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Luke v. Sonoma County

California Court of Appeals, First District, Fifth Division

December 12, 2019

GEORGE W. LUKE, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
SONOMA COUNTY et al., Defendants and Respondents.

         CERTIFIED FOR PARTIAL PUBLICATION [*]

          Superior Court of Sonoma County, No. SCV261187, Hon. Rene Chouteau, Judge.

          Robinson & Robinson, Jeffrey A. Robinson and Charles R. Patterson for Plaintiff and Appellant.

          Colantuono, Highsmith & Whatley, Michael G. Colantuono, Jon R. di Cristina and Conor W. Harkins for Defendants and Respondents County of Sonoma, Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, Erick Roeser, Christina Cramer, Bruce Goldstein, and Sheryl Bratton.

          Nossaman, Ashley K. Dunning and Jennifer L. Meeker for Defendant and Respondent Sonoma County Employees' Retirement Association and Julie Wyne.

          Mastagni Holstedt, David P. Mastagni and Kenneth E. Bacon for Defendant and Respondent Sonoma County Law Enforcement Association.

          SIMONS, J.

         Plaintiff George W. Luke, a Sonoma County resident and taxpayer, appeals from the trial court's orders sustaining the demurrers of Sonoma County (the County) and certain County officials, the Sonoma County Employees' Retirement Association, and the Sonoma County Law Enforcement Association (collectively, Respondents). Plaintiff argues the trial court erred in finding his claims challenging the payment of increased public employee pension benefits barred by the statute of limitations. We affirm.

         BACKGROUND [1]

         In 2002 or 2003, the County authorized increased pension benefits for County employees, pursuant to a settlement of employee lawsuits alleging past miscalculation of retirement benefits. In doing so, the County failed to comply with state laws requiring local legislative bodies to obtain an actuarial statement of the future annual costs of proposed pension increases, and to make the future annual costs public at a public meeting, before authorizing the pension increases. (See Gov. Code, §§ 7507, 23026, 31515.5, 31516.)[2] In 2017, Plaintiff filed the underlying petition for writ of mandate, alleging these violations and seeking a writ enjoining payment of the increased pension benefits.

         The trial court sustained Respondents' demurrers to Plaintiff's original and first amended petitions, finding the claim barred by the statute of limitations. In sustaining the demurrers to the first amended petition, the trial court denied leave to amend. Judgment issued in favor of Respondents.

         DISCUSSION [3]

         “This appeal follows the sustaining of a demurrer. The application of the statute of limitations on undisputed facts is a purely legal question [citation]; accordingly, we review the lower courts' rulings de novo. We must take the allegations of the operative complaint as true and consider whether the facts alleged establish [Plaintiff's] claim is barred as a matter of law.” (Aryeh, supra, 55 Cal.4th at p. 1191.)

         “An affirmative defense, the statute of limitations exists to promote the diligent assertion of claims, ensure defendants the opportunity to collect evidence while still fresh, and provide repose and protection from dilatory suits once excess time has passed. [Citations.] The duration of the limitations period marks the legislatively selected point at which, for a given claim, these considerations surmount the otherwise compelling interest in adjudicating on their merits valid claims. [Citations.] [¶] The limitations period, the period in which a plaintiff must bring suit or be barred, runs from the moment a claim accrues. [Citations.] Traditionally at common law, a ‘cause of action accrues “when [it] is complete with all of its elements”-those elements being wrongdoing, harm, and causation.' [Citation.] This ...


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