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Second Statute Of Limitations Case Reached State High Court

The California Supreme Court has accepted a second case involving the California Environmental Quality Act's statute of limitations.

In the latest case, the Sixth District Court of Appeal reinstated a lawsuit after a trial court judge had thrown the suit out for being filed after the statute of limitations expired. The trial court judge held the litigants to CEQA's typical 30-day deadline, while the Court of Appeal ruled that a 180-day deadline applied because the case appeared to involve an agency approving a project without environmental review (see CP&DR Legal Digest, July 2008).

The case concerns construction of a recreation trail that was required as mitigation for development of academic facilities and housing at Stanford University. Subsequently, Santa Clara County agreed to a new proposed alignment for one trail that would shift the trail into unincorporated San Mateo County and the Town of Portola Valley. An environmental organization argued that Santa Clara County never conducted an environmental review before approving the new alignment, instead deferring to San Mateo County and Portola Valley.  

Stanford and Santa Clara County argued environmentalists' lawsuit was filed after the 30-day statute of limitations concluded. But the Sixth District ruled that environmentalists should at least have the opportunity to show that the 180-day statute of limitations applied (the suit was filed within that period) and to argue that environmental review of the trail alignment was inadequate.

The legal question that the state high court accepted is this: What statute of limitations applies after a public agency files a notice of determination stating that an entire project will not have a significant impact on the environment?

The case is Committee for Green Foothills v. Board of Supervisors, No. S163680.

A second, already-pending case involves the statute of limitations for a case regarding the City of Stockton's lack of environmental review for a Wal-Mart Supercenter. In that case, the Third District Court of Appeal ruled that the statute of limitations never commenced because there was no valid project approval (see CP&DR Local Watch, February 2008). The case, Citizens for Sensible Planning v. City of Stockton, No. S159690, has been fully briefed but no date for oral argument has been set.