Posted by: Patricia Salkin | October 29, 2016

Fed. Dist. Court in CA Finds State-Law Claim was Barred by the Statute of Limitations and the Doctrine of Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies

This case arose from a land-use dispute between Plaintiff AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Inc. (“AHF”) and the City of San Francisco. AHF claimed it was unconstitutionally targeted by San Francisco city legislators for taking a public and unpopular position in opposition to a HIV/AIDS medication known as pre-exposure prophylaxis (“PrEP”). AHF further alleged that, in retaliation for its stand on PrEP, the city legislators passed new zoning rules to delay its proposed building project in the Castro neighborhood. AHF previously sued the City in a related case alleging the new zoning rules violated its constitutional rights. The Court dismissed that complaint with leave to amend. AHF then requested a stay to seek conditional use authorization from the San Francisco Planning Commission in order to proceed with its project under the new rules. On January 28, 2016, the Planning Commission disapproved AHF’s conditional use application. In response, AHF filed this new complaint and petition. AHF argued that the Planning Commission acted unconstitutionally and abused its discretion in denying its conditional use application. Defendants moved to dismiss on the basis that AHF’s state-law claim was barred by the statute of limitations and the doctrine of exhaustion of administrative remedies, and that its constitutional claim was barred by res judicata.

Defendants first contended that Section 65009 of the California Government Code barred this action. Section 65009 established a short, 90-day statute of limitations, applicable to both the filing and service of challenges to a broad range of local zoning and planning decisions. Defendants argued that 65009(c)(1)(E) did not apply because the Planning Commission’s decision to disapprove its conditional use application was neither a decision to “determine the reasonableness, legality, or validity or any condition attached to a conditional use permit” nor a decision “on the matters listed in Section 65901 and 65903.” Section 65009(c)(1)(E) incorporated by reference decisions on “the matters listed in Sections 65901 and 65903” suggesting that the Legislature intended Section 65009 to reach the “matter” of conditional use applications. Moreover, Section 65901 referred to the exercise of “powers granted by local ordinance” and Section 65903 similarly referred to procedures “provided by local ordinance.” Additionally, the San Francisco Planning Code authorized the Planning Commission to “hear and make determinations regarding applications for the authorization of conditional uses.” AHF had thirty days to file its appeal under San Francisco Planning Code section 308.1(b), but failed to do so.

Defendants argued that AHF’s failure to petition for administrative mandamus in a timely fashion was fatal to its constitutional claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. However, even if the claims at issue were the same, it was not clear that the Planning Commission’s review was conducted with sufficient safeguards to be equated with a state court judgment. Defendants made no effort to show that the Planning Commission’s proceedings possessed the indicia of proceedings undertaken in a judicial capacity and, in any event, the allegations of the Complaint do not suggest they did. Accordingly, Defendants’ motion to dismiss AHF’s state law claim for a writ of mandate was granted without leave to amend. Defendants’ motion to dismiss AHF’s claim for violation of its constitutional rights, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, was denied.

AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Inc. v. City and County of San Francisco, 2016 WL 5358594 (ND CA 9/22/16)


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