12 Cal.3d 447, 23055, City of San Jose v. Superior Court

Docket Nº:23055
Citation:12 Cal.3d 447, 115 Cal.Rptr. 797, 525 P.2d 701
Opinion Judge:[11] Clark
Party Name:City of San Jose v. Superior Court
Attorney:[6] Hoge, Fenton, Jones & Appel, Charles H. Brock and H. R. Lloyd, Jr., for Petitioner. [7] Burt Pines, City Attorney, Milton N. Sherman, Assistant City Attorney, James H. Pearson and Ronald J. Einboden, Deputy City Attorneys, as Amici Curiae on behalf of Petitioner. [8] No appearance for Respond...
Case Date:September 06, 1974
Court:Supreme Court of California
 
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Page 447

12 Cal.3d 447

115 Cal.Rptr. 797, 525 P.2d 701

CITY OF SAN JOSE, Petitioner,

v.

THE SUPERIOR COURT OF SANTA CLARA COUNTY, Respondent;

LANDS UNLIMITED et al., Real Parties in Interest

S.F. No. 23055.

Supreme Court of California.

September 6, 1974.

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        COUNSEL

        Hoge, Fenton, Jones & Appel, Charles H. Brock and H. R. Lloyd, Jr., for Petitioner.

        Burt Pines, City Attorney, Milton N. Sherman, Assistant City Attorney, James H. Pearson and Ronald J. Einboden, Deputy City Attorneys, as Amici Curiae on behalf of Petitioner.

        No appearance for Respondent.

        Morgan, Beauzay & Hammer, W. Robert Morgan, Becklund, Siner, Taketa & Salle, Goldstein, Barceloux & Goldstein, J. William Dawson, Fadem, Kanner, Berger & Stocker and Michael M. Berger for Real Parties in Interest.

        OPINION

        CLARK, J.

        We are called on to determine whether the trial court abused its discretion in certifying this case to proceed as a class action.

        Plaintiffs, real parties in interest, filed an action against petitioner-defendant, City of San Jose, 1 on behalf of themselves and all real property

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owners situated in the flight pattern of the San Jose Municipal Airport. Seeking recovery for diminution in the market value of their property caused by aircraft noise, vapor, dust, and vibration, they proceed on theories of nuisance and inverse condemnation.

        Following discovery and pursuant to procedures we suggested in Vasquez v. Superior Court (1971) 4 Cal.3d 800 [94 Cal.Rptr. 796], defendant moved the trial court for an order declaring the action inappropriate as a class action. After affidavits were filed and hearing was held, the court found the action appropriate and ordered notification of class members.

        Defendant then sought extraordinary relief, first contending the trial court, for lack of proper motion, was without jurisdiction to certify the class; and second, that the court had abused its discretion in certifying the class because: (a) The claims statutes prohibit the maintenance of class actions against governmental entities; (b) there is insufficient community of interest among the purported class members; and (c) the plaintiffs are inadequately representing the class. 2 Because the issues raised are substantial, we issued alternative writs of prohibition and mandate.

        We conclude the trial court had jurisdiction to certify the class, but under the facts, it abused its discretion in doing so.

        Lack of Proper Motion

        Defendant contends the court was without jurisdiction to certify the class suit as appropriate because the only motion before the court was limited to determining that the class was not appropriate. This argument lacks substance.

        This court has urged trial courts to be procedurally innovative, encouraging them to incorporate procedures from outside sources in determining whether to allow the maintenance of a particular class suit. More specifically, we have directed them to rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, 3 which provides: "As soon as practicable after the commencement of an action brought as a class action, the court shall determine by order whether it is to be so maintained." (Federal Rules Civ. Proc., rule 23(c)(1).) This determination may be made on motion of either plaintiff or defendant -- or on the court's own motion. (Wright & Miller, Federal

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Practice and Procedure, section 1785, p. 128.) The procedure followed by the trial court here is identical to that approved in Johnson v. City of Baton Rouge, Louisiana (E.D.La. 1970) 50 F.R.D. 295, 298.

        Nor is there merit to defendant's claim a court may not on its own motion order notice to class members. Notice is mandatory under the federal rules (rule 23(c)(2)) and should be ordered as soon as possible after the court determines the class action appropriate. (Wright & Miller, supra, section 1788, p. 163.) Because of the constitutional importance of notifying absent class members -- who are suddenly before the court -- such notice should not be left to the whim of litigants.

        The order here did not determine the form of notice, but were the class action to be upheld, the appropriate form could be determined in further trial court proceedings.

        Ability to Satisfy the Claims Statutes

        Defendant asserts the trial court abused its discretion in certifying this purported class because the claims statutes prohibit maintenance of class actions against governmental entities for inverse condemnation and nuisance. It contends a class claim can never be filed which would fulfill the statutory requirements, relying on language to this effect in Bozaich v. State of California (1973) 32 Cal.App.3d 688 [108 Cal.Rptr. 392].

        In considering defendant's contention we start from certain well-settled foundations: In actions for damages against local public entities, the claims statutes require timely filing of a proper claim as condition precedent to the maintenance of the action. (Gov. Code, sections 905, 945.4; County of San Luis Obispo v. Ranchita Cattle Co. (1971) 16 Cal.App.3d 383, 390 [94 Cal.Rptr. 73].) Compliance with the claims statutes is mandatory (Farrell v. County of Placer (1944) 23 Cal.2d 624, 630); and failure to file a claim is fatal to the cause of action. (Johnson v. City of Oakland (1961) 188 Cal.App.2d 181, 183 [10 Cal.Rptr. 409].)

        The claims statutes provisions apply to actions brought both for nuisance and for inverse condemnation. (Bellman v. County of Contra Costa (1960) 54 Cal.2d 363, 369 [5 Cal.Rptr. 692]; Dorow v. Santa Clara County Flood Control Dist. (1970) 4 Cal.App.3d 389, 391 [84 Cal.Rptr. 518]; Mosesian v. County of Fresno (1972) 28 Cal.App.3d 493, 495 [104 Cal.Rptr. 655].) The fact that inverse condemnation is founded directly on the California Constitution (art. I, section 14) neither excuses plaintiffs from compliance with the claims statutes (Powers Farms v.

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Consolidated Irr. Dist. (1941) 19 Cal.2d 123, 126; Dorow v. Santa Clara County Flood Control Dist., supra, 4 Cal.App.3d 389, 391-392), nor renders the claims statutes unconstitutional. (Crescent Wharf etc. Co. v. Los Angeles (1929) 207 Cal. 430; 4 Dorow v. Santa Clara County Flood Control Dist., supra, 4 Cal.App.3d 389, 391-392.)

        Plaintiffs contend, and the trial court concluded, that the class claim filed here satisfied the claims statutes because the city had been provided with notice and information regarding the rights asserted against it, inasmuch as "a number of individuals potentially within the class had filed claims against the city in the past few years." Hence, the city could not sustain a claim of surprise.

        We cannot accept this contention. It is not the purpose of the claims statutes to prevent surprise. Rather, the purpose of these statutes is to provide the public entity sufficient information to enable it to adequately investigate claims and to settle them, if appropriate, without the expense of litigation. (Eastlick v. City of Los Angeles (1947) 29 Cal.2d 661, 667; Jackson v. Board of Education (1967) 250 Cal.App.2d 856, 859 [58 Cal.Rptr. 763].) It is well-settled that claims statutes must be satisfied even in face of the public entity's actual knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the claim. Such knowledge -- standing alone -- constitutes neither substantial compliance nor basis for estoppel. (Hall v. City of Los Angeles (1941) 19 Cal.2d 198, 203; Powers Farms v. Consolidated Irr. Dist., supra, 19 Cal.2d 123, 130; Johnson v. City of Oakland, supra, 188 Cal.App.2d 181, 184; Allen v. L. A. City Board of Education (1959) 173 Cal.App.2d 126, 129; Ghiozzi v. City of South San Francisco (1946) 72 Cal.App.2d 472, 476; Eppstein v. City of Berkeley (1942) 52 Cal.App.2d 395, 397.)

        Thus, having rejected the trial court's rationale for finding the claim sufficient, we turn to defendant's contention that it is impossible for a class claim to satisfy the claims statutes and, therefore, the statutes prohibit the maintenance of such actions against governmental entities.

        The applicable claims statute (Gov. Code, section 910) provides in part: "A claim shall be presented by the claimant or by a person acting on his behalf and shall show: [¶] (a) The name and post office address of the claimant; [¶] (b) The post office address to which the person presenting

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the claim desires notices to be sent; [¶] (c) The date, place and other circumstances of the occurrence or transaction which gave rise to the claim asserted; ... and [¶] (f) The amount claimed as of the date of presentation of the claim, including the estimated amount of any prospective injury, damage, or loss, insofar as it may be known at the time of the presentation of the claim, together with the basis of computation of the amount claimed."

        In determining the quantity of information required in a class claim to satisfy the provisions of the above section, we note the cases gauging sufficiency of claims must be divided into two groups.

        The first treats claims where there has been some compliance with all the required elements -- but compliance has been defective. (See, e.g., Rowan v. City etc. of San Francisco (1966) 244 Cal.App.2d 308 [53 Cal.Rptr. 88] (described place of accident as "3350 Scott St." instead of "3358-3360 Scott St."); Johnson v. City of Oakland, supra, 188 Cal.App.2d 181 (indicated accident occurred in front of 1819 35th Avenue instead of 1819 34th Avenue); Johnson v. City of Los Angeles (1955) 134 Cal.App.2d 600...

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