A lawsuit challenging a county's decision on parcel status does not belong in federal court, even though the owners acquired the land through federal patents and acts of Congress, the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has ruled.
"Federal land patents and acts of Congress do not provide bases for federal question jurisdiction," the unanimous three-judge panel ruled.
Edward Virgin Sr. and his family claimed to own 1,240 acres in San Luis Obispo County. The holdings included seven parcels created by patents issued to the Virgins' predecessors-in-interest by the federal government, pursuant to acts of Congress in 1820 and 1862, and six parcels acquired pursuant to four other 19th Century acts of Congress. In 1993, the Virgins filed an application for a lot line adjustment to reconfigure the 13 parcels into eight lots. In April 1995, the San Luis Obispo County Subdivision Review Board denied the application and found the property amounted to only one parcel. The Virgins appealed to the Board of Supervisors, which also denied the application but found that the Virgins' property contained two parcels.
The Virgins then sued the county in San Luis Obispo County Superior Court, seeking declaratory relief, an injunction and damages. In May 1997, the court concluded the Virgins' property consisted of four parcels and ordered the county to conduct a new hearing. After that hearing, the Board of Supervisors determined that the Virgins owned only four parcels, "which do not include the majority of plaintiffs' ownership of the land patents."
Unsatisfied, the Virgins filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief in federal district court in November 1997. A few months later, District Judge Audrey Collins dismissed the case because the federal court lacked jurisdiction.
On appeal to the Ninth Circuit, the Virgins argued that two Supreme Court precedents, acts of Congress conferring the patents, and the Supremacy Clause all grant jurisdiction to the federal courts.
The Ninth Circuit disagreed and said the Virgins' case belonged in state court. The two Supreme Court cases cited by the Virgins — Oneida Indian Nation v. County of Oneida, 414 U.S. 661 (1974), and Packer v. Bird, 137 U.S. 661 (1891) — were not applicable, the court ruled. The Oneida exception is limited to federal interest in the possessory rights of Indian tribes, ruled the Ninth Circuit, which cited then-justice William Rehnquist's concurring opinion: "[T]he grant of a land patent … carries with it no guarantee of continuing federal interest and certainly carries with it no indefinitely redeemable passport into federal court."
The Packer case regarded whether a landowner's property extended to the high or low water mark of a stream and "neither the Supreme Court nor the Ninth Circuit has ever invoked Packer to create federal common law conferring federal question jurisdiction," the court ruled.
In rejecting the Virgins' acts of Congress argument, the Ninth Circuit cited Shulthis v. McDougal, 225 U.S. 561 (1912), in which the Supreme Court established that "a controversy in respect of lands has never been regarded as presenting a Federal question merely because one of the parties to it has derived his title under an act of Congress."
The Supremacy Clause did not apply because there was no federal statute that preempted county ordinance or state law. Moreover, all relevant cases "hold that acts of Congress granting federal land patents are not bases for federal question jurisdiction," the court ruled.
Edward F. Virgin Sr. v. County of San Luis Obispo, No. 98-55557, 00 C.D.O.S. 357, filed January 13, 2000.
For Virgin: William S. Walter, Walter & Bordholdt, (805) 541-6601.
For the county: Thomas F. Winfield III, Brown, Winfield & Canzoneri, (213) 687-2100.
For the second time in less than a year, the Fourth District Court of Appeal has ruled against Riverside County landowners whose property was foreclosed upon because of nonpayment of special taxes.
The court ruled that taxes levied under the Mello-Roos Community Facilities Act (Government Code §53311) are special taxes, not special assessments, and that failure of the government to use Mello-Roos bond proceeds as promised does not excuse nonpayment of those special taxes.
Late last year, i...
In one of its rare published opinions, the Fifth District Court of Appeal rebuked the City of Fresno and a developer for violating the California Environmental Quality Act. Specifically, the unanimous three-judge appellate panel rejected the argument that the court cannot require an environmental impact report because the disputed project was built during litigation. "The corporation apparently made a calculated business decision to go forward with the project in spite of protests by residential...
The Interior Department is obliged to build an agricultural drain for land irrigated by the San Luis Unit of the Central Valley Project, the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has ruled. The 40-year-old San Luis Act called for a system in which water, after being used for irrigation, would drain to the Bay Delta. But the Interior Department never completed the drain, a situation that created the environmental crisis that killed or maimed thousands of birds at Kesterson Reservoir during the 1980s....
A City of Las Vegas ordinance regarding adult bookstore permits has been declared unconstitutional by the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. The ruling in the case, known as Baby Tam II, came despite amendments to city ordinance, state law and court rules of practice that were intended to cure defects of an earlier law that the Ninth Circuit declared invalid in 1998.
The California Supreme Court has directed the Fourth District Court of Appeal to vacate a 1999 ruling in which the City of Riverside's requirement that poolrooms be closed from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. was declared unconstitutional.
In January 1999, a Fourth District panel ruled 2-1 that the Riverside ordinance violated poolroom owners' equal protection rights. (See CP&DR Legal Digest, March 1999.) The court said the city's law, which the owner of Mr. Cue's Family Billiards challenged, was "arbitrary an...
Claims that Sacramento County violated the California Environmental Quality Act while approving a commercial development have been dismissed by the Third District Court of Appeal because the project opponent did not submit a written request for a hearing within 90 days of filing a lawsuit.
The attorney for opponent Forster-Gill, Inc., argued that a telephone call to the court clerk within the 90-day period was adequate, but the appellate court disagreed, ruling that the law "plainly contemplates a written request that can be, and is, filed with the court."
A state appellate court has upheld the California Coastal Commission's denial of a development permit for a small mixed-use project in Morro Bay.
The court rejected developer Dan Reddell's arguments that the commission violated his due process and equal protection rights, and that its decision was a regulatory taking of property. Instead, the Second District Court of Appeal ruled that substantial evidence supported the commission's finding that Reddell's project was inconsistent with Morro Bay's local coastal plan (LCP).
A state appellate court has thrown out an Inyo County general plan amendment that the county argued was nothing more than a clarification of a longstanding policy.
A unanimous three-judge panel of the Fourth District Court of Appeal, Division Two, concluded that the amendment was more than a mere clarification and that the county should have completed an environmental impact report before approving the amendment.
A City of West Hollywood moratorium on new multi-family housing development has been declared invalid by the Second District Court of Appeal. The court ruled that the city had not made required findings for the moratorium.
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has set back a plan to develop the country's largest solid waste landfill near Joshua Tree National Park. The court ruled that the environmental analysis for the project was inadequate and that the Bureau of Land Management undervalued land it would provide to the landfill developer.
A state appellate court has struck down a California Environmental Quality Act exemption for an air district rule permitting new power plants to offset emissions by paving roads. The court found that the Mojave Desert Air Quality Management District did not have adequate evidence to support its finding that the rule could not have a negative impact on the environment.
A developer is not entitled to reimbursement or damages from a consultant hired by a local government to complete an environmental impact report, the First District Court of Appeal has ruled. Even when the consultant fails to complete an EIR in a timely manner, the consultant owes no contractual duty to the developer that paid for the consultant, the court concluded.