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Edna Valley Watch et al v. County of San Luis Obsipo et al

August 2, 2011

EDNA VALLEY WATCH ET AL., PLAINTIFFS AND APPELLANTS,
v.
COUNTY OF SAN LUIS OBSIPO ET AL, DEFENDANTS AND RESPONDENTS.



Charles S. Crandall, Barry T. LaBarbera, Judges Superior Court County of San Luis Obispo (Super. Ct. No. CV080636) (San Luis Obispo County)

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

Opn. following rehearing

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION FOLLOWING REHEARING

Here we hold a party may receive attorney's fees incurred in an administrative hearing. The trial court denied a portion of appellants' attorney's fees requested under Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5, the private attorney general statute.*fn1 The court also denied one party's attorney's fees incurred in a petition for writ of mandate because of the party's personal stake in the litigation. We reverse.

Section 1021.5 allows attorney's fees in administrative proceedings. In addition, a party may not be disqualified from receiving attorney's fees because of his personal stake in the litigation. (Conservatorship of Whitley (2010) 50 Cal.4th 1206.)

FACTS

The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of San Luis Obispo County ("Church") planned to build an 11,000-square-foot church complex in the Edna Valley area of San Luis Obispo County ("County"). Philip G. da Silva ("Da Silva") owns property adjacent to the planned church facility. Edna Valley Watch ("Edna") is a nonprofit association.

The County Planning Commission granted the Church a conditional use permit for its project. Da Silva appealed the decision to the Board of Supervisors of the County of San Luis Obispo ("Board"). The Board denied the appeal.

On July 11, 2008, Da Silva and Edna filed a petition for writ of mandate to direct the County to rescind its approval of the project. The petition was based on the alleged failure of the County to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act ("CEQA"). (Pub. Res. Code, § 21000 et seq.)

Six days after the petition was filed, the Church's counsel wrote to Da Silva and Edna's counsel. The letter stated that the Church was abandoning the approval it received from the County and would return to the permitting process. The letter requested Da Silva and Edna take no further action on the writ petition.

Apparently concerned that the approval was still valid, Da Silva and Edna refused to dismiss. On August 20, 2008, the Church's counsel wrote to assure Da Silva and Edna that the Church would not re-enter the approval process, but that the project was dead. Da Silva and Edna still refused to dismiss. A number of case management conferences were held. By the time of the case management conference on November 13, 2008, the Board had adopted a resolution rescinding the project's approval. Da Silva and Edna refused to dismiss until January 26, 2009.

On April 21, 2009, Da Silva and Edna filed a motion for attorney's fees pursuant to section 1021.5. The parties requested $35,045.50: $19,329.50 for the administrative appeal to the Board; $8,041 for "litigation"; and $7,674.50 for the fee motion. Da Silva claimed 13 percent or $4,620.40, and Edna claimed 87 percent or $30,424.40.*fn2

The trial court found that the writ petition was the "catalyst" for the ultimate withdrawal of the project application. The court concluded that as a matter of law the parties are not entitled to an award of fees incurred in administrative proceedings. (Citing Best v. ...


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