Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal

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In a 2005 Cooperation and Option Agreement to facilitate Russell's construction and operation of the Energy Center, a natural gas-fired, combined cycle electric generating facility in Hayward, the city granted Russell an option to purchase 12.5 acres of city-owned land as the Energy Center's site and promised to help Russell obtain permits, approvals, and water treatment services. Russell conveyed a 3.5-acre parcel to the city. The Agreement's “Payments Clause” prohibited the city from imposing any taxes on the “development, construction, ownership and operation” of the Energy Center except taxes tethered to real estate ownership. In 2009, Hayward voters approved an ordinance that imposes “a tax upon every person using electricity in the City. … at the rate of five and one-half percent (5.5%) of the charges made for such electricity” with a similar provision regarding gas usage. Russell began building the Energy Center in 2010. In 2011, the city informed Russell it must pay the utility tax. The Energy Center is operational.The court of appeal affirmed a holding that the Payments Clause was unenforceable as violating California Constitution article XIII, section 31, which provides “[t]he power to tax may not be surrendered or suspended by grant or contract.” Russell may amend its complaint to allege a quasi-contractual restitution claim. View "Russell City Energy Co. v. City of Hayward" on Justia Law

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Tetrachloroethylene (also known as perchloroethylene or PCE) and trichloroethylene (TCE), were detected in groundwater drawn from a drinking water well in the South Basin area operated by the Irvine Ranch Water District (IRWD). The Orange County Water District (District) undertook efforts to identify the source of groundwater contamination and engaged consultants to recommend further avenues of investigation. Although the District's investigation has continued, it had not yet developed a final treatment plan or remediated any contamination by the time of the underlying litigation. During its investigation, the District filed suit against various current and former owners and operators of certain sites in the South Basin area that it believed were in some way responsible for groundwater contamination. The District asserted statutory claims for damages under the Carpenter-Presley Tanner Hazardous Substance Account Act (HSAA) and the Orange County Water District Act (OCWD Act) and for declaratory relief. The District also asserted common law claims for negligence, nuisance, and trespass. Following numerous motions for summary judgment and summary adjudication, and a limited bench trial on the District's ability to bring suit under the HSAA, the trial court entered judgments in favor of the defendants on all of the District's claims. The District appealed, challenging the judgments on numerous grounds. The Court of Appeal confirmed that the HSAA allowed the District to bring suit under the circumstances here, and that the District could recover certain remediation-related investigatory costs under the OCWD Act. The Court also addressed the HSAA's nonretroactivity provision and concluded its requirements were not satisfied here. Furthermore, the Court concluded the theory of continuous accrual applies to the District's negligence cause of action, such that no defendant except one has shown the statute of limitations barred that claim. As to the District's causes of action for trespass and nuisance, the Court concluded the District raised a triable issue of fact regarding its potential groundwater rights in the South Basin. In doing so, the Court addressed the State’s potential interests in groundwater (as allegedly delegated to the District), the District's regulatory powers over groundwater, and its rights based on its groundwater replenishment or recharge activities. The Court concluded the District's potential rights in groundwater were insufficient, on the current record in this case, to maintain a trespass cause of action. However, triable issues of fact precluded summary judgment on the District's nuisance claim for all defendants except one. Finally, the Court concluded most of defendants' site-specific arguments (primarily based on causation) did not entitle them to summary adjudication of any causes of action. The judgments will therefore be affirmed in part and reversed in part. View "Orange Co. Water Dist. v. Sabic Innovative Plastics" on Justia Law

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The trial court held that the rate charged by Metropolitan Water District of Southern California for transporting water (“wheeling”) violated several laws and awarded the San Diego County Water Authority damages for breach of a water exchange agreement between the two agencies. The court held that the Authority lacked standing to challenge a provision in water conservation program contracts between the parties that penalizes the Authority for participating in litigation or supporting legislation to challenge or modify Metropolitan’s existing rate structure. The court of appeal remanded. The trial court erroneously held that although Metropolitan is required to pay its pro rata share of the costs of maintaining the California Aqueduct, these costs may not be considered in calculating Metropolitan’s wheeling charges, essentially because Metropolitan does not own the aqueduct. The inclusion of Metropolitan’s system-wide transportation costs, including transportation charges paid to the State Water Project, in the calculation of its wheeling rate does not violate the wheeling statutes, common law, or the parties’ agreement. The allocation of “water stewardship” charges to the wheeling rate was proper. The Authority has standing to challenge the unconstitutional anti-litigation condition. View "San Diego County Water Authority v. Metropolitan Water District of Southern California" on Justia Law

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Rowe, age 12, suffered catastrophic injuries during a family camping trip at San Mateo County Memorial Park, when a tree fell on his tent as he lay sleeping. Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) owns and maintains an electricity distribution line that serviced a nearby restroom, and has a license permitting it to enter the park to inspect and maintain its equipment and vegetation near its power lines, including near Rowe's campsite. Rowe’s family paid an entrance fee to the county, but paid nothing to PG&E. The county paid PG&E for electricity. Civil Code section 846 confers property owners with immunity from liability arising from the recreational use of their property, with an exception applicable when permission to enter the premises for a recreational purpose “was granted for a consideration.” The court of appeal concluded that the consideration exception applies to PG&E even though Rowe’s fee was not paid to PG&E. Payment of consideration for permission to enter premises for a recreational purpose abrogates section 846 immunity of any nonpossessory interest holder who is potentially responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries, including a licensee or easement holder who possesses only a limited right to enter and use a premises on specified terms but no right to control third-party access. View "Pacific Gas and Electric Co. v. Superior Court" on Justia Law