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Golightly v. Molina

California Court of Appeals, Second District, Third Division

September 25, 2014

ROBERT GLEN GOLIGHTLY, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
GLORIA MOLINA et al., Defendants and Respondents.

APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, No. BC436267 Alan S. Rosenfield, Judge.

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COUNSEL

Huskinson, Brown & Heidenreich, David W.T. Brown and Paul E. Heidenreich for Plaintiff and Appellant.

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Judy W. Whitehurst, Assistant County Counsel, Dawyn Harrison, Deputy County Counsel; Miller Barondess, Louis R. Miller, Mira Hashmall and Vinay Kohli for Defendants and Respondents.

OPINION

KLEIN, P. J.

Plaintiff and appellant Robert Glen Golightly (Plaintiff) appeals a judgment following a grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants and respondents County of Los Angeles (County) and the five members of the County Board of Supervisors (Board), namely, Gloria Molina, Zev Yaroslavsky, Don Knabe, Mark Ridley-Thomas and Mike Antonovich (sometimes collectively referred to as the County).

The essential issue presented is whether the procedure by which the County enters into Social Program Agreements (SPAs) with social service organizations that provide social services to county residents is subject to the Ralph M. Brown Act (Brown Act or Act; Gov. Code, § 54950 et seq.), a statutory scheme which imposes open meeting requirements on legislative bodies.

Proposed SPAs are individually scrutinized by the Executive Officer of the Board (Board’s Executive Officer), County Counsel, County Auditor-Controller, and ultimately, by the County Chief Executive Officer (County CEO), and the approval of each is required. However, the four signatories do not collectively decide to approve an SPA. Rather, a proposed SPA is reviewed in sequence by the four signatories, for issues within each one’s purview. The Brown Act applies to meetings of legislative bodies. (Gov. Code, § 54952.2.) The four SPA signatories do not constitute a legislative body and do not deliberate collectively in approving an SPA. Therefore, Plaintiff’s Brown Act claim is meritless.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

1. Pleadings.

On April 22, 2010, Plaintiff, a taxpayer, filed his original complaint against the County. The fourth amended complaint, which is the operative pleading, alleged causes of action for: waste of public funds (Code Civ. Proc., § 526a); violation of the Brown Act (Gov. Code, § 54950 et seq.); declaratory relief for ultra vires acts; and conflicts of interest including violations of the Political Reform Act of 1974 (Gov. Code, § 81000 et seq.).

The gravamen of Plaintiff’s action is that the County “secretly uses public funds” to enter into SPAs with social service providers in violation of the

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Brown Act, and instead of being publicly approved by the Board, SPAs are actually entered into by County officials pursuant to an improper delegation of decisionmaking authority by the Board.

2. County’s motion for summary judgment.

The County moved for summary judgment or summary adjudication of issues. It argued, inter alia: Plaintiff’s Brown Act claim fails because the Board did not create a “legislative body” and there is no evidence of a secret meeting; the Board is not required to vote on every discretionary expenditure and the delegation of authority to the County CEO and others cannot support a Brown Act claim; the waste claim fails as it is predicated on the Brown Act claim; the Board’s delegation of authority was lawful, and courts cannot interfere with lawful delegations. Further, there was no evidence the County violated the Political Reform Act of 1974 or the conflict of interest statute.

In opposition, Plaintiff argued: the County’s motion had failed to address the hundreds of allegations in his fourth amended complaint; the County failed to establish that a single discretionary expenditure was not wasteful; the decisions regarding SPA discretionary expenditures were made by a “legislative body” and required open meetings pursuant to the Brown Act; the Board has only limited power to delegate its discretionary authority; and the County did not submit sufficient evidence to summarily adjudicate the cause of action for conflicts of interest.

In reply, the County argued Plaintiff “has provided virtually no evidence in opposition to [the] summary judgment motion. Indeed, after propounding 1, 700 written discovery requests, taking 18 days of deposition and receiving more than 70, 000 pages of documents, Plaintiff is still unable to provide evidence that any of the Supervisors had a conflict of interest with respect to any transaction. Plaintiff has not presented any evidence of a ‘secret meeting’ held by the Supervisors (even though Plaintiff unequivocally makes that allegation in the [fourth amended complaint]). And Plaintiff has not presented any evidence of wasteful conduct.... Plaintiff cannot defeat summary judgment by relying on his own pleadings. If Plaintiff had any evidence to support his claims, this would have been the time to submit it to the Court—he cannot proceed to trial on the basis of unsupported allegations.”

3. Plaintiff’s cross-motion for summary adjudication.

Plaintiff moved for summary adjudication on the County’s third affirmative defense that its alleged wrongful acts or omissions were based on the exercise of a legislative or discretionary function and therefore such claims are barred by the County’s legislative immunity.

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4. Trial court’s ruling.

After hearing the matter, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the County. In an extensive writing ruling, the trial court held, inter alia:

In creating a procedure for processing SPAs, the Board did not create a “legislative body” within the meaning of the Brown Act. The Board’s Executive Officer, County Counsel, County Auditor-Controller, and County CEO act as administrative officers who are delegated specific responsibility in reviewing proposed SPAs, but they are not a “commission, committee, board, or other body” with regard to the SPA approval process. The Brown Act “is concerned with the collective investigations and deliberations” of a legislative body. The four SPA signatories do not meet as a body to discuss proposed SPAs, and “do not collectively decide to approve a SPA, but rather... each signatory has a separate obligation to review the proposed SPAs to meet county contracting standards.” Therefore, Plaintiff failed to raise a triable issue with respect to his Brown Act claim.

The “backbone of Plaintiff’s waste claim appears to be that every single expenditure of SPA funds constitutes waste because Defendants failed to comply with the Brown Act.” This claim fails for the reasons already stated.

Plaintiff also contended that all SPA expenditures involve waste because the Board improperly delegated authority over a discretionary process to county administrators. The claim was meritless because the evidence established the Board retained control over fundamental policy decisions, and its delegation of SPA authority contained adequate safeguards.

As for Plaintiff’s claims the Supervisors allegedly participated in governmental decisions in which they had a financial interest (Gov. Code, § 87103) and violated the prohibition on elected officials being financially interested in a contract made by them in an official capacity (Gov. Code, § 1090), the trial court relied on Plaintiff’s factually devoid discovery responses. Those questions were as follows: “Are you aware [from sources other than your attorney] of any conflict of interest between any of the supervisors’ offices and any social program agreement recipients?”; “Are you aware of any... social program agreement recipients who provided campaign donations to any of the supervisors’ officers [sic]?”; “Are you aware of any instances in which any of the supervisors had a financial interest in any organizations that received social program agreement funds?”; “Do you know whether any of the county supervisors are on the boards of directors of any of the organizations that are listed here?”; “Do you know whether any of the county supervisors are on a board of advisors with respect to any of the organizations that are listed here?”; “Do you know whether any of the county supervisors

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are paid by any of the organizations that are listed here?”; “Do you know whether any of the county supervisors have a financial interest in any of the organizations that are listed here?”; “Do you know whether any of the spouses, of any of the supervisors, has a financial interest [in] any of the organizations that are listed here?”; “Do you know whether any of the children, of any of the supervisors, has a financial interest [in] any of the organizations that are listed here?”; “Do you have any documents reflecting a relationship between any of the supervisors and the organizations that are listed on pages 98 and 99 of the fourth amended complaint?” To each of the above questions, Plaintiff answered, “No.” Plaintiff’s responses “were admissible evidence to show the absence of facts to support the allegations of the complaint.”

The trial court concluded, “Under the doctrines of legislative immunity and separation of powers, the courts generally should avoid marching into the legislative domain, except in the most egregious circumstances. When the layers of the proverbial onion are stripped away in this lawsuit, we see a plaintiff as a concerned taxpayer who complains that the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has been illegally expending funds and failing to properly account for certain expenditures. Plaintiff has chosen theories of illegal meetings under the Brown Act, waste and conflicts of interest as his theories in pursuit of judicial intervention to right these perceived wrongs. While it is surely healthy for all levels of citizenry and government to continually look for ways to ‘build a better mousetrap’ in terms of government operations and accountability, not all activity of a legislative body will meet with the approval of all citizens. This case, in a nutshell, involves the question of whether the Board of Supervisors has lawfully delegated contracting authority for SPAs to the administrative level. The Court can find no secret meetings, unlawful meetings or other violation of the Brown Act, no acts of waste and no conflicts of interest under the evidence herein presented. In a county the size of Los Angeles... the concept of careful delegation makes perfect sense and is authorized by law. Additionally, the evidence discloses that the SPAs are adequately accounted for in the postings by the County. [¶] Defendants’ motion for summary judgment is granted. Plaintiff’s motion for summary adjudication [is] moot.”

5. Judgment and postjudgment proceedings.

On November 5, 2012, pursuant to the earlier grant of summary judgment, the trial court entered judgment in favor of the County. On January 3, 2013, Plaintiff filed a timely notice of appeal from said judgment.

On January 11, 2013, during the pendency of the appeal, Plaintiff filed a motion in the trial court for attorney fees ...


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