The First District Court of Appeal has refused to excuse a citizens group's failure to comply with a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) procedural requirement, and has upheld dismissal of a lawsuit.

Under CEQA, a petitioner has 90 days from the time it files a lawsuit to request a hearing. In this case, which concerned modifications at Lake Nacimiento in San Luis Obispo County, the deadline would have been October 1, 2002. However, the two sides agreed to a December 1, 2002, deadline because the case was moved out of county. When the group still had not requested a hearing by the following April, the government agency that had been sued requested dismissal, which the trial court granted.

The group's attorney conceded that inexcusable error caused the missed deadline, but he asked for an extension under Code of Civil Procedure § 473, which provides relief for defaults without requiring that the attorney error was excusable. The First District rejected the argument, noting that CEQA has strict time limits and that every blown deadline was “caused by the mistake, inadvertence or neglect of the plaintiff's attorney. Application of § 473(b)'s mandatory relief provision to CEQA dismissals for failing to request a hearing within the prescribed 90-day time period would undermine CEQA's design for expedited litigation.”

The case is Nacimiento Regional Water Management Advisory Committee v. Monterey County Water Resources Agency, No. A104687, 04 C.D.O.S. 8867, 2004 DJDAR 12134, and was filed on September 29, 2004.