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Fifth District Court of Appeal Holds CEQA Challenges Seeking to Overturn LAFCO Approvals Are Subject to Reverse Validation Action Requirements

In an opinion issued yesterday in Protect Agricultural Land v. Stanislaus County LAFCO, the Fifth District Court of Appeal ruled that any challenge to a Local Agency Formation Commission’s (“LAFCO”) approval of a reorganization or a sphere of influence amendment, whether brought under the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) or the Cortese-Knox-Hertzberg Local Government Reorganization Act (“Reorganization Act”) must be brought according to the procedural requirements of a reverse validation action.

The City of Ceres had prepared an environmental impact report (“EIR”) and master plan for a proposed annexation into the City.  The EIR was never challenged.  The City then applied to the Stanislaus County LAFCO for the necessary approvals to complete the annexation, which LAFCO granted.  Petitioner Protect Agricultural Land (“PAL”) challenged LAFCO’s approvals under both CEQA and the Reorganization Act.  Meyers Nave attorneys, representing real parties in interest the City of Ceres noted that PAL had failed to comply with any of the reverse validation action procedural requirements including obtaining a specifically worded summons and publishing that summons as mandated by the Reorganization Act.  Compliance with these procedural requirements is necessary for a court to obtain jurisdiction over all necessary parties and, thus, the City and LAFCO asked the trial court to dismiss the lawsuit.  The trial court agreed, finding that PAL needed to comply with the reverse validation action procedural requirements for both the CEQA claims and Reorganization Act claims.  The Court of Appeal upheld this decision, ruling that because both the CEQA and the Reorganization Act claims sought to invalidate LAFCO’s approvals of the reorganization and sphere of influence amendment, PAL must comply with the reverse validation action procedural requirements.  The Court of Appeal also held that PAL’s attorney’s mistake of law in failing to comply with the reverse validation action requirements was not a reasonable mistake, and so no relief from this mistake could be granted.

Meyers Nave attorney Ed Grutzmacher represented real party in interest the City of Ceres in this case.