California's High Court Clarifies CEQA's 30-Day Statute Of Limitations

Committee for Green Foothills v. Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, __ Cal.4th __ (February 2, 2010, No. S163680)("Green Foothills")

On February 11, 2010, the California Supreme Court unanimously decided that a lead agency's filing of a Notice of Determination ("NOD") sets off the 30-day statute of limitations (found in Public Resources Code section 21167, subdivisions (b), (c) and (e)) for all California Environmental Quality Act ("CEQA") lawsuits brought to challenge the decision announced in the NOD.

The court further clarified that CEQA's 180-day statute of limitations (found in section 21167(a)) only applies to actions alleging that a public agency is carrying out or has approved a project without considering its environmental effects. According to the court, no amount of "artful" pleading will extend the statutory limitations period for an action that does not challenge a project within the meaning of CEQA.

In Green Foothills, the court also briefly discussed the 35-day limitations period found in section 21167(e), which pertains to actions alleging that the agency has improperly determined that a project is exempt from CEQA. The court's full opinion addressing the applicability of section 21167(e) is not expected until sometime in April when the court issues its opinion in Stockton Citizens for Sensible Planning v. City of Stockton (S159690), the companion case to Green Foothills, which was argued before the Supreme Court by Sheppard Mullin Partner Bob Stumpf on January 27, 2010.

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