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In South Coast Air Quality Management Dist. v. City of Los Angeles (2021) 71 Cal.App.5th 314, the Second District Court of Appeal upheld a trial court decision denying the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Locals 13, 63, and 94 (Union) permissive intervention in CEQA litigation. While the Union alleged that the joined parties would not sufficiently protect the interests of its members, the Court of Appeal found no abuse of discretion in the trial court ruling that such interests did not sufficiently justify the complications Union intervention would bring to an already complex case.

The project proposed the issuance of permits for the China Shipping Container Terminal, a property leased from the City of Los Angeles (City) to a shipping company owned by the Chinese government (Project). A permit was issued for the Project in 2001, sparking controversy and CEQA litigation. The lawsuit settled, and an EIR was prepared in 2008. The City certified a second EIR in 2019, altering mitigation and lease obligations, and approved the Project in 2020. South Coast Air Quality Management District (Air District) filed suit thereafter, raising multiple CEQA claims.

The Union sought permissive intervention in the suit under Code of Civil Procedure section 387(d)(1). While the trial court granted requests to intervene by the California Attorney General and California Air Resources Board (CARB), it denied the Union’s request, finding the Union’s interest to be speculative and not sufficiently direct or immediate. The Union appealed the ruling.

Permissive intervention under section 387(d)(1) requires, among other things, that the nonparty have a direct and immediate interest in the action and that its reasons for intervention outweigh any opposition by the existing parties. In ruling on a motion for permissive intervention, a trial court has broad discretion to balance the interests of nonparties affected by a judgment against those of the litigants. As such, the Court reviewed the denial for an abuse of discretion.

The Union claimed a unique and distinct interest from those of the City and other public entities defending the EIR with respect to potential remedies. The Union argued that it primarily sought to keep the Terminal open, maintaining employment for its members, should a CEQA violation be established. However, the Court found that the City had the same goal. The Court further observed that following the Union’s reasoning would open the door to requiring intervention by a multitude of parties – potentially including representatives of the approximately 80,000 indirect jobs associated with the Terminal. The Court held that the trial court could have reasonably inferred that permitting Union intervention would spur additional parties representing tens of thousands of jobs to seek intervention, leading to an unmanageable result. Thus, the Court held that the trial court reasonably concluded the Air District’s interest in litigating the case without Union involvement outweighed the Union’s reasons for intervening.

The Union further argued that trial court’s ruling had been arbitrary and capricious because it allowed CARB to intervene. However, the Court of Appeal noted that CARB’s intervention had been mandatory, requiring a different analysis. A footnote in the trial court decision saying the court would also have granted CARB permissive intervention for similar reasons did not establish an abuse of discretion with respect to the Union. As such, the Court upheld the trial court’s denial of the Union’s motion to intervene.

Key Point:

Trial courts have broad discretion in considering permissive intervention, and can exercise this discretion to keep cases from becoming unduly complicated.