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County of Santa Clara v. Superior Court of Santa Clara County

February 17, 2009


(Santa Clara County Super. Ct. No. 1-07-CV080008) Trial Judge: Honorable Jack Komar.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mihara, Acting P. J.


These six writ petitions all raise the same issue. The question is whether, under the California Public Records Act (the CPRA) and the California Supreme Court's decision in Filarsky v. Superior Court (2002) 28 Cal.4th 419 (Filarsky) interpreting the CPRA, real parties Janice and Ronald Naymark are precluded from bringing an action under Code of Civil Procedure section 526a against petitioners. The superior court concluded that the CPRA and Filarsky do not preclude the Naymarks from bringing this action and overruled petitioners' demurrers on this ground.*fn2 Petitioners seek writ relief overturning that ruling. We conclude that neither the CPRA nor Filarsky precludes the Naymarks from proceeding with their action against petitioners, and we deny the petitions.

I. Background

In February 2007, the Naymarks, who are residents of the City of Saratoga in the County of Santa Clara,*fn3 filed an action under Code of Civil Procedure section 526a*fn4 seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. The Naymarks' action named as defendants the cities of San Jose, Campbell, Monte Sereno, Palo Alto, and Santa Clara, the Town of Los Gatos, their police departments and police chiefs, the County of Santa Clara (the County) and its sheriff and sheriff's department, the State of California (the State), and the Commissioner of the California Highway Patrol.*fn5

The Naymarks allege that they "are informed and believe" that these defendants "implement and enforce" a number of specifically described "policies and practices" with regard to requests for specifically described types of public records. The Naymarks allege that these "policies and practices are illegal, in that they do not comply with state law regarding access to public records, including but not limited to, the California Public Records Act ('CPRA'), Health and Safety Code section 11495, Government Code section 12525, and the Political Reform Act." They allege that the expenditure of money to implement and enforce these illegal policies and practices "constitutes an illegal expenditure of public funds within the meaning of Code of Civil Procedure section 526a." The Naymarks allege that State and County taxpayers will suffer irreparable harm if defendants are not enjoined from continuing to expend funds to implement and enforce these illegal policies and practices.

In March 2007, Palo Alto filed a demurrer. The primary basis for Palo Alto's demurrer was that Government Code sections 6258 and 6259 "provide the exclusive procedure for litigating violations of the Public Records Act." Palo Alto also contended that the complaint failed to state a cause of action because (1) it was unverified, (2) the Naymarks did not allege that they are residents of, or taxpayers to, any of the cities or the town and could not seek to enforce the rights of third parties, and (3) "[t]he Complaint lacks specificity." Campbell, Los Gatos, Monte Sereno, San Jose, and Santa Clara joined Palo Alto's demurrer. The County and the State also filed demurrers which joined Palo Alto's demurrer and raised the same contentions as Palo Alto's demurrer except that they did not assert that the Naymarks were not taxpayers in their jurisdictions.

In June 2007, the superior court overruled the demurrers of the State and the County. In its written order, the court concluded that Filarsky and the CPRA did not preclude the Naymarks' action. The court sustained the demurrers of the cities and the town on the ground that the Naymarks had not alleged that they were taxpayers or residents of any of the cities or the town and therefore lacked standing under Code of Civil Procedure section 526a. The court granted the Naymarks leave to amend "to allege that they either pay taxes to or have residence in the other local jurisdictions."*fn6 In July and August 2007, the State, the County, Campbell, Los Gatos, San Jose, and Palo Alto (petitioners) filed petitions for writ of mandate in this court, and they requested an immediate stay of the proceedings.*fn7 In September 2007, this court ordered the superior court proceedings stayed. In October 2007, the Naymarks filed preliminary opposition to the writ petitions, and petitioners filed replies. In April 2008, this court consolidated the petitions and issued an order to show cause. In June 2008, the Naymarks filed a return, the State filed a reply, and the other petitioners filed a consolidated reply.

II. Propriety of Writ Relief

"An order overruling a demurrer is not directly appealable, but may be reviewed on appeal from the final judgment. [Citation.] Appeal is presumed to be an adequate remedy and writ review is rarely granted unless a significant issue of law is raised, or resolution of the issue would result in a final disposition as to the petitioner." (Casterson v. Superior Court (2002) 101 Cal.App.4th 177, 182 (Casterson).) "[W]here the issue raised is one of significant legal import, relief by extraordinary writ is appropriate." (American Internat. Group, Inc. v. Superior Court (1991) 234 Cal.App.3d 749, 755.)

Although appellate courts are loath to exercise their discretion to review rulings at the pleading stage, they will do so where the circumstances are compelling and the issue is of widespread interest. (Brandt v. Superior Court (1985) 37 Cal.3d 813, 816.) Here, petitioners' writ petitions raise a significant legal issue that appears to be of widespread interest.*fn8 Accordingly, we conclude that writ review is appropriate.

III. Standard of Review

"The standard of review for an order overruling a demurrer is de novo. The reviewing court accepts as true all facts properly pleaded in the complaint in order to determine whether the demurrer should be overruled." (Casterson, supra, 101 Cal.App.4th at pp. 182-183.) "[I]f the pleadings contain 'sufficient particularity and precision to acquaint the defendants with the nature, source and extent of his cause of action' the general demurrer should be overruled." (Harman v. City and County of San Francisco (1972) 7 Cal.3d 150, 157.) "Even as against a special demurrer, a plaintiff is required only to 'set forth in his complaint the essential facts of his case with reasonable precision and with particularity sufficiently specific to acquaint the defendant of the nature, source, and ...

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