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Leider v. Lewis

Supreme Court of California

May 25, 2017

AARON LEIDER, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
JOHN LEWIS et al., Defendants and Appellants.

         Superior Court Los Angeles County No. BC375234, Ct. App. 2/8 B244414 John Segal Judge.

          Wasserman, Comden & Casselman, Casselman Law Group, David B. Casselman; Esner, Chang & Boyer and Stuart B. Esner for Plaintiff and Appellant.

          Linda Lye, Micaela Davis; Ahilan Arulanantham; and David Loy for ACLU of Northern California, ACLU of Southern California and ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties as Amici Curiae on behalf of Plaintiff and Appellant.

          Bird, Marella, Boxer, Wolpert, Nessim, Drooks, Lincenberg & Rhow, Dorothy Wolpert and Kimberley M. Miller for Voice for the Animals, Melya Kaplan and Lily Tomlin as Amici Curiae on behalf of Plaintiff and Appellant.

          Sullivan & Crowell, Diane L. McGimsey, Edward E. Johnson, Janet Y. Galeria, Jonathon D. Townsend; Winston & Strawn, Amanda C. Sommerfeld and Bennett J. Kaspar for Animal Legal Defense Fund as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Plaintiff and Appellant.

          Zeynep J. Graves; The Bernheim Law Firm, Steven J. Bernheim and Nazo S. Semerjian for Last Chance for Animals as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Plaintiff and Appellant.

          Michael N. Feuer, City Attorney, Laurie R. Henberg, Assistant City Attorney, John A. Carvalho, Deputy City Attorney; Karcher Harmes and Kathryn E. Karcher for Defendants and Appellants.

          Duane Morris, Patricia P. Hollenbeck and Heather U. Guerena for Association of Zoos & Aquariums, San Diego Zoo Global, International Elephant Foundation, Phoenix Zoo, North Carolina Zoological Park, Saint Louis Zoo and Busch Gardens Tampa as Amici Curiae on behalf of Defendants and Appellants.

          Colantuono, Highsmith & Whatley, Michael G. Colantuono and Leonard P. Aslanian for League of California Cities, International Municipal Lawyers Association and California State Association of Counties as Amici Curiae on behalf of Defendants and Appellants.

          Corrigan, J.

         This taxpayer action arises from claims of elephant abuse at the Los Angeles Zoo, in alleged violation of various Penal Code provisions. An earlier appeal resulted in the reversal of a ruling that the complaint raised nonjusticiable issues of public policy. The case proceeded to trial, and plaintiff was awarded injunctive and declaratory relief. This second appeal presents two issues: (1) Did the Court of Appeal's earlier decision establish law of the case, barring defendants' new argument that the claim for equitable relief is precluded by Civil Code section 3369 (section 3369)?[1] (2) Does the “as otherwise provided by law” exception in section 3369 permit equitable relief in a taxpayer action seeking to restrain “illegal” public expenditures under Code of Civil Procedure section 526a?[2]

         The Court of Appeal answered these questions in the affirmative, with a dissent on both points. We reverse.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The original complaint was filed by Robert Culp and Aaron Leider against the City of Los Angeles and the Director of the Los Angeles Zoo, John Lewis (collectively, the City). Plaintiffs alleged the zoo was violating Penal Code section 596.5 by abusing its elephants.[3] They sought injunctive and declaratory relief as taxpayers under Code of Civil Procedure section 526a. Their theory was that the City's criminal mistreatment of the animals amounted to an illegal and wasteful expenditure of public funds. The trial court granted summary judgment to the City. It ruled that the claims presented were not justiciable in a taxpayer action, and should be left for public officials or voters to resolve. The Court of Appeal reversed. It discerned a triable issue of fact as to whether the City's treatment of its elephants violated Penal Code section 596.5, and held that the statute provided “a legal standard by which the alleged governmental conduct may be tested, ” which “takes the issue beyond one of mere governmental discretion.” (Culp v. City of Los Angeles (Sept. 23, 2009, B208520 [nonpub. opn.]) (Culp).)

         Leider filed an amended complaint, again seeking injunctive and declaratory relief under Code of Civil Procedure section 526a. Former lead plaintiff Culp was by then deceased. The amended complaint added claims of cruelty and neglect under Penal Code sections 597 and 597.1.[4] The City demurred, relying on Civil Code section 3369 for the proposition that equity will not enjoin a Penal Code violation. The trial court overruled the demurrer, finding that the Culp decision foreclosed the City's Civil Code section 3369 argument. To accept that argument, the court said, “would render superfluous the entire appellate discussion of Penal Code section 596.5.”

         After a bench trial, the court issued injunctions prohibiting the City from using bullhooks or electric shock on zoo elephants, and requiring it to exercise the elephants and rototill their enclosure regularly. It entered declarations to the same effect.[5] The City appealed, and a divided Court of Appeal affirmed.

         The majority held that (1) law of the case barred the section 3369 defense, and (2) the Legislature had authorized taxpayer actions aimed at enjoining government expenditures that support criminal conduct. The dissent took the view that law of the case did not apply because the validity of the section 3369 defense was not implicitly decided in Culp. It further concluded that under Nathan H. Schur, Inc. v. City of Santa Monica (1956) 47 Cal.2d 11 (Schur), taxpayer actions cannot be brought to restrain Penal Code violations. Although Schur did not consider the “as otherwise provided by law” exception, which was added to section 3369 in 1977, the principle that equity will not intervene to restrain criminal activity without specific statutory authorization is a long-established one. The dissent reasoned that the changes made in 1977 did not alter this settled rule, noting that legislative history shows the amendments were intended merely to reorganize code provisions.

         II. DISCUSSION

         Both issues here turn on questions of law, which we review de novo.

         A. Law of the Case

         “ ‘The doctrine of “law of the case” deals with the effect of the first appellate decision on the subsequent retrial or appeal: The decision of an appellate court, stating a rule of law necessary to the decision of the case, conclusively establishes that rule and makes it determinative of the rights of the same parties in any subsequent retrial or appeal in the same case.' [Citation.]” (Morohoshi v. Pacific Home (2004) 34 Cal.4th 482, 491.) “Generally, the doctrine of law of the case does not extend to points of law which might have been but were not presented and determined in the prior appeal. [Citation.] As an exception to the general rule, the doctrine is... held ...


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