Posted by: Patricia Salkin | October 6, 2018

CA Appeals Court Finds Res Judicata Barred Challenge to Approval for Expansion of Existing Store

This post was authored by Matthew Loeser, Esq.

In 2010 and 2015, the Rohnert Park City Council approved and reapproved an expansion for an existing Wal-Mart store, which would include a full grocery component. In a prior action, Sierra Club and Sonoma County Conservation Action (“SCCA”) filed a petition for writ of mandate in Sonoma County Superior Court challenging the city council’s EIR and Project approvals. Although raised in its petition, Sierra Club and SCCA did not pursue the claim that this project conflicted with Policy LU-7. The trial court subsequently granted the petition and ordered the resolutions approving the project be vacated and remanded for additional environmental review.

In this case, appellants argued the city council’s second approval was inconsistent with its General Plan and land use policy LU-7. The trial court concluded appellants’ petition was barred by res judicata because the prior petition challenging the city council’s initial approval also asserted a claim contesting General Plan consistency. The trial court further held appellants’ petition was barred by the statute of limitations and substantial evidence supported the city council’s determination the expansion complied with the General Plan. Appellants Nancy Atwell, Elizabeth Craven, and Matthew Weinstein appealed the denial of their petition for writ of mandate against the City of Rohnert Park.

On appeal, the City argued appellants’ petition was barred by res judicata, as consistency with the General Plan was challenged in the prior Sierra Club action, the Sierra Club action resulted in a final judgment, and the appellants in this case were in privity with Sierra Club and SCCA. Appellants alleged that their petition could not have been litigated in the Sierra Club action because it was based on the city council’s 2015 resolutions, which were approved following the Sierra Club action and contain new findings of General Plan consistency. The court found that even though the city council’s 2015 resolutions were “new” and revisions were made to the EIR and its discussion of mitigation measures, these revisions were unrelated to Policy LU-7. Moreover, all of appellants’ arguments regarding Policy LU-7 were identical to those raised and argued before the city council in 2010.

As to the issue of privity, the court found that both appellants’ petition and the prior petition alleged claims on behalf of, citizens, taxpayers, property owners, and electors of Rohnert Park. While appellants contended their petition set forth a private harm “because they will be directly and substantially affected by the adverse community impacts that may result from the Project,” the court found appellants failed to distinguish this harm from that alleged in the Sierra Club action. Furthermore, despite their claims of personal harm, appellants did not allege any such harm apart from that incurred by the community, nor did appellants asserted their interest was not adequately represented in the Sierra Club litigation. Accordingly, the court held that appellants were in privity with the petitioners in the Sierra Club action, and the petition was barred by res judicata.

Atwell v City of Rohnert Park, 238 Cal. Rptr. 3d 248 (CA app. 1st Dist 9/18/2018)

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