95 F.3d 1422 (9th Cir. 1996), 94-16248, Del Monte Dunes at Monterey, Ltd. v. City of Monterey

Docket Nº:94-16248, 94-16313.
Citation:95 F.3d 1422
Party Name:Serv. 6860, 96 Daily Journal D.A.R. 11,239 DEL MONTE DUNES AT MONTEREY, LTD., et al., Plaintiff-Appellee, v. CITY OF MONTEREY, Defendant-Appellant. DEL MONTE DUNES AT MONTEREY, LTD., and Monterey-Del Monte Dunes Corporation, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. CITY OF MONTEREY, Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:September 13, 1996
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
 
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Page 1422

95 F.3d 1422 (9th Cir. 1996)

Serv. 6860,

96 Daily Journal D.A.R. 11,239

DEL MONTE DUNES AT MONTEREY, LTD., et al., Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

CITY OF MONTEREY, Defendant-Appellant.

DEL MONTE DUNES AT MONTEREY, LTD., and Monterey-Del Monte

Dunes Corporation, Plaintiffs-Appellants,

v.

CITY OF MONTEREY, Defendant-Appellee.

Nos. 94-16248, 94-16313.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

September 13, 1996

Argued and Submitted Nov. 16, 1995.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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George A. Yuhas, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, San Francisco, California, for the defendant-appellant-cross-appellee.

Frederik A. Jacobsen, San Mateo, California, for the plaintiffs-appellees-cross-appellants.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, Charles A. Legge, District Judge, Presiding. D.C. No. CV-86-05042-CAL.

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Before: WALLACE and LEAVY, Circuit Judges, and BAIRD, [*] District Judge.

OPINION

WALLACE, Circuit Judge:

The City of Monterey (City) appeals from a district court judgment following a jury verdict in favor of Del Monte Dunes at Monterey, Ltd. and Monterey-Del Monte Dunes Corporation (collectively Del Monte), and a district court order denying the City's motions for judgment as a matter of law and for a new trial. Del Monte cross-appeals from the district court's decision limiting available damages. The district court exercised jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. We have jurisdiction over this timely appeal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291, and we affirm.

I

Del Monte brought this civil rights action against the City alleging, among other things, violations of due process and equal protection as a result of the City's taking of Del Monte's property. The property at issue consists of approximately 37.6 ocean-front acres located in the City, commonly referred to as Del Monte Dunes (Dunes).

In 1981, Ponderosa Homes, which subsequently sold the Dunes to Del Monte, applied to the City for a permit to develop the Dunes into a 344-unit residential complex. The City rejected the application. Ponderosa Homes then submitted three more applications for 264, 224, and 190-unit residential developments, all of which could have conformed with the City's general land-use plan and zoning ordinances. See Del Monte Dunes at Monterey, Ltd. v. City of Monterey, 920 F.2d 1496, 1499 (9th Cir.1990) (Del Monte Dunes I ). While the last application was pending, Del Monte purchased the Dunes and continued pursuing the application, which the City eventually denied in 1986. The lengthy application process and numerous conditions for approval the City imposed on Del Monte are detailed in our earlier decision reversing in part the district court's dismissal of Del Monte's claims. See id. at 1499-1506, 1509.

Prior to trial, the district court ordered all reinstated issues tried to a jury, save for those related to Del Monte's substantive due process claim, which the court determined presented only legal issues. Following a trial, the jury found that the City's actions denied Del Monte equal protection and resulted in an unconstitutional taking; it awarded Del Monte $1,450,000. The district court held that the City did not violate Del Monte's substantive due process rights because the City asserted valid regulatory reasons for denying Del Monte's development application. The latter decision is not disputed. The district court then entered judgment in favor of Del Monte.

The City moved the district court for a judgment as a matter of law and for a new trial as to both the equal protection and inverse condemnation claims. The district court denied these motions, and this appeal followed.

The City argues that the court rather than the jury should have decided Del Monte's equal protection and taking claims. As to the equal protection claim, the City contends that its liability presents a mixed issue of law and fact and as such should have been decided by the court. As to the inverse condemnation claim, the City contends that there is no right to a jury trial for such claims. The City therefore asserts that it is entitled to a new trial. Alternatively, the City argues that it is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law on both the equal protection and inverse condemnation claims. Finally, the City contends that the district court should have ordered a new trial on damages because certain evidence relating to damages was erroneously admitted, resulting in an excessively large award.

On cross-appeal, Del Monte argues that the district court improperly denied it damages for loss of return and loss of value. At oral argument, Del Monte stated it would

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waive this argument in the event we affirmed the district court's judgment.

II

At the outset, we consider whether reversal of either the inverse condemnation claim or the equal protection claim would require a new trial. The district court instructed the jury on two separate claims. First, the district court addressed Del Monte's takings claim, instructing the jury that it should find for Del Monte if (1) all economically viable use of the property had been denied; or (2) the City's decision to reject Del Monte's development application did not substantially advance a legitimate public purpose. The court stated: "[I]f you find that either of these things has been proved, your verdict indeed is for the plaintiff on this taking claim."

Second, the district court instructed the jury on the equal protection claim, requiring it to bring back a judgment for Del Monte if (1) property similarly situated; (2) received different treatment from the City; and (3) no rational basis accounted for the differential treatment. "If you find that each of these elements has been proved by a preponderance of the evidence, your verdict should be for the plaintiff on the equal protection claim." Thus, the jury was charged separately on the taking and equal protection claims.

This case does not present the interplay of a general verdict and alternative theories of liability. See Landes Constr. Co. v. Royal Bank of Canada, 833 F.2d 1365, 1373 (9th Cir.1987) (Landes ). Rather, we are presented with a damages award that resulted from the City's liability for both the takings and the equal protection claims. See id. (distinguishing Syufy Enter. v. American Multicinema, 793 F.2d 990, 1001-02 (9th Cir.1986) (Syufy Enterprises ) (general verdict usually upheld only if substantial evidence supports each and every theory of liability submitted to the jury), cert. denied, 479 U.S. 1031, 107 S.Ct. 876, 93 L.Ed.2d 830 (1987)). The district court instructed the jury that if it found the City liable for any constitutional violation, it should award Del Monte damages "in an amount that will compensate [Del Monte] for the delay [proximately] caused by the City's action." We therefore can affirm the judgment and verdict if we determine that substantial evidence supports either the inverse condemnation or equal protection claims. See Landes, 833 F.2d at 1373. If we hold that the inverse condemnation claim and resultant damages can be affirmed, we need not consider the City's arguments concerning the equal protection claim.

III

We next review the district court's denial of the City's motion for a new trial. We review a district court's denial of a motion for new trial for an abuse of discretion. California Sansome Co. v. U.S. Gypsum, 55 F.3d 1402, 1405 (9th Cir.1995) (California Sansome ). Entitlement to a jury trial and a trial court's submission of an issue to the jury, however, are legal questions which we usually review de novo. See KLK, Inc. v. United States Dep't of Interior, 35 F.3d 454, 455 (9th Cir.1994) (KLK ) (reviewing de novo submission of just compensation issue to the jury). "Little turns [ ] on whether we label review of this particular question abuse of discretion or de novo, for an abuse of discretion standard does not mean a mistake of law is beyond appellate correction. A district court by definition abuses its discretion when it makes an error of law." Koon v. United States, --- U.S. ----, ----, 116 S.Ct. 2035, 2047, 135 L.Ed.2d 392 (1996) (citation omitted).

A.

The City first argues that because Del Monte had no right to a jury trial on its inverse condemnation claim pursuant to either 42 U.S.C. § 1983 or the Seventh Amendment, the court rather than the jury should have determined whether the City's actions effected an unconstitutional taking. We are required to determine first whether Del Monte was entitled to a jury trial pursuant to section 1983 before we consider whether the Seventh Amendment guarantees a jury trial under the present circumstances. See Lorillard v. Pons, 434 U.S. 575, 577, 98 S.Ct. 866, 868, 55 L.Ed.2d 40 (1978) (Lorillard )

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) (courts should avoid the Seventh Amendment question if a statute provides a right to jury trial).

Section 1983 allows persons deprived of rights secured by laws of the United States to bring "an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress." 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The statute is silent with respect to whether plaintiffs have a right to a jury trial in actions brought pursuant to it. We must therefore now discuss whether Congress intended this statute to create a right to trial by jury. See Lorillard, 434 U.S. at 580, 98 S.Ct. at 869-70.

Congress enacted section 1983 in 1871. Mirroring the split then existing between courts of law (trial by jury) and courts of equity (bench trial), section 1983 gives aggrieved parties the right to bring an "action at law" or a "suit in equity." Logically then, plaintiffs who bring an action at law under section 1983 have the right to a jury trial. See id. at 583...

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