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Soco West, Inc v. California Environmental Protection Agency et al

February 28, 2013

SOCO WEST, INC., PLAINTIFF AND RESPONDENT,
v.
CALIFORNIA ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY ET AL., DEFENDANTS AND APPELLANTS.



Appeal from a judgment of the Superior Court of Orange County, Gregory H. Lewis, Judge. (Super. Ct. No. 30-2010-00359507)

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

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

Request for judicial notice. Judgment affirmed as modified. Request granted.

This case involves the interpretation of Health and Safety Code section 25187, subdivision (b)(1)(A) (all further statutory references are to this code). The issue is whether that statute required defendants California Environmental Protection Agency's Department of Toxic Substances Control and the director of that department (collectively, DTSC) to transfer the cleanup of a hazardous waste site from Chapter 6.5 to Chapter 6.8 of Division 20 of the code upon written request from plaintiff Soco West, Inc. (Soco) or merely gave DTSC discretion to decide whether to do so. The trial court concluded the statute mandated the transfer and granted Soco's motion for judgment on the pleadings. DTSC disagrees and appeals.

We hold the plain language of section 25187, subdivision (b)(1)(A) unambiguously required DTSC to invoke the legal remedies available pursuant to Chapter 6.8 after Soco voluntarily requested in writing that DTSC issue an order for Soco to take corrective action pursuant to that chapter. Even if an ambiguity existed in the statutory language, the legislative history surrounding the adoption of section 25187, subdivision (b)(1)(A) confirms our reading of the statute as requiring DTSC to invoke the procedures of Chapter 6.8 upon Soco's written request. We grant Soco's request for judicial notice of this material.

We modify the judgment to conform to the language of section 25187, subdivision (b)(1)(A). As modified, the judgment is affirmed.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Soco's predecessor created a hazardous waste site and in the late 1980's began environmental assessment and cleanup work overseen by DTSC under Chapter 6.5 (§ 25100 et seq.). Thereafter, Soco assumed its predecessor's obligations. In 2008 and 2009, Soco submitted written requests to DTSC to "transfer . . . the cleanup process" from Chapter 6.5 to Chapter 6.8 (§ 25300 et seq.) DTSC declined Soco's requests and its subsequent requests for reconsideration. Soco sued DTSC, alleging it had abused its "discretion by refusing to transfer the oversight of the assessment and cleanup of the Site from Chapter 6.5 to Chapter 6.8." It requested a writ of mandate "commanding [DTSC] to" make the transfer and sought a declaratory judgment interpreting the parties' rights and responsibilities under section 25187, subdivision (b)(1)(A). DTSC cross-complained against Soco for injunctive and declaratory relief.

On the parties' cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings, the court denied DTSC's and granted Soco's. DTSC dismissed its cross-complaint without prejudice.

DISCUSSION

1. Standards of Review

We review the granting of a motion for judgment on the pleadings de novo to determine whether a cause of action has been stated, treating as true all properly pleaded material facts. (Hopp v. City of Los Angeles (2010) 183 Cal.App.4th 713, 717.) We apply the same de novo standard of review to a trial court's interpretation of a statute (Kavanaugh v. West Sonoma County Union High School Dist. (2003) 29 Cal.4th 911, 916), with our primary objective being "to ascertain and effectuate legislative intent," which we do first by looking at the "words of the ...


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