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City of Santa Maria v. Adam

California Court of Appeals, Sixth District

June 24, 2016

CITY OF SANTA MARIA et al., Cross-complainants, Cross-defendants, and Respondents,
v.
RICHARD E. ADAM et al., Cross-defendants, Cross-complainants, and Appellants; NIPOMO COMMUNITY SERVICES DISTRICT et al., Cross-defendants and Respondents

          Superior Court of Santa Clara County, No. 1-97-CV770214, Joseph Huber, Judge & Jack Komar, Judge.

Page 505

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 506

         The Court of Appeal affirmed, holding that the trial court did not need to quantify the proportionate share of the prescriptive loss attributable to each of the overlying users because the aquifer had a surplus of water at the time of trial and thus it was unnecessary for the judgment to do more than clarify and confirm the priority of the overlying rights. The trial court did not abuse its discretion when it did not redetermine prevailing parties on remand after the overlying users obtained a reversal with directions to quiet title because the relief afforded to the overlying users in the quiet title judgment was not the primary relief they sought in challenging the existence of the prescriptive rights. (Opinion by Premo, Acting P. J., with Elia and Grover, JJ., concurring.)

         COUNSEL

         E. Stewart Johnston; Clifford & Brown, Richard G. Zimmer and T. Mark Smith for Cross-defendants, Cross-complainants and Appellants.

         Best Best & Krieger, Eric L. Garner and Jeffrey V. Dunn for Cross-complainant, Cross-defendant and Respondent City of Santa Maria.

         Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, Robert J. Saperstein and Gregory H. Morrison for Cross-complainant, Cross-defendant and Respondent Golden State Water Company.

         Nossaman and Henry S. Weinstock for Cross-complainant, Cross-defendant and Respondent Oceano Community Services District.

         Richards Watson & Gershon and James L. Markman for Cross-defendants and Respondents.

         Opinion by Premo, Acting P. J., with Elia and Grover, JJ., concurring.

          OPINION

Page 507

          PREMO, Acting P. J.

          [203 Cal.Rptr.3d 760] This is the second appeal concerning the rights to groundwater contained in the Santa Maria Valley Groundwater Basin (Basin). Appellants land owner group parties (LOG) are a group of landowners, mostly farmers, who extract groundwater for agricultural use.[1] Respondents are public water producers that pump groundwater for municipal and industrial use for their citizens and customers.[2] In the first appeal, City of Santa Maria v. Adam (2012) 211 Cal.App.4th 266');">211 Cal.App.4th 266 [149 Cal.Rptr.3d 491] ( City of Santa Maria ), we reversed and remanded the matter with instructions, directing the trial court to quiet title to appellants' overlying rights to native groundwater by declaring that these rights have priority over all appropriators, less the amount that respondents are entitled to pursuant to their prescriptive rights. We further directed the trial court to reconsider, if necessary, the prevailing party determination and allocation of costs.

         The trial court amended its judgment by asserting that appellants' overlying rights to the Basin groundwater are " prior and paramount to any existing or future appropriative rights to the Basin groundwater" (italics omitted), but are " subject to the prescriptive rights of [respondents], as otherwise provided herein" (italics omitted). The judgment held that the City of Santa Maria had established a total prescriptive [203 Cal.Rptr.3d 761] right of 5,100 acre-feet per year and Golden State Water Company had established a total prescriptive right of 1,900 acre-feet per year. These prescriptive rights, however, were perfected against the Basin aquifer as a whole. Therefore, only a proportionate amount of the prescriptive right could be exercised against appellants' overlying rights. The trial court determined that it did not need to specifically quantify the proportionate prescriptive rights that could be attributable to appellants. The trial court also determined that it was not necessary to reconsider the prevailing party determination or allocation of costs.

         On appeal, appellants insist that the trial court's actions on remand were inadequate because quantification of the proportionate volume of the prescriptive loss that can be attributed to appellants is necessary in order to successfully quiet title. Further, appellants claim that they were the prevailing

Page 508

parties and should have been entitled to costs.[3] We conclude that the trial court properly quieted title and did not err when it declined to reconsider the prevailing party determination. Accordingly, we affirm the amended judgment and the order regarding prevailing parties.

         Background[4]

         Quiet Title and This Court's Remand

         The underlying litigation before the trial court encompassed multiple issues. One of the issues raised was whether appellants and the Wineman parties could quiet title to their rights in the overlying groundwater. ( City of Santa Maria, supra, 211 Cal.App.4th at p. 298.) The trial court initially held that it could not quiet title to the overlying rights, because appellants and the Wineman parties had not attempted to show how much water they had pumped during the prescriptive period. ( Ibid. )

         On appeal, we concluded that appellants and the Wineman parties have title to the overlying land and respondents have prescriptive rights attached to a specified amount of the Basin groundwater.[5] ( City of Santa Maria, supra, 211 Cal.App.4th at pp. 291-297.) Further, we found that although appellants and the Wineman parties had not submitted proof of the amount of water they had pumped during the prescriptive period, the trial court could still quiet title to their overlying rights. We held that " [w]here there are no conflicting prescriptive rights, and sufficient safe yield to satisfy all parties, the trial court may simply declare the landowners' overlying rights to be superior to those of the appropriators." ( Id. at pp. 298-299.) Appellants and the Wineman parties had engaged in self-help, which meant that they retained their overlying rights subject to respondents' prescriptive taking. ( Id. at p. 299.) We further determined that " when 'the total amount of water covered by all of the rights of the parties exceeds the available supply consisting of the basin's safe yield and any [203 Cal.Rptr.3d 762] temporary surplus,' overlying owners 'should be awarded the full amount of their overlying rights, less any amounts of such rights lost by prescription, from the part of the supply shown to constitute native ground water.'" ( Ibid. )

Page 509

         In our disposition, we remanded the matter to the trial court with instructions to modify the judgment as follows: " As to those appellants that pleaded quiet title causes of action, the court shall declare their overlying rights to native groundwater prior to the rights of all appropriators less the amount to which the City of Santa Maria and Golden State Water Company are entitled pursuant to their prescriptive rights and shall reconsider, if necessary, the prevailing party determination and allocation of costs." ( City of Santa Maria, supra, 211 Cal.App.4th at p. 312.)

         The Proceedings on Remand

         On remand, the parties submitted briefing on the issue of whether quieting title required the trial court to quantify the proportion of the prescriptive loss attributable to each parcel owned by appellants and the Wineman parties. Appellants and the Wineman parties contended that quantification was ...


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