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Meyers Nave Secures Key Victory In California Supreme Court Confirming Application of Automatic Stay Pending Appeal to Mandatory Injunctions

In a unanimous decision, the California Supreme Court confirmed that the automatic stay pending appeal applies to a superior court judgment that orders mandatory injunctive relief. The trial court judgment ordered the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors to vacate the Third District seat and then immediately fill the vacant seat with a new appointee selected by Governor Newsom, based on an alleged Brown Act violation in the process the Board had originally employed to fill the vacant seat. The challengers had argued that the judgment was prohibitory in nature, and therefore excepted from CCP § 916’s automatic stay. Agreeing with the Board, the Supreme Court instead held that the judgment ordered mandatory injunctive relief because it altered the status quo of the parties at the time the judgment was entered, and the judgment was therefore subject to the automatic stay.

Gomez Daly v. San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, S260209, came to the California Supreme Court in a unique procedural posture. Petitioners Michael Gomez Daly and Inland Empire United (“Petitioners”) filed a petition for writ of mandate in the San Bernardino County Superior Court alleging that the Board had violated the open meeting requirements of the Brown Act when it filled a vacancy on the Board in appointing a supervisor to the Third District seat. Over the Board’s strenuous objection, the superior court found that the appointment violated the Brown Act, and was therefore “null and void” under the Brown Act’s provisions allowing a court to nullify action taken in violation of the Act. The superior court then entered judgment requiring the Board to vacate the seat and to allow the Governor to make a new appointment. The Board immediately appealed the decision, alleging several errors committed by the superior court. In connection with the appeal, because Petitioners were attempting to immediately enforce the judgment notwithstanding the appeal, the Board sought writ of supersedeas in the Court of Appeal on the basis that CCP § 916’s automatic stay applied to the judgment pending appeal. The Court of Appeal denied the petition for writ of supersedeas, the Board petitioned to the Supreme Court for review, and the Court granted review.

The Supreme Court laid out the familiar rule: mandatory injunctions are ones that alter the status quo and are therefore subject to the automatic stay; prohibitory injunctions, on the other hand, seek to preserve the status quo and are not subject to the automatic stay. While many cases identify the status quo as the point in time before the injunction is ordered, Petitioners urged the Court to use another definition—the last peaceable, uncontested status preceding the controversy. The Supreme Court harmonized these two competing definitions by explaining that the latter could be used where an injunctive order seeks to prevent injury from future conduct rather than remedy a past wrong. The Court next turned to the facts of the case, and explained that the judgment here was a mandatory injunction. Although the relief stemmed from a finding that the Board’s action was “null and void,” the relief was nonetheless properly characterized as a mandatory injunction because it required a mandatory act that would change the relative position of the parties by removing the Supervisor from office. Now that the Supreme Court has confirmed the automatic stay applies, the case is back to the Court of Appeal to address the merits of the Board’s appeal.

With this decision, the Supreme Court affirmed that California law sets the “default rule” to be that mandatory orders are stayed pending appeal. The decision has far-reaching consequences, providing added clarity and guidance for all appeals from injunctive relief judgments. The decision should also provide comfort to public entities by ensuring that injunctive relief will generally be stayed pending appeal, reducing the potential for erroneous judgments to interrupt or impede stable governance.