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Claxton v. County of Colusa

March 26, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Morrison C. England, Jr. United States District Judge


Through these proceedings, Petitioner/Plaintiff Daniel D. Claxton challenges Colusa County's refusal to permit his proposed subdivision of farmland into smaller parcels. Plaintiff's lawsuit, initially filed in Colusa County on April 5, 2008, contained both a state claim seeking administrative mandamus under California Code of Civil Procedure § 1094.5, as well as federal claims alleging that Plaintiff's equal protection and due process rights were violated in contravention of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. On May 13, 2008, Defendants removed the case on the basis of those federal claims.

On February 4, 2009, the parties presented a stipulation proposing that this matter be bifurcated, so that the Petition for Writ of Mandate could be decided by this Court in advance of Plaintiff's other claims. That stipulation was adopted as the Court's Order on February 11, 2009.

In the Stipulation to Bifurcate, the parties agreed that "economy and efficiency will be promoted by bifurcating the Petition for Writ of Mandate from the other causes of action", noting specifically that there were "few similarities" between the writ hearing and disposition of the remainder of the case. See Docket No. 15, 2:22-24. As the parties explained, the mandate proceeding is heard before the judge based primarily on the administrative record, as opposed to the constitutional claims which necessitate full discovery and typically entail adjudication through full jury trial. The parties went on to expressly agree that proceeding first on the Writ of Mandate, "in advance of conducting discovery", would "likely dispose of some, if not all, of the issues relevant to the remaining causes of action." Id. at 3:10-13.

By Memorandum and Order filed January 15, 2010, the Court granted Plaintiff's Petition for Writ of Mandate. Through the Present Motion, Defendants seek certification of the Court's January 15, 2010 Order as immediately appealable under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b). Defendants also seek a stay of ongoing procedures in this matter during the stay of the certification process, and finally seek clarification of one of the Court's docket entries made on January 15, 2010.

Despite Plaintiff's own admission in the Stipulation to Bifurcate that the mandamus petition has "few similarities" with the remainder of the action, he now argues in opposition to Defendants' request that the issues are not substantially different. Docket No. 36, 3:4. The Court disagrees, and finds its interlocutory order subject to immediate appellate review under Rule 54(b). Defendants' Motion is accordingly well taken.

Rule 54(b) provides in pertinent part as follows: "When an action presents more than one claim for relief.... or when multiple parties are involved, the court may direct entry of a final judgment as to one or more, but few than all, claims or parties only if the court expressly determines that there is no just reason for delay....

Requiring parties to seeks certification under Rule 54(b) "eliminates improper appeals of non-final judgments while permitting prompt appeals when necessary." American States Ins. Co. v. Dastar Corp., 318 F.3d 881, 889 (9th Cir. 2003).

While Plaintiff appears to claim that any factual similarity between the factual bases underlying the writ of mandate and federal claims should preclude Rule 54(b) certification, the Ninth Circuit recognized in Gregorian v. Izvestia, 871 F.2d 1515, (9th Cir. 1989), that certification is proper, even in the face of such interrelationship, as long as the claim for which certification is sought is "substantially different" from the remaining claims. Id. at 1520.*fn1

Here, Plaintiff's claim for administrative mandamus under state law is unquestionably "substantially different" from Plaintiff's federally rooted constitutional claims. A writ of mandate challenges the application by a local agency of existing law or policy to a given set of fact, whereas claims for due process and equal protection brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 involve complex issues of invidious discrimination as well as the infringement of fundamental property interests. In addition to being intrinsically different on a substantive basis, they are also procedurally inapposite, as indicated above, since a mandamus proceeding operates much like an appeal, being based on the administrative record, as opposed to § 1983 claims which are typically resolved through a jury trial after the development of a new factual record through discovery. Finally, because the parties have previously agreed that a final resolution of the writ proceedings would likely dispose of the remaining causes of action, it is unlikely that the same set of issues will have to be addressed on appeal again. See Morrison-Knudsen Co. v. Archer, 655 F.2d 962, 965 (9th Cir. 1981).

Given the foregoing, Defendants' Motion for Certification, Request for Clarification, and Motion for Stay is accordingly GRANTED.*fn2 The Court makes the following findings:

1. The Court certifies its January 15, 2010 grant of Plaintiff's Petition for Writ of a Mandate (Docket No. 29) as a final judgment for purposes of Rule 54(b);

2. Given the parties' agreement that final resolution of the Writ will streamline the case, and likely avoid the need for extensive discovery and trial as to the remaining claims, there is no ...

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