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CHANG v. SONOMA COUNTY

United States District Court, Northern District of California


January 28, 2003

MARINA CHANG AND CRAIG S. HARRISON, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
SONOMA COUNTY ET AL., DEFENDANTS.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Elizabeth D. Laporte, United States Magistrate Judge.

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs allege the following facts in their Complaint. In May 1998, plaintiffs purchased property in Santa Rosa, California, in an area known as Bennett Valley. Defendant Sonoma County appointed defendants Boultbee, Humphrey, Phillips, Beigler, and Stanfied to serve on the Bennett Valley Design Review Committee ("BVDRC"). The Sonoma County Permit and Resource Management Department ("PRMD") delegated to the BVDRC the authority and responsibility of approving or disapproving design submissions prior to submission of the design to the PRMD. On July 1, 1999, Sonoma County's grand jury released its annual report and suggested that Sonoma County abolish the BVDRC.

On June 12, 1998, plaintiffs filed a Planning Application for a Permit Modification ("Permit Modification") to change the location of the building envelope from the east to the west side of their property. The PRMD sent the Permit Modification to the BVDRC for review and comment, and, in September 1998, the BVDRC objected to it. In October 1998, the Sonoma County Project Review and Advisory Committee ("PRAC") granted the Permit Modification.

On June 23, 1999, plaintiffs flew from Virginia to present their preliminary architectural plan for their proposed home to the BVDRC.*fn1 On June 26, 1999, Boultbee, Beigler, Humphrey and Stanfield attended a meeting on plaintiffs' property, and Stanfield told plaintiffs that their proposal would be taken under advisement.*fn2 On August 31, 1999, plaintiffs submitted a formal application for design review ("Second Proposal"). On September 8, 1999, Boultbee, Humphrey, Beigler, Phillips, and Gaewiler unanimously denied the Second Proposal because of the presence of second story rooms, roof color, stucco color and landscaping. Plaintiffs appealed the BVDRC's decision to the PRMD, which approved the Second Proposal on November 4, 1999.

Plaintiffs allege that the BVDRC encouraged Kathryn Gaewiler, the new owner of the adjacent property, to appeal the PRMD design approval. The appeal delayed plaintiffs from doing such preliminary site work as building a road, placing a water tank, drilling a well or landscaping before the rainy season. (AC ¶ 66.)

On January 20, 2000, plaintiffs flew in from Virginia to attend a public hearing before the Sonoma County Planning Commission, and the Commission upheld the PRMD's approval of the Second Proposal. Thus, plaintiffs' actual amount of time to obtain design approval was only about nineteen months.

Plaintiffs allege that they were unable to begin building during spring 2000 at a reasonable price, which plaintiffs attributed to local building conditions. (AC ¶ 68.) In January 2001, plaintiffs engaged a general contractor, who began framing their home in April 2001. Thus, plaintiffs experienced another fourteen months of delay once their design was approved.

Plaintiffs allege that, in November 2001, they were forced to agree to accept landscaping conditions by the PRMD contrary to a Sonoma County Ordinance in order to qualify for a final occupancy permit. (AC ¶ 70.) Plaintiffs contend that, in late 2001, when they learned the near-final costs of the construction of their home, they realized that defendants had caused them actual damages. (AC ¶ 72.) Plaintiffs also allege that Boultbee, acting under color of authority as a member of an advisory committee on Sonoma County's general plan, trespassed on their property in April 2002 and took photographs of the house before plaintiffs had obtained a final occupancy permit. (AC ¶ 73.)

Plaintiffs filed a complaint on September 20, 2002, alleging six causes of action based on Constitutional violations and six state causes of action. The Court's jurisdiction arises under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 for the constitutional claims. Plaintiffs contend that the Court also has jurisdiction over the state claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367 because there is a common nucleus of operative facts among all of the claims. (AC ¶ 2.) Plaintiffs claim that their economic damages include increased construction costs occasioned by a one year delay and the decline in value of the shares of several stocks that plaintiffs intended to sell to finance construction. (AC ¶ 72.)

On November 20, 2002, defendants filed a motion to dismiss plaintiffs Amended Complaint ("Motion") and a request for judicial notice of plaintiffs' Complaint, plaintiffs' Amended Complaint, and the County of Sonoma Board of Supervisor's Resolution No. 00-1154 dated September 19, 2000. On December 10, 2002, defendants filed an Errata to their Motion ("Errata"). On December 17, 2002, plaintiffs filed an opposition to defendant's motion ("Opposition") and a request for judicial notice of two Citizens Advisory Committee documents. On December 26, 2002, defendants filed a reply to plaintiffs' opposition ("Reply") and an objection to plaintiffs' request for judicial notice.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Statute of Limitations

Claims one through six of plaintiffs' Amended Complaint allege, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, violations of Equal Protection, Racial Discrimination, 14th Amendment right to travel, Article IV Privileges and Immunities, Procedural Due Process, and a Regulatory Taking of Property.

The basic law regarding the statute of limitations to be applied to § 1983 actions has been established for a decade. The length of the limitations period, and closely related questions of tolling and application, are to be governed by state law. The particular period which is to be used is the one which applies to tort actions for the recovery of damages for personal injuries. That could be somewhat ambiguous because different statutes of limitations could apply to different torts in a given state. Any ambiguity is avoided, however, by the corollary that in the event that the state has multiple statutes of limitations, courts considering § 1983 claims should borrow the general or residual statute for personal injury actions. We have previously declared that in California the general, residual statute of limitations for personal injury actions is the one year period set forth in California Civil Procedure Code section 340(3).*fn3
Silva v. Cran, 169 F.3d 608, 610 (9th Cir. 1999). Thus, a one-year statute of limitations applies to plaintiffs' constitutional causes of action.

Defendants argue that plaintiffs' federal claims accrued when the last official act occurred that gave the plaintiffs notice of the conditions claimed to violate their civil rights to a reasonable degree of certainty. See McMillan v. Goleta Water Dist., 792 F.2d 1453 (9th Cir. 1986). Accordingly, defendants argue that the statute of limitations began to run at the very latest on January 20, 2000, if not earlier. Plaintiffs counter that the statute of limitations does not begin to run until there is harm or injury, citing tort cases outside the land use context. See California Sansome Co. v. U.S. Gypsum, 55 F.3d 1402, 1406 (9th Cir. 1995) ("A tort cause of action does not accrue until there is wrongdoing and actual and appreciable harm"). Plaintiffs claim they did not realize the increased building costs until late 2001.

"Federal law . . . determines when the statute of limitations period begins for a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. . . . In suits for wrongful deprivation of property under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 . . . the claim does not accrue until the relevant governmental authorities have made a final decision on the fate of the property." Norco Construction v. King County 801 F.2d 1143, 1145-46 (9th Cir. 1986). Thus, while plaintiffs may be correct that, in asbestos-related tort cases, a cause of action accrues when there is a wrongdoing and actual and appreciable harm, in land use cases, constitutional actions against officials accrue upon the final decision by the officials which inflicts a concrete harm. Here, the agency's final decision approving the Second Proposal in January 2000 was not adverse, and therefore, unlike Norco and the other land use cases cited by defendant, the decision itself did not inflict a concrete harm. See, e.g., Herrington v. County of Sonoma, 834 F.2d 1488, 1494 (9th Cir. 1987) ("a final decision requires at least (1) a rejected development plan, and (2) a denial of a variance"). Arguably, the adverse decision occurred even earlier. In any event, the delay that plaintiffs endured as a result of the agency's allegedly discriminatory decision-making ended on January 20, 2000, when Sonoma County upheld the PRMD's approval of plaintiffs' Second Proposal.

Furthermore, while plaintiffs point out that they did not know the exact quantity of their damages until they learned the costs of constructing their home in late 2001, on January 20, 2000, plaintiffs had reason to know that they were damaged by the delay, during which they could not build or live on their property. See Norco, 801 F.2d at 1145 ("A federal claim is generally considered to accrue when the plaintiff knows or had reason to know of the injury which is the basis of the action"). Plaintiffs argue that the County did not make a final decision on the property until August 2002, when they issued plaintiffs a Certificate of Occupancy, or until November 16, 2001, when the County accepted plaintiffs' landscaping design. However, by that time, plaintiffs were well into the building process and had plenty of notice about its costs. Plaintiffs did not file a Complaint until September 2002. Therefore, the statute of limitations has run on plaintiffs constitutional causes of action.

Plaintiffs argue that their Article IV, § 2 Privileges and Immunities cause of action is not brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and therefore it is not subject to the one-year statute of limitations. (Opposition at 11:1-6.) However, "42 U.S.C. § 1983 embodies individual rights cognizable under [the Privileges and Immunities Clause]." International Organization of Masters, Mates, & Pilots v. Andrews, 831 F.2d 843, 845 (9th Cir. 1987). Moreover, the Ninth Circuit has held "that a litigant complaining of a violation of a constitutional right does not have a direct cause of action under the United States Constitution but must utilize 42 U.S.C. § 1983." Arpin v. Santa Clara Valley Transportation Agency, 261 F.3d 912, 925 (9th Cir. 2001). Thus, plaintiffs' Privileges and Immunities claim is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and it is therefore barred by the one-year statute of limitations.*fn4

B. Ripeness

There are two independent prudential hurdles to a regulatory takings claim brought against a state entity in federal court. . . . [A] plaintiff must demonstrate that she has both received a `final decision regarding the application of the [challenged] regulations to the property at issue' from `the government entity charged with implementing the regulations,' and sought `compensation through the procedures the State has provided for doing so.
Suitum v. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, 520 U.S. 725, 733-34 (1997) (quoting Williamson County Regional Planning Comm'n v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson City, 473 U.S. 172, 186, 194 (1985)). On January 20, 2000 the Sonoma County Planning Commission upheld the PRMD's approval of plaintiffs' Second Proposal. Thus, the Amended Complaint alleges a "final act." However, plaintiffs have failed to allege that they satisfied the second condition by seeking compensation through State procedures.

The Fifth Amendment does not proscribe the taking of property; it proscribes taking without just compensation. Nor does the Fifth Amendment require that just compensation be paid in advance of, or contemporaneously with, the taking; all that is required is that a reasonable, certain and adequate provision for obtaining compensation exist at the time of the taking. . . . [Thus,] if a State provides an adequate procedure for seeking just compensation, the property owner cannot claim a violation of the Just Compensation Clause until it has used the procedure and been denied just compensation.
Williamson, 473 U.S. at 194-95. Plaintiffs failed to allege that they sought compensation for the alleged taking through available state procedures or that the Committee did not provide adequate remedies for obtaining compensation. Thus, plaintiffs' sixth cause of action for regulatory taking is not ripe for adjudication. However, as discussed above, plaintiffs regulatory taking claim is also barred by the statute of limitations.

C. Dismissal of State Law Claims

"The district courts may decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over a claim . . . if — (3) the district court has dismissed all claims over which it has original jurisdiction." 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c); see also Moss v. Technicolor, Inc., 48 Fed. Appx. 638, 642 (9th Cir. 2002) ("the district court [is] well within its discretion to refrain from exercising supplemental jurisdiction after dismissing the plaintiffs' [federal] claims on the merits.") Here, all of plaintiffs' federal claims are barred by the statute of limitations. The Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claims, on which no significant litigation has yet occurred. Thus, the Court dismisses plaintiffs' seventh through twelfth causes of action without prejudice.

D. Judicial Notice

"A judicially noticed fact must be one not subject to reasonable dispute in that it is either (1) generally known within the territorial jurisdiction of the trial court or (2) capable of accurate and ready determination by resort to sources whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned." Fed.R. Evidence 201. Plaintiffs ask the Court to take judicial notice of a memorandum directed to GP 2020 Citizen's Advisory Committee from Denise Peter, Planner III (County of Sonoma Permit and Resource Management Department) and summary minutes of the meeting of the General Plan 2020 Citizens Advisory Committee Meeting, dated October 17, 2002. Defendants persuasively argues that the documents are not a recitation of adjudicative facts beyond reasonable controversy and they do not fall within the discretionary or mandatory provisions of Rule 201. (Defendants' objections to plaintiffs' request for judicial notice at 2.) Therefore, the Court declines to take judicial notice of the above-mentioned documents. Even if it did, the decisions on the statute of limitations and ripeness would not be affected.

For the-foregoing reasons, defendants' motion to dismiss with prejudice plaintiffs' first through sixth causes of action is GRANTED. As the Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiffs' state law claims, plaintiffs' seventh through twelfth causes of action are dismissed without prejudice. The clerk is directed to close the file.

IT IS SO ORDERED.


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