An effect on public interest lawsuits

A new case was just published by the Court of Appeal that will affect public interest lawsuits, especially in cases under CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act.  It is Edna Valley Watch v. County of San Luis Obispo, and in it, the Court of Appeal seated in Ventura decided that a public interest group can be awarded attorneys’ fees for the time spent developing the record before the administrative body (usually the Planning Commission, City Council or Board of Supervisors).  In the past, if a public interest group sued a city or county and won, the group could then ask the trial court to reimburse the group for the attorneys fees incurred for pursuing the lawsuit.


However, much of the work in a case involving a challenge to a decision by a city or county occurs before any decision is made.  You must, as a potential litigant, make certain that all groups for your challenge are presented to the public entity before it makes a decision.  If you fail to bring up a reason for the challenge before the decision, you are precluded from raising that at trial.


The Court of Appeal decision in Edna Valley found this point dispositive.  A litigant cannot bring a case in court without exhausting administrative remedies in front of the city council, the planning commission or board of supervisors. Therefore, the administrative process is a prerequisite to suit, and attorneys fees should be awarded.


This issue has been a difficult one for public interest litigants for years.  Now, it is finally decided in favor of those challenging public decisions, and will make it easier for litigants to engage competent counsel.

Environmental Law Case Updates & Opinions

We’re just getting started. Check back later for the latest info from Kate M. Neiswender. She will be posting info on recent and current cases as well as her own cases.