January 3rd, 2017

By: Thomas Law Group

In an unpublished opinion, Fudge v. California Coastal Commission, 2016 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 8765, the Second Appellate District affirmed the trial court’s rulings granting the City of Laguna Beach’s (City) demurrer to several causes of action in a lawsuit challenging actions by the City and Coastal Commission concerning a project proposed by Laguna Beach Golf and Bungalow Village, LLC (Developer) to remodel and expand an existing hotel, dining, retail and golf course facilities on an 84-acre parcel in Aliso Canyon.

On May 14, 2014, the City Planning Commission approved a coastal development permit (CDP), conditional use permit (CUP), and design review permit (DRP) for the project and determined that the project was exempt from CEQA under the Class 3 categorical exemption. On June 16, 2014, Appellant appealed the CDP approval to the Coastal Commission. The Coastal Commission approved the CDP on January 8, 2015 and took further actions to approve the CDP on April 15, 2015. Appellant filed the lawsuit on March 5, 2015.

The City and the Developer filed demurrers to three causes of action alleged against the City: the first cause of action alleged a violation of CEQA in connection with the Planning Commission’s determination that the CDP was exempt from CEQA; the third cause of action alleged the City violated the LBMC in connection with the Planning Commission’s approval of the project; and the fourth “cause of action” sought declaratory and injunctive relief. The trial court entered an order granting the demurrers and dismissed the City from the litigation. Appellant appealed from the order.

The Court held the first and third causes of action were time-barred. The Court explained that both causes of action challenged the Planning Commission’s May 2014 approval of the project. Appellant’s challenge of the CDP to the Coastal Commission did not affect the validity of the Notice of Exemption (NOE) issued by the Planning Commission or issuance of the CUP. The 35-day statute of limitations (SOL) under the Public Resources Code section 21167, subdivision (d), was applicable to the first cause of action, and the 90-day SOL under Government Code section 65009 was applicable to the third cause of action. As the lawsuit was filed in March of 2015, it was filed over nine months after the Planning Commission approved the project. As a result, the lawsuit was untimely as to the first and third causes of action.

Lastly, the Court held that Appellant’s fourth cause of action – seeking declaratory and injunctive relief – was barred as a matter of law. The Court reasoned that a petition for writ of mandate under the Code of Civil Procedure section 1094.5, not declaratory relief, is the sole means to challenge the City’s permit approvals. Further, the Court provided that there is no stand-alone cause of action for injunctive relief, which is an equitable remedy that may only be requested incidental to an independently cognizable cause of action. As the first and third causes of action against the City were time-barred, the fourth cause of action was not incidental to an independently cognizable cause of action against the City.

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