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Connecticut Indem. Co. v. Superior Court of San Joaquin County

ELR Citation: 31 ELR 20010
Nos. No. S065841, 985 P.2d 969/50 ERC 2094/(Cal., 07/24/2000)

The court holds that a city council, pursuant to a legislative investigation of toxic contamination of groundwater, may issue subpoenas to insurers in order to obtain information relating to liability insurance coverage and claims concerning parties believed to be legally responsible for the contamination even though the city will likely use the same information in the course of prospective litigation. The city issued the subpoenas to learn about the insurance policies held by businesses that allegedlycaused the contamination, which forced the city to shut three of its municipal wells.

The court first holds that the city's asserted legislative interest for the subpoenas are legitimate. The relevant ordinance clearly authorizes the city to issue subpoenas, and the subject matter of the investigation, an environmental public nuisance, obviously is an area over which the city council has authority and responsibility both to legislate and to appropriate. The city seeks to learn whether and to what extent it might need to raise taxes, redirect money, or litigate in order to address the groundwater contamination. These are matters that the city council properly may consider. Moreover, the city has a legitimate interest in learning whether and to what extent other potentially responsible parties might be available to contribute to the cleanup. The court next holds that when a city's issuance of a subpoena is, in itself, a proper exercise of legislative power, the potential that the city also may use information gained by that subpoena in future litigation does not render the subpoena invalid. The court then holds that the subpoenas are pertinent to the city's legitimate legislative interests. The insurers' contentions concerning the subpoena's relevance and overbreadth will be resolved at subsequent proceedings before the trial court.

The full text of this decision is available from ELR (22 pp., ELR Order No. L-251).

[No counsel available at this printing.]