Law causes of action. For CEQA challenges, the Court found that the legislature adamantly believes that public interest is best served by a speedy CEQA process. Similarly, the short statute of limitations in the Planning and Zoning Law challenges was designed to avoid delays to the completion of needed projects that already have the required governmental approvals. The Court held that the substantial compliance doctrine could not be used by a suspended corporation to get around these statutes of limitations. The Court held further “that the legislative policy [mandating a short statute of limitations] must trump the judicial policy disfavoring pleas of abatement.”
Petitioner groups in CEQA litigation are frequently unincorporated citizen groups. Where the petitioner is an incorporated organization, the respondent and real parties in interest should investigate the corporate status of the petitioner. If the petitioner’s corporate status was suspended when the lawsuit was filed, then dismissal should be sought.