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City of San Juan Capistrano v. California Public Utilities Commission

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

September 11, 2019

City of San Juan Capistrano, a California municipal corporation, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
California Public Utilities Commission, a California state agency, Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued and Submitted March 8, 2019 Pasadena, California

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California D.C. No. 8:17-cv-01096-AG-E Andrew J. Guilford, District Judge, Presiding

          Michael J. Aguirre (argued) and Maria C. Severson, Aguirre & Severson LLP, San Diego, California, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

          Christofer Charles Nolan (argued), Arocles Aguilar, Jonathan C. Koltz, and Marcelo Poirier, California Public Utilities Commission, San Francisco, California, for Defendant-Appellee.

          Peder K. Batalden (argued), Mitchell C. Tilner, and Bradley S. Pauley, Horvitz & Levy LLP, Burbank, California; Michael J. Perez and Jeffrey A. Feasby, Perez Vaughn & Feasby Inc., San Diego, California; for Amicus Curiae San Diego Gas & Electric Company.

          Before: Andrew J. Kleinfeld, Jacqueline H. Nguyen, and Ryan D. Nelson, Circuit Judges.

         SUMMARY[*]

         Civil Rights

         The panel affirmed the district court's dismissal of claims for lack of standing in an action brought by the City of San Juan Capistrano asserting that the California Public Utility Commission's approval of an electrical grid project violated the City's due process rights.

         Citing City of South Lake Tahoe v. California Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, 625 F.2d 231, 233 (9th Cir. 1980), and its progeny, the panel noted that this Circuit has consistently held that political subdivisions lack standing to challenge state law on constitutional grounds in federal court. Accordingly, the panel held that in this case, the City could not challenge the Commission's decision on due process grounds in federal court. The panel rejected the proposition that South Lake Tahoe bars only facial challenges to a statute or regulation. The panel held that South Lake Tahoe and this Circuit's later cases relied only on the identity of the parties, not the procedural context in which those claims were raised.

         The panel separately held that sovereign immunity barred the City's claims because the Commission is an arm of the State of California. The panel held that the City waived its right to amend the complaint to add a commissioner because the City never asked the district court for such relief and nothing in the City's district court filings could be construed as a definite request for leave to add a new party.

         Concurring, Judge R. Nelson wrote separately to highlight the potential, in the appropriate case, to revisit the court's per se rule that a political subdivision lacks standing to challenge state law on constitutional grounds in federal court.

          OPINION

          R. NELSON, CIRCUIT JUDGE:

         The City of San Juan Capistrano contends the California Public Utility Commission's approval of an electrical grid project violates the City's due process rights. Following City of South Lake Tahoe v. California Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and its progeny, we hold the City cannot challenge the Commission's decision on due process grounds in federal court. 625 F.2d 231, 233 (9th Cir. ...


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