Failure to Comply With LAFCO Procedural Requirements Proves Fatal to CEQA Suit

by Stoel Rives LLP

In Protect Agricultural Land v. Stanislaus County Local Agency Formation Commission (filed January 28, 2014) (“Protect Agricultural Land”), the Fifth District Court of Appeal affirmed judgment on the pleadings in favor of the Stanislaus County Local Agency Formation Commission (“LAFCO”), and squarely held that all “lawsuits seeking to set aside a LAFCO approval of an annexation or change in sphere of influence—whether brought under CEQA, the Reorganization Act, or both—are subject to the procedural requirements applicable to reverse validation actions.”  (Slip Opin. at 2.)

The Protect Agricultural Land decision is interesting for at least two reasons.  First, it identifies another area where CEQA practitioners must be mindful of procedural requirements found in other statutes.  (See, e.g., Friends of Riverside’s Hills v. City of Riverside (2008) 168 Cal.App.4th 743 (Subdivision Map Act).)  Second, it adds to the growing body of case law outlining what does, and does not, constitute excusable neglect under Code of Civil Procedure section 473.

Here, plaintiff-appellant Protect Agricultural Land (“PAL”) filed a petition for writ of mandate challenging Stanislaus County LAFCO’s approval of the City of Ceres’ application for the West Landing Specific Plan Reorganization, which modified the City’s sphere of influence and annexed 960 acres.  PAL alleged that the approval violated both CEQA and the Cortese-Knox-Hertzberg Local Government Reorganization Act of 2000.  Defendants Stanislaus LAFCO and the City filed a demurrer seeking dismissal on the ground that the action did not comply with statutory procedural requirements.  The trial court found the demurrer untimely, but treated it as a motion for judgment on the pleadings, and granted the motion in favor of defendants without leave to amend.  The appellate court affirmed.

Citing Code of Civil Procedure section 863, the court held that all actions to test the validity of a LAFCO annexation determination are required to be brought as reverse validation actions, which entail certain procedural requirements.  Specifically, a summons must be in the prescribed form, directed to all persons interested in the matter and the public agency, and published for the period and in the manner required by statute.  Because PAL did not comply with those statutory requirements, the trial court dismissed the lawsuit.

The court then found that PAL’s failure to comply with LAFCO publication and summons requirements also barred plaintiff’s CEQA claims.  PAL argued that there is no law requiring CEQA challenges to be brought pursuant to the validation statutes.  The court reasoned, however, that

even if a challenge to a validation action is based on CEQA, it is still an action challenging the validity of the LAFCO determination.  Thus, the action is effectively a reverse validation action and must follow the procedural requirements of Section 863.

Additionally, the court affirmed the trial court’s ruling that PAL did not demonstrate good cause for its failure to comply with Section 863, which the Supreme Court has determined is governed by the same test used to establish good cause under Code of Civil Procedure 473.  Specifically, PAL’s counsel did not show excusable neglect in the form of an “honest and reasonable mistake of law on a complex and debatable issue . . . .”  (Slip opin. at 11.)  A declaration by PAL’s counsel stated that, prior to filing the action, the attorney consulted the chapter on LAFCOs of an outdated secondary guide.  Citing the most recent version of that guide, a Google search, other secondary sources, and case law, the court affirmed that counsel’s research was inadequate and did not support a finding of good cause.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Stoel Rives LLP | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Stoel Rives LLP

Stoel Rives LLP on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at:

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.