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California Am. Water v. Seaside, City of

ELR Citation: 40 ELR 20112
Nos. No. H034335, (Cal. Ct. App., 04/01/2010)

A California appellate court affirmed a lower court order clarifying and enforcing a prior decision, which had defined the rights of parties interested in the production of groundwater from the Seaside Basin, by restricting a water management district’s authority to require environmental review of permit applications from the water-producing parties. As a preliminary matter, the court held that the motion for declaratory relief was procedurally proper: the issue addressed in the motion was whether the district’s decision involved subject matter already covered by the prior decision and reserved for future adjudication. Consideration of the motion required the court to revisit its prior decision and clarify its scope; it did not call for a ruling on the merits of the underlying application. As to the merits, the court held that the lower court did not err in ruling that certain of the district’s findings, in which it denied the water producing parties’ permit application, contravened the prior decision to the extent they purported to adjudicate water rights in the Seaside Basin. The lower court acted within its jurisdiction and properly exercised its discretion in adhering to its prior rulings to minimize conflict with and frustration of the prior decision. In so doing, it facilitated both the exercise of the parties’ water rights and the beneficial use of the Seaside Basin. The court therefore properly directed the district to reconsider its findings in a manner consistent with the prior decision.