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In an unpublished decision, Parks Legal Defense Fund v. City of Huntington Beach, (2014) Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 5050, the Fourth District Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s jurisdiction to discharge a writ of mandate, but reversed and remanded the trial court’s determination that the subsequent environmental impact report complied with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), finding this determination outside the limited scope of the writ.

In 2008, Parks Legal Defense Fund (Parks) filed a petition for a writ of mandate challenging the City of Huntington Beach’s certification of an environmental impact report (EIR) for a senior center in a city park.  The trial court issued a writ ordering the City to vacate its approvals and prepare a subsequent EIR to address the suitability of alternative off-site locations and requiring the City to a file a return to the writ.  The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s decision in December 2010, finding that the EIR had multiple flaws.

A second appeal addressing attorney fees was dismissed in April 2011, following the stipulation of the parties in furtherance of a settlement agreement.  Once the trial court vacated the fee award pursuant to the settlement agreement, the City requested that the court close the case.  The trial court declined to relinquish its jurisdiction until the City complied with the appellate court’s decision requiring the City to set aside certification of the EIR and issuance of project approvals. Once the City took the necessary action, the trial court held another status conference in July 2011, during which the court deemed the matter in compliance with the appellate court’s orders and stated that it would take no further action.

In May 2012, Parks filed a new lawsuit; however, the City continued to pursue the original litigation and filed its return to the writ in February of 2013, along with a motion to discharge the writ.  Parks opposed the motion, arguing that the original proceeding was over and the trial court had no further jurisdiction over the matter.  The trial court determined that it had jurisdiction and granted the motion, and also held that the subsequent EIR prepared by the City was in compliance with CEQA in all respects.

On appeal, the court rejected Parks’ claim that the trial court did not have jurisdiction to discharge the charge.  Under Public Resources Code section 21168.9, subdivision (b), the trial court retains jurisdiction over the proceedings until it deems that the public agency has complied with the writ.  While the City had prepared a subsequent EIR and set aside certification of the original EIR, at no point in the case’s procedural history prior to February, 2013 did the City file a return to the writ.  Nor did the trial court dismiss the case.

The appellate court held, however, that the trial court acted outside the scope of its jurisdiction when it issued an order stating that the subsequent EIR complied with CEQA in all respects.  The trial court was limited in its review to the matters included in the writ; however, the language in the trial court’s order finding compliance with CEQA in all respects could be interpreted to mean that the City had complied not only with respect to the issues addressed in the original judgment, but also with respect to every conceivable issue arising under CEQA.  The appellate court found this language overbroad and remanded to the trial court to issue a new order that only discharged the writ.

Finally, the court made a point to observe that Parks repeatedly failed to organize its brief in a coherent manner and neglected to properly support its arguments with citations to the record or legal authority.  The court declined to sort out these muddled arguments and treated them as waived.

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