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Rancho Palos Verdes Corp. v. Laguna Beach, City of

ELR Citation: 7 ELR 20201
Nos. Nos. 75-1813 et al., 547 F.2d 1092/(9th Cir., 12/28/1976)

The Ninth Circuit affirms a lower federal court's abstention from hearing a suit brought by a landowner who claimed that defendant unconstitutionally prevented development of landowner's property. After initially rezoning the property for residential use, the city adopted an open-space plan that prohibited development by plaintiff. Plaintiff sued, alleging deprivation of equal protection, violation of federal civil rights statutes, and taking of property without just compensation. The district court abstained from hearing the case, but retained jurisdiction over federal claims pending resolution of state claims in state courts. Abstention is appropriate where a federal constitutional question may be rendered moot by a state court determination of pertinent state law. The three abstention tests have been met in this case. First, the issues touch a sensitive area of social policy—land use planning—upon which federal courts ought not to enter unless no alternative to adjudication is open. This rule is especially true here where the web of California land use statutes has been enacted relatively recently. As for the second test, a constitutional ruling in this case can be avoided by resolution of state claims terminating the controversy. Plaintiff's equal protection claim rests on violation of rights bestowed by state law, which the state courts must interpret. Finally, the possibly determinative issue of state law is doubtful, because California courts have not yet delineated the precise extent to which municipalities may limit development of private property. The city's contention that total abstention is necessary is without merit, since the federal questions that survive state adjudication can be readily identified without colliding with state claims.

Counsel for Plaintiff
John Pollock
Pollock, Williams & Berwanger
800 W. 6th St., Suite 820, Los Angeles CA 90017
(213) 485-0241

Counsel for Defendant
George G. Logan
1151 Dove St., Suite 170, Newport Beach CA 92660
(714) 752-7461

Counsel for Amicus Curiae State of California
Larry C. King, Ass't Attorney General
555 Capitol Mall, Sacramento CA 95814
(916) 445-9555

Before: MERRILL and HUFSTEDLER, Circuit Judges, and RENFREW,* District Judge.