The Imperial Irrigation District, Coachella Valley Water District, and Metropolitan Water District of Southern California entered into various agreements concerning the allocation and conservation of California’s share of Colorado River water. The Imperial Irrigation District filed a validation action, which was opposed by many in separate lawsuits, all challenging the agreements on several grounds, including CEQA. The cases were consolidated. The trial court dismissed the CEQA challenges as moot because it ruled that the agreements must be revoked as unconstitutional. On appeal to the Third District Court of Appeal, the Court held that the agreements were constitutional, thus reviving the CEQA claims. However, even though the Court of Appeal has original jurisdiction over CEQA claims, the Court remanded the consolidated cases to the trial court to allow the lower court to hear the CEQA challenges. The trial court also denied a pretrial motion to dismiss the Imperial County’s CEQA lawsuit because it failed to name the United States and certain Native American tribes as parties. Upon determining that the United States and Native American tribes were “recipients of approval,” the trial court held that the United States and the Native American tribes, although were necessary parties, were not indispensable. The Appellate Court upheld that decision concluding that the trial court acted within its discretion when it concluded that the United States and the Native American tribes were not indispensable parties.
The decision demonstrates that, notwithstanding the Legislature’s attempt to mandate that CEQA litigation be resolved expeditiously, appellate courts may decline to resolve CEQA actions if the trial court has not first considered the substantive merits of the CEQA claim.