United States District Court, N.D. California
ORDER GRANTING FEDERAL DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO
DISMISS AND REMANDING CASE TO STATE COURT; AND DENYING
PETITIONERS' MOTION TO AMEND THE COMPLAINT DOCKET NOS.
M. CHEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
present case was removed from Santa Clara County Superior
Court after the U.S. Department of Interior
(“DOI”), the Bureau of Reclamation
(“BOR”), and Brenda Burman, the Commissioner of
the BOR (“the Federal Defendants”)
were added as necessary parties to this action. Pets.'
RJN, Ex. B (Order at 7). San Luis Obispo Coastkeeper and Los
Padres Forestwatch (“Petitioners”) bring this
action “to allow sufficient water flows in the Santa
Maria River to maintain fish stocks in good condition as
required by [California] Fish and Game Code §
5937.” Opposition to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss
(“Opp'n”) at 6. To maintain fish stocks,
Petitioners want the Federal Defendants to adjust its release
of water to achieve sufficient water flows for Steelhead to
maintain fish stocks.
Federal Defendants argue they have not waived sovereign
immunity to be sued in this case. Petitioners contend that
the McCarran Amendment applies to this action thereby waiving
reasons explained herein, the Court finds that the
circumstances presented here do present a waiver of sovereign
immunity under the McCarran Amendment, and thus the Federal
Defendants must be dismissed for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction. As the joinder Federal Defendants were the only
basis for jurisdiction, the Court remands the remainder of
the proceeding to state court.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
initially filed their case in the Santa Barbara Superior
Court in 2017. At that time, the only Respondent named was
the Water District. Apparently, the parties stipulated to
coordinate their case with several existing cases known as
the Santa Maria Groundwater Litigation, pending in
the Santa Clara Superior Court since 1997. The stipulation
was granted. Petitioners' case and the Santa Maria
Valley Groundwater Litigation were coordinated into
Judicial Council Coordination Proceeding No. 4948
(Twitchell Dam Cases), and Petitioners' case was
transferred to the Santa Clara Superior Court. See
Pets.' RJN, Ex. A (order granting stipulated petition to
2018, the Santa Clara Superior Court ruled on a demurrer
filed in this suit by the Water District. The Water District
argued that the BOR was “an indispensable party because
[it] is the ‘owner' of the dam as well as the
holder of a construction and operation contract that
prohibits [the Water District] from disposing of and/or
releasing water ‘for use outside the District'
without prior consent of the [BOR].” Pets.' RJN,
Ex. B (Order at 5). The superior court held that the BOR
“has a significant interest in the operation of the
Twitchell Dam and the outcome of this litigation and [thus]
should be joined as a party.” Pets.' RJN, Ex. B
(Order at 7). Accordingly, in an amended petition,
Petitioners added the BOR as a respondent to the case at bar.
Thereafter, the BOR filed a notice of removal to federal
court. See 28 U.S.C. § 1442 (providing that
“[a] civil action . . . that is commenced in a State
court and that is against [the United States or any agency
thereof or any officer] may be removed by them to the
district court of the United States”).
pending before the Court is the Federal Defendants'
motion to dismiss. The Federal Defendants contend that they
have sovereign immunity from Petitioners' action which
asserts only state law claims.
issue of sovereign immunity in this case draws from the
context of other litigation which were coordinated with the
suit at bar. That context is described below.
Santa Maria Project: Twitchell Dam and Reservoir
1954, Congress passed a law authorizing the Secretary of the
DOI “to construct [a] project for irrigation and the
conservation of water, flood control, and for other purposes,
on Santa Maria River.” Jackson Decl., Ex. A (Public Law
774). A BOR fact sheet on the Santa Maria Project describes
the project as follows: “A joint water conservation and
flood control project, it consists of the Twitchell Dam where
construction began in July 1956 and was completed in October
1958.” Jackson Decl., Ex. A (Fact Sheet at 1). The dam
is located on the Cuyama River about 6 miles upstream from
its junction with the Sisquoc River. The dam regulates flows
along the lower reaches of the river and impounds surplus
flows for release in the dry months to help recharge the
ground-water basin underlying the Santa Maria Valley, thus
minimizing discharge of water to the sea at Guadalupe.
Decl., Ex. A (Fact Sheet at 1). The affiliated Twitchell
stores flood-waters of the Cuyama River for release as needed
to recharge the ground-water basins, preventing saltwater
intrusion. All water used within the area is obtained by
pumping from the ground-water reservoirs. Twitchell Reservoir
impounds winter floodwaters for later release down the river
channel at a predetermined rate to permit maximum percolation
into the ground-water basins; from these ground-water basins
individual landholders pump water according to their needs.
Decl., Ex. B (Fact Sheet at 1).
Contract Related to Water Rights and Operation of
the BOR and the Santa Barbara County Water Agency entered
into a contract regarding construction of the Santa Maria
Project. See Jackson Decl., Ex. D (Contract ¶
1(b)) (defining the project as the Twitchell Dam and
Reservoir “as authorized by the Act of Congress of
September 3, 1954 . . ., and related and appurtenant works
contract provided that the BOR would commence construction of
the Twitchell Dam and Reservoir:
Provided, That in no event shall the United States
be obligated to commence construction or perform any other
act in pursuance of this contract until and unless water
rights for project purposes satisfactory to the Secretary of
the Interior have been acquired or assured and a permit or
permits in terms satisfactory to the Secretary of the
Interior shall have been issued by the Division of Water
Resources of the Department of Public Works of the State of
California for the appropriation of unappropriated water with
reasonable assurances and commitment satisfactory to the
Secretary of Interior for the ultimate issuance of an
appropriate license or licenses.
Decl., Ex. D (Contract ¶ 2(c)).
contract also provided that,
[s]ubject to the prior right of the United States to utilize
the works for flood control purposes, the satisfaction of
existing vested rights, and compliance by the Agency and the
[Water] District with the terms of this contract, the
Agency, upon behalf of the [Water] District,
shall have the perpetual right to use all water that
becomes available through the construction and
operation of the Project. Subject to the operation of the
Project works for flood control purposes, the United States
shall, during the time that the Project works are being
operated and maintained by the United States, release water
from the Project works for the use and benefit of the
District in accordance with written schedules submitted by
the [Water] District on forms prescribed by the United
Decl., Ex. D (Contract ¶ 6) (emphasis added).
addition, the contract provided that,
[u]pon the completion of the Project, . . . the United States
will transfer to the Agency the
care, operation and maintenance of the [Twitchell]
Dam and Reservoir and real and personal property
used or useful for operation and maintenance of the Project