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Purifoy v. Howell

March 26, 2010

VEENA PURIFOY ET AL., PLAINTIFFS AND APPELLANTS,
v.
GLENN HOWELL ET AL., DEFENDANTS AND RESPONDENTS.



(Contra Costa County Super. Ct. No. C 06-02174), Hon. Joyce Cram, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jenkins, J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

Food and Agricultural Code*fn1 section 31108, subdivision (a) (section 31108(a)) provides that the required "holding period" for a stray dog impounded in a public or private animal shelter is "six business days" (or, if certain exceptions apply, "four business days"), not including the day of impoundment. (§ 31108(a).) Contra Costa County Animal Services (CCCAS) operates two animal shelters, both of which are open to the public Tuesday through Saturday for owner redemption and adoption of animals. CCCAS states that it counts those days as "business days" in calculating the holding period under section 31108(a).

Plaintiffs Veena Purifoy, Lorree Lewis, and Voices for Pets filed suit against defendants Contra Costa County (County) and Glenn Howell, the director of CCCAS,*fn2 alleging that defendants violated section 31108(a) by counting Saturday as a "business day." The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants, and plaintiffs appealed.

We conclude that the term "business days" in section 31108(a) does not include Saturdays. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment and remand for further proceedings.

I. SECTION 31108(a)

Section 31108(a) provides that the required holding period for a stray dog impounded in a public or private shelter is "six business days, not including the day of impoundment[.]" (§ 31108(a).) There are two exceptions to the six-business-day holding period. (Ibid.) First, under section 31108, subdivision (a)(1) (section 31108(a)(1)), if the shelter "has made the dog available for owner redemption on one weekday evening until at least 7:00 p.m. or one weekend day, the holding period shall be four business days, not including the day of impoundment." (§ 31108(a)(1).) Second, under section 31108, subdivision (a)(2) (section 31108(a)(2)), if the shelter "has fewer than three full-time employees or is not open during all regular weekday business hours, and if it has established a procedure to enable owners to reclaim their dogs by appointment at a mutually agreeable time when the public or private shelter would otherwise be closed, the holding period shall be four business days, not including the day of impoundment." (§ 31108(a)(2).) Section 31108(a) provides that, with exceptions that are not relevant here, "stray dogs shall be held for owner redemption during the first three days of the holding period, not including the day of impoundment, and shall be available for owner redemption or adoption for the remainder of the holding period."*fn3 (§ 31108(a).)

II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Purifoy's dog Duke was impounded by CCCAS on Thursday, October 5, 2006, and was held at the CCCAS animal shelter in Pinole. A new owner adopted Duke on Wednesday, October 11, 2006. Duke was subsequently returned to Purifoy.

As noted above, the shelters operated by CCCAS, including the Pinole shelter, are open Tuesday through Saturday for owner redemption and adoption, and CCCAS counts those days as "business days" in calculating the holding periods under section 31108(a). The shelters are closed on Sunday, Monday, and major holidays.

Because Duke was made available for owner redemption on a weekend day (Saturday, October 7, 2006), a four-business-day holding period applied pursuant to section 31108(a)(1). CCCAS states that, in calculating the four-business-day holding period for Duke, it excluded Thursday, October 5, 2006 (the day of impoundment) and Sunday and Monday, October 8 and 9, 2006 (days on which the shelter was closed). CCCAS counted the following days as "business days": (1) Friday, October 6, 2006; (2) Saturday, October 7, 2006; (3) Tuesday, October 10, 2006; and (4) Wednesday, October 11, 2006. CCCAS held Duke exclusively for owner redemption for the first three of those days, and permitted his adoption on the fourth day, i.e., Wednesday, October 11, 2006.

Purifoy, along with plaintiffs Lorree Lewis and Voices for Pets, filed suit, alleging in their SAC that CCCAS and Howell violated section 31108(a) by counting Saturday as a "business day."*fn4 The SAC included four causes of action: (1) violation of section 31108 (First Cause of Action); (2) preemption of a Contra Costa County Code provision by section 31108 (Second Cause of Action); (3) trespass and damage to chattel (Third Cause of Action); and (4) a taxpayer claim for waste of public funds (Code of Civil Procedure section 526a) (Fourth Cause of Action). The SAC requested that Purifoy be awarded special and punitive damages, prejudgment interest, costs and attorneys' fees. For the taxpayer plaintiffs, Lewis and Voices for Pets, the SAC requested a writ of mandate requiring defendants to comply with section 31108(a)(1), declaratory and injunctive relief, costs and attorneys' fees.

Defendants filed a demurrer to the SAC. Prior to the initial hearing on the demurrer, the trial judge assigned to hear the matter issued a tentative ruling, in which she stated in part: " `Business days' in ordinary parlance is generally accepted to mean days other than a weekend (Saturday or Sunday) or public holiday." After holding a hearing, the judge issued an order sustaining the demurrer without leave to amend as to the Second Cause of Action (preemption), overruling it as to the Third and Fourth Causes of Action (the trespass and taxpayer claims), and striking the request for punitive damages. As to the First Cause of Action (violation of section 31108), the judge directed the parties to submit supplemental briefing as to the meaning of "business days" in section 31108(a).

The matter was assigned to another judge, who, after the filing of supplemental briefs and a further hearing, entered an order overruling defendants' demurrer as to the First Cause of Action. The judge stated in part: "The usual and ordinary meaning of the term `business days' is weekdays, excluding Saturday, Sunday and public holidays. This meaning of `business days' is also the one most frequently used in the Codes. [¶] Applying the ordinary meaning of the terms also complements the legislative intent of the statute.... [¶] Because the Legislature clearly knows how to define the term `business days,' but elected not to do so, this court applies its ordinary, usual meaning, which comports with the purpose of the statute."

Defendants answered the three remaining causes of action in the SAC.

Subsequently, defendants filed a motion for summary judgment or in the alternative for summary adjudication, and plaintiffs filed a motion for summary adjudication, both of which addressed the interpretation of "business days" in section 31108(a). Defendants argued that, if the term "business days" were construed to include Saturdays, all of plaintiffs' remaining causes of action failed. Defendants also raised other arguments in their motion, including contending that Purifoy could not establish the elements of public entity liability for a violation of section 31108, that Purifoy could not pursue a common law theory of trespass and damage to chattel against a public entity, and that the taxpayer plaintiffs could not establish a cause of action under Code of Civil Procedure section 526a.*fn5 Defendants requested the entry of summary judgment, or, in the alternative, summary adjudication on five specified issues.*fn6

The matter was again assigned to another judge, Judge Joyce Cram. After a hearing, Judge Cram entered a written order granting defendants' motion for summary judgment (based on the interpretation of "business days" in section 31108(a)), and denying plaintiffs' motion for summary adjudication. In her order, Judge Cram stated: "The term `business days,' as used in [section 31108(a)] has more than one possible meaning. This court finds that Defendant's interpretation of the term `business days' to include all days on which a shelter is open, including Saturdays, is consistent with the purposes and legislative history of the statute, and `will best attain the purposes of the statute.['] [Citation.]" Judge Cram also stated: "Presumably, the legislature was aware that if shelters could not count Saturdays as business days for the purpose of the holdover period, they would have no incentive to stay open on Saturdays. In fact, shelters like the Pinole shelter, which is open on Saturday but closed on a weekday, would, in effect, be penalized for staying open on Saturday, because neither day would count toward the holding period." Judge Cram also ruled on the parties' objections to evidence submitted in connection with the motions. Because she granted summary judgment on the basis of the meaning of "business days" in section 31108(a), Judge Cram did not reach the other issues defendants raised in their motion (although she suggested at oral argument that she would be inclined to rule against defendants on those issues).

Judge Cram entered judgment in favor of defendants and against plaintiffs.

Plaintiffs appealed. Plaintiffs challenge Judge Cram's interpretation of section 31108(a), her conclusion that defendants did not violate the statute, ...


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