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Cal Supremes To Consider CEQA Attorneys' Fees Case

The state Supreme Court will review a case involving the awarding of attorneys' fees in a CEQA lawsuit. The lawsuit involved a tie vote to certify an environmental impact report for a housing development in Orange County's Trabuco Canyon. With one member recusing himself, the Orange County Board of Supervisors voted 2-2 on the EIR. The county then proceeded on the grounds that the Planning Commission's certification of the EIR which had been appealed to the Board of Supervisors stood and no further review of the proposed project was necessary. But the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled that an EIR can be certified only with an affirmative vote; thus, the 2-2 vote was the same as taking no action and the project could not proceed until an EIR was approved (see CP&DR Legal Digest, January 2001). After the appellate court decision, an Orange County Superior Court awarded the project opponents $400,000 in attorneys fees. The Fourth District overturned the award of fees, ruling that the lawsuit only sought clarification. The lawsuit did not meet the standard for awarding attorneys fees in such cases by enforcing an important public right or furthering important public policies, the court held. Five state Supreme Court justices voted to review the case. The issue for review is narrow: What standard of review should an appellate court use in determining whether a lawsuit justified an award of attorneys' fees? The Fourth District applied a de novo standard, meaning the court provided a completely new review without deference to the lower court. The case is Vedanta Society of Southern California v. County of Orange, No. S112816.
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