California Court of Appeal

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Great Oaks Water Company v. Santa Clara Valley Water District, H035260

Plaintiff water retailer brought this action challenging a groundwater extraction fee imposed on water it draws from wells on its property. The power to impose such a fee is vested in defendant Santa Clara Valley Water Management District under the Santa Clara County Water District Act. Among defendant's responsibilities is preventing depletion of the aquifers from which plaintiff extracts the water it sells. The trial court awarded plaintiff a complete refund of the charges it paid on grounds that the charge violated the provisions of both the District Act and Article XIII D of the California Constitution which imposes procedural and substantive constraints on fees and charges imposed by local public entities. The judgment is reversed, where: 1) the fee is a property-related charge for purposes of Article 13D, and thus subject to some of the constraints of that enactment, but it is also a charge for water service, and as such is exempt from the requirement of voter ratification; 2) the pre-suit claim submitted by plaintiff did not preserve any monetary remedy against defendant for the violations of Article 13D found by the trial court; and 3) the trial court failed to apply a properly deferential standard of review to the question of whether defendant's setting of the fee, or its use of the resulting proceeds, complied with the District Act.

Appellate Information

  • Decided 03/26/2015
  • Published 03/26/2015

Judges

  • Rushing

Court

  • California Court of Appeal

Counsel