Sometimes, email is no substitute for snail mail.

In a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) case from Contra Costa County, the First District Court of Appeal has ruled that notification of a trial court's judgment via email did not trigger the 60-day deadline for filing an appeal. The court ruled that opponents of Davidon Homes' plan to build 22 single-family houses on the 15-acre Weber Ranch may press forward with their appeal of the trial court's ruling.

The Town of Danville approved the housing development in 2007 based on a mitigated negative declaration that said all significant environmental impacts would be fully offset. A group called Citizens for Civic Accountability sued, arguing the city needed to further study impacts on roads, red-legged frog habitat and scenic views. The group insisted the city should prepare an environmental impact report.

Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge David Flinn ruled for the city but did insist on further study of the impacts of removing 120 trees from the site. The clerk of the court then sent the parties an email advising them that the judgment had been authorized for filing on April 1, 2008. On April 10, Citizens served a "notice of entry of judgment" and on June 9 filed an appeal.

The city and Davidon Homes contended the appeal was too late because the 60-day deadline started to run with the April 1 email notification. The First District, however, said an email did not suffice under California Rules of the Court rule 8.104(a). That rule requires filing a notice of appeal within "60 days after the superior court clerk mails the party filing the notice of appeal a … file-stamped copy of the judgment."

The city and Davidon Homes argued the terms "mail" and "email" were essentially the same here. The court disagreed. "[B]ecause rule 8.104(a) must be strictly construed to preserve the right to appeal when possible without doing violence to the language of the rule, ‘mail' must be construed according to its primary meaning to be limited to postal delivery," the court ruled.

The Case:

Citizens for Civic Accountability v. Town of Danville, No. A121899, 08 C.D.O.S. 13565, 2008 DJDAR 16254. The opinion was filed October 27, 2008.