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Avedon v. State

July 26, 2010

PRISCILLA AVEDON ET AL., PLAINTIFFS AND APPELLANTS,
v.
STATE OF CALIFORNIA, DEFENDANT AND RESPONDENT.



APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Robert L. Hess, Judge. Affirmed. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. BC400258)

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

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

Property owners whose homes were destroyed or damaged in the 2007 Corral Canyon fire sued the State of California on theories of dangerous condition of public property and nuisance. The trial court sustained the State of California's demurrer without leave to amend and dismissed the action. We affirm the judgment.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL SUMMARY

On the night of November 23, 2007, some individuals built a bonfire inside a cave in Malibu Creek State Park. In the early hours of the following morning, the bonfire ignited chaparral on the surrounding hillsides, and spread through Corral Canyon toward the ocean. The fire burned almost 5,000 acres, destroyed more than 50 homes, and damaged many others.

Appellants, whose homes were destroyed or damaged by the fire, filed timely claims with the California Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board, in compliance with Government Code section 910.*fn1 When those claims were rejected, they brought this action against the State of California (the State). According to the allegations of the second amended complaint, the charging pleading, Malibu Creek State Park is owned, maintained and operated by the State. The main park entrance is on Las Virgenes Road in Calabasas. There are several other road entrances; some are controlled by locking gates, others are uncontrolled.

One uncontrolled road entrance is along Corral Canyon Road, which leads in a generally northern direction from Pacific Coast Highway, through Corral Canyon, and dead-ends inside Malibu Creek State Park. Approximately one mile into the park, Corral Canyon Road intersects with Mesa Peak Motorway, an unpaved fire road leading east. About a quarter of a mile after this intersection, Corral Canyon Road dead-ends in an unpaved parking lot. A short distance from the intersection with Corral Canyon Road, Mesa Peak Motorway passes a cave in a rock outcropping, and then continues east. The northern side of the cave looks out over Malibu Creek State Park, and all other sides are enclosed by rock walls.

According to appellants, the cave and the surrounding area have been popular for late-night parties and bonfires for decades. Appellants allege that "Graffiti covers all interior rock surfaces of THE CAVE, and there is an abundance of litter in and around THE CAVE. Broken beer bottles completely cover the ground outside THE CAVE'S open north side. The ceiling is blackened with soot from fires inside THE CAVE." Residents of Corral Canyon allegedly notified the State on multiple occasions in the years and months preceding the Corral Canyon fire of the danger created by the parties and bonfires in that area, but the State did not take any measures to restrict access to the top of Corral Canyon or to the cave. The cave was pinpointed by authorities as the origin of the Corral Canyon Fire, and five adults were prosecuted for recklessly igniting the fire.

In their first cause of action for dangerous condition of public property, appellants alleged that "[b]y allowing easy and unrestricted access to the top of Corral Canyon and THE CAVE via Corral Canyon Road, as well as a parking lot within a quarter of a mile of THE CAVE, THE STATE maintained its property in such a way that it created a substantial risk of injury and damage to surrounding properties. By eliminating access, such as by building a gate along Corral Canyon Road at the boundary of its property, THE STATE would more likely than not have eliminated the area's use by late-night partiers." They also alleged the State maintained a dangerous condition by allowing access to the cave, when it could have placed bars or other barriers to block the entrance.

The second cause of action alleged that the State created the nuisance of a severe fire hazard by allowing unrestricted and easy access to the top of Corral Canyon Road and the cave, resulting in the fire damage to appellants' property.

The court sustained the State's demurrer to the first amended complaint with leave to amend, and sustained the demurrer to the second amended complaint without leave to amend. The court entered judgment dismissing the action with prejudice, and appellants filed this timely appeal.

DISCUSSION

I.

Appellants claim their second amended complaint sufficiently stated a cause of action for dangerous ...


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