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Department of Fish & Game v. Superior Court of Plumas County

ELR Citation: 41 ELR 20257
Nos. No. C066158, (Cal. App. 3d Dist. , 08/02/2011)

A California appellate court reversed a lower court decision certifying residents' class action lawsuit against the state wildlife agency in connection with efforts to eradicate an invasive species of fish, the northern pike, from a lake and its tributaries. The residents argued that the agency's efforts—poisoning the lake—created a decline in tourism that adversely affected business income, property values, and tax receipts for the period leading up to and following the eradication effort. They asserted claims for public nuisance, negligence, inverse condemnation, various types of business interference, strict liability, and equal protection. The lower court certified the claims as a class action, holding that the legal and factual issues to be resolved in the dispute are predominantly common to all class members. But the trial court applied improper criteria in assessing the evidence. It also failed to give any weight to the various opinions asserted by the agency's experts that appear to be rationally based and are not refuted by the residents' experts. The court also made a number of erroneous legal assumptions as to how the elements of the residents' various claims may be proven at trial. Because there is no substantial evidence to support the conclusion that common issues predominate, the lower court's order certifying the matter as a class action was an abuse of discretion.