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City of Santa Maria v. Adam

California Court of Appeals, Sixth District

December 10, 2019

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, Cross-defendant and Respondent.

         [256 Cal.Rptr.3d 403] Santa Clara County Superior Court Superior Court No. 1-97-CV770214, Hon. Joseph Huber & Jack Komar, Judge (Santa Clara County Super. Ct. No. 1-97-CV770214).

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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         COUNSEL

         Clifford & Brown, Richard G. Zimmer, Bakersfield, Law Office of E. Stewart Johnston, E. Stewart Johnston, Los Olivos, for Plaintiff/Appellant.

         Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, Robert J. Saperstein, Santa Barbara, Jena Shoaf Acos, for Defendant/Respondent Golden State Water Company.

         Best Best & Krieger, Eric I. Garner, Jeffrey V. Dunn, Irvine, for Defendant/Respondent City of Santa Maria.

         Richards, Watson & Gershon, James L. Markman, Brea, B. Tilden Kim, Los Angeles, for Defendant/Respondent Nipomo Community Services District.

         OPINION

         Premo, J.

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          This is the third appeal concerning the rights to groundwater contained in the Santa Maria Valley Groundwater Basin (Basin). Appellants landowner group parties (LOG) are a group of landowners, mostly farmers, who extract groundwater for agricultural use. Respondents are public water producers that pump groundwater for municipal and industrial use for their citizens and customers.[1] In the first appeal, City of Santa Maria v. Adam (2012) 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 perfected prescriptive rights.[2] In the second appeal, City of Santa Maria v. Adam (2016) 248 Cal.App.4th 504, 203 Cal.Rptr.3d 758 (City of Santa Maria II ), we affirmed the amended judgment after determining that quantification of the proportionate prescriptive loss attributable to each of the landowners’ respective parcels was unnecessary and the quiet title judgment was not illusory.[3]

         Before we issued our decision in City of Santa Maria II, appellants filed a motion with the trial court seeking to clarify that the amended judgment protects their overlying rights from future prescription. The trial court denied appellants’ motion on the merits. Appellants appeal from this ruling. As we explain, we conclude that the issue raised is not ripe and is therefore not justiciable. We reverse and remand with directions.

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         [256 Cal.Rptr.3d 404] BACKGROUND[4]

          1. The First Appeal and the Amended Judgment

         The Santa Maria Valley Water District commenced the underlying case in 1997 to adjudicate the rights to the Santa Maria Valley Groundwater Basin (Basin). (City of Santa Maria, supra, 211 Cal.App.4th at pp. 276, 281-282, 149 Cal.Rptr.3d 491.) After the Santa Maria Valley Water District commenced its initial lawsuit, appellants, who own land and extract Basin groundwater for agricultural use, filed a cross-complaint that included multiple causes of action, including a cause of action to quiet title to their overlying rights to the Basin groundwater. (Id. at p. 282, 149 Cal.Rptr.3d 491.) Appellants’ cross-complaint also alleged causes of action for declaratory relief with respect to the groundwater, the use of groundwater storage, ownership of groundwater storage space, return flows, and a cause of action for inverse condemnation.

         The litigation over water rights, which encompassed numerous issues that are not relevant to this current appeal, was tried in several phases as described in our opinion in City of Santa Maria. After a court trial, the trial court determined that the City of Santa Maria and Golden State Water Company had perfected prescriptive rights over a certain amount of water. (City of Santa Maria, supra, 211 Cal.App.4th at p. 283, 149 Cal.Rptr.3d 491.) The trial court also determined that the quiet title remedy was unavailable because appellants had not submitted evidence from which the court could calculate the quantity of water they had pumped during the prescriptive period. (Id. at p. 284, 149 Cal.Rptr.3d 491.) Thereafter, with respect to the quiet title action, judgment was entered in respondents’ favor. (Id. at p. 285, 149 Cal.Rptr.3d 491.) The other causes of action initiated by appellants were dismissed. (Ibid. ) Appellants appealed from the trial court’s judgment, in part arguing that its decision on appellants’ cause of action to quiet title was erroneous.

         In City of Santa Maria, this court reversed and remanded the matter with directions to the trial court after determining that the trial court could quiet title to appellants’ overlying rights even though appellants had not submitted proof of the amount of water they had pumped. (City of Santa Maria, supra, 211 Cal.App.4th at pp. 291-297, 149 Cal.Rptr.3d 491.) We held that a quiet title action was necessarily focused on preserving appellants’ rights in the future, and "[a] declaration of [appellants’] rights will effectively prevent further erosion of their prior rights." (Id. at p. 300, 149 Cal.Rptr.3d 491.) We further observed that only some of the nonstipulating landowners pleaded quiet title causes of action; thus, this

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court’s determination that a quiet title judgment was appropriate applied only to those landowners who did. (Ibid., fn. 20.)

          On remand, the trial court amended its judgment pursuant to our directions. With respect to the quiet title cause of action, the trial court amended its judgment to state: "Subject to and limited by the adjustments for the amounts of native Basin groundwater lost to the prior prescriptive rights of the City of Santa Maria and [Golden State Water Company] as described in section 7(a), each of the LOG and Wineman Parties that filed quiet title actions has quieted title to the overlying [256 Cal.Rptr.3d 405] rights to the Basin groundwater appurtenant to the properties listed as Exhibit 3, which rights are prior and paramount to any existing or future appropriative rights to the Basin groundwater. Such overlying rights shall be subject to the prescriptive rights of the City of Santa Maria and [Golden State Water Company], as otherwise provided herein. Judgment to quiet title to such overlying rights is hereby entered with respect to the real property listed as Exhibit 3, with all other LOG and Wineman party causes of action having been dismissed." (Italics omitted.)

          The amended judgment also contained the following provision: "Jurisdiction, power and authority over the Stipulating Parties as between one another are governed exclusively by the Stipulation. The Court retains and reserves jurisdiction as set forth in this Paragraph over all parties herein. The [C]ourt shall make such further or supplemental orders as may be necessary or appropriate regarding interpretation and enforcement of all aspects of this Judgment, as well as clarifications or amendments to the Judgment consistent with the law." The amended judgment ...


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