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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.

          Trial Court: Santa Clara County Superior Court Superior Court No. 1-97-CV770214 Trial Judge: Hon. Joseph Huber & Jack Komar

          Counsel for Plaintiff/Appellant: Landowner Group Parties Clifford & Brown Richard G. Zimmer Law Office of E. Stewart Johnston E. Stewart Johnston

          Counsel for Defendant/Respondent: Golden State Water Company Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck Robert J. Saperstein Jena Shoaf Acos

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

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

         

          PREMO, J.

         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 (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 (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.

         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.) 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.) 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.) 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.) Thereafter, with respect to the quiet title action, judgment was entered in respondents' favor. (Id. at p. 285.) 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.) 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.) We further observed that only some of the nonstipulating landowners pleaded quiet title causes of action; thus, this 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 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 provided that “[a]ny party that seeks the court's exercise of reserved jurisdiction shall file a noticed motion with the court.”

         Appellants appealed from the amended judgment, which was the subject of our decision in City of Santa Maria II.On appeal, appellants argued that the amended judgment failed to quiet title because it did not quantify the proportionate prescriptive loss that could be attributed to each landowner's respective parcel. (City of Santa Maria II, supra, 248 Cal.App.4th at p. 510.)

         2. The Motion to Clarify the Amended Judgment

         On January 16, 2015, while the appeal from the amended judgment was pending, appellants filed a motion to clarify the amended judgment seeking to confirm that their overlying rights were protected against future prescription by appropriators, relying on City of Los Angeles v. City of San Fernando (1975) 14 Cal.3d 199 (San Fernando).

         In their motion, appellants stated that in November 2014, they had filed a motion for an evidentiary hearing to determine whether the Basin was presently in a state of overdraft and whether any prescription by water purveyors was presently occurring. Appellants quoted from an opposition to appellants' motion for an evidentiary hearing that was filed by the City of Pismo Beach and a response to appellants' motion for an evidentiary hearing that was filed by the City of Arroyo Grande, City of Grover Beach, and Oceano Community Services District.[5] Appellants argued that when responding to appellants' motion for an evidentiary hearing, several parties indicated that they believed that the amended judgment did not protect appellants from postjudgment prescription. Appellants cited to a statement made by an attorney representing the Golden State Water Company during a case management conference and a joint brief submitted by the Golden State Water Company, City of Santa Maria, and ...


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