Honchariw v. County of Stanislaus, No. F069145 (June 3, 2015), is one especially for you Californians, addressing the somewhat unusual process under state law for challenging a land use action by local government which is claimed to take property.
Under the California Supreme Court's decision in Hensler v. City of Glendale, 876 P.2d 1043 (Cal. 1994), before a landowner can seek just compensation for a regulatory taking, it must first challenge the validity of the action using the writ of mandate procedure (administrative appeal to all you non-Californians), to allow the agency the chance to rescind the act. The property owner may -- but need not -- join to the writ of mandate a claim for damages (just compensation), and raise the claims concurrently.
Sometimes plaintiffs do join both claims in a single complaint, sometimes they don't. Hensler is considered an exception to the usual rule prohibiting claim splitting. In takings cases, however, you can, but you don't have to. Fair enough.
The question before the court in Honchariw was whether the writ of mandate must assert a takings claim in order to take advantage of the Hensler process. The court concluded it must.
The County's planning commission rejected Honchariw's vesting tentative map and his request for an exemption from the rule that all subdivision lots be connected to the public water system. Honchariw appealed to the county Board of Supervisors, which affirmed the denial. Honchariw filed a petition for writ of mandamus, challenging the disapproval. But he didn't challenge the rejection on the basis that it was a taking, only because the Board of Supervisors didn't make written findings to support the denial.
The Superior Court rejected that theory, but the Court of Appeal reversed, concluding that the Board was required to have supported the denial with written findings. The court vacated the denial, and sent the case back to the Board to reconsider the administrative appeal, and to support its denial with written findings if that was its conclusion again.
On remand, the Board approved Honchariw's application.
Seven months later, he filed a complaint in Superior Court for inverse condemnation and violation of substantive due process, seeking $2.5 million in just compensation for the temporary taking. The court sustained the County's demurrer (motion to dismiss for all you non-Californians) because under California law, you have 90 days to bring claim to review an agency's subdivision map decision.
Honchariw argued that this didn't apply because he was following the Hensler process. He didn't need to file a writ of mandate alleging a taking, only a writ of mandate seeking to invalidate the denial, which he had done. Honchariw argued his takings claim wasn't even ripe at the time he challenged the Board's denial on the basis that it had not produced written findings.
The court of appeal, however, concluded that the initial mandamus action must allege a takings claim in order to take advantage of the Hensler exception.
In Hensler, the Supreme Court stated that the exception to the statute of limitations applies only if the plaintiff in the inverse condemnation action “alleges the existence of a final judgment establishing that there has been a compensable taking of the plaintiff’s land.” (Hensler, supra, 8 Cal.4th at p. 7.)
Slip op. at 10. Only takings claims are subject to the exception from the general rule against claim splitting, and here, Honchariw didn't split a takings claim, because he challenged the Board's denial only on the basis that it didn't make written findings.
The reason the mandamus proceeding must include the constitutional taking issue is that the court’s determination that a taking has occurred triggers a range of options for the public entity—it could approve the project as proposed, conditionally approve the project, or exercise the power of eminent domain. (Hensler, supra, 8 Cal.4th at p. 11.) Which of these options is adopted by the public entity affects the scope of the taking and, thus, the just compensation due to land owner. For example, if the public entity approves the project as proposed, the land owner’s recovery would be limited to compensation for a temporary taking. At the other end of the range of options, if the public entity were to exercise eminent domain, the land owner then would be entitled to compensation for a permanent taking.
Slip op. at 11.