Griffin Homes, Inc. v. Superior Court (City of Simi Valley)

Decision Date29 October 1990
Citation224 Cal.App.3d 1192,274 Cal.Rptr. 456
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
PartiesPreviously published at 224 Cal.App.3d 1192 224 Cal.App.3d 1192 GRIFFIN HOMES, INC., Petitioner, v. SUPERIOR COURT of the State of California, County of Ventura, Respondent. CITY OF SIMI VALLEY, etc., et al., Real Parties in Interest. Civ. B047708, B049139.

Fadem, Berger & Norton, Michael M. Berger and Marlena J. Mouser, Los Angeles, for petitioner.

No appearance for respondent.

John Torrance, City Atty., City of Simi Valley, Marjorie A. Baxter, Asst. City Atty., Freilich, Stone, Leitner & Carlisle, and Katherine E. Stone, Los Angeles, for City of Simi Valley and Simi Open Space Conserv., real parties in interest.

John Van de Kamp, Atty. Gen., Nancy Chiu, Deputy Atty. Gen., for Santa Monica Mountains Conserv., real party in interest.

Harold E. Geer, in pro. per., real party in interest.

Morrison & Foerster, Robin M. Shapiro and John P. Lodise, Los Angeles, for Ahmanson Development, Inc., real party in interest.

Gordon R. Lindeen, Simi Valley, for Rancho Simi Parks & Recreation, real party in interest.

Berne Rolston, Santa Monica, for Paragon Homes, Inc., real party in interest.


GILBERT, Acting Presiding Justice.

A developer files an action against a city alleging that the city's slow-growth ordinance interferes with the developer's property rights.

Here we hold, among other things, that the developer has stated a cause of action for violation of the Federal Civil Rights Act (42 U.S.C., § 1983), and an action in traditional mandamus to attack the validity of an adverse administrative decision denying the issuance of building permits to the developer. We also hold that the developer has not stated a cause of action for inverse condemnation.


Griffin Homes, Inc., a California corporation, (Griffin) owns two large parcels of land located in the City of Simi Valley (City). It seeks to build 187 homes on a parcel known as Greenbriar and 217 homes on a parcel known as Hopetown. Griffin expects to complete its development in 1992.

On July 21, 1986, City enacted a "growth control" ordinance which limits the number of building permits that City may issue during a given year. The measure provides that proposed construction projects are to be evaluated by a point system and then placed in a queue based upon their ranking under the point system. The ordinance provides, in part, that: "[R]ecipients shall be maintained in order, ... until the project has received all of its grants to complete buildout.... [p] Once a developer has accumulated enough building permits to build one phase (approved portion) of a project, he shall begin construction on that phase before he can pull permits for the next phase. Such a project shall not lose its place in the queue."

On October 13, 1986, a tentative map and zone change was approved by City for Greenbriar. On December 24, 1987, Griffin applied for a permit to build 63 units on phase 1 of Greenbriar. On April 25, 1988, Griffin alleges that it was ranked by City as first in the queue and, consequently, received City's authorization to build 63 units on Greenbriar. Griffin contends that it was required to, and did, construct $2,840,481 worth of roads, sewers, and flood control improvements that were largely beyond the infrastructure needs generated by Greenbriar. However, Griffin's best laid plans began to go awry: it charges that City, following the award of the permit to build 63 units, denied its application to complete Greenbriar and removed Griffin from the queue.

On February 22, 1988, a tentative subdivision map was approved for the Hopetown project. Griffin claims to have expended $2,500,000 for certain off-site road widening and drainage projects that have little to do with the Hopetown project. On March 28, 1988, Griffin deeded 188 acres of its Hopetown property to the Rancho Simi Open Space Conservancy Agency, a joint powers agency formed by City and the Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District. In exchange, Griffin received $1,000,000 in cash, as well as various fee waivers and sundry considerations. Griffin contends that these include a grant from the City giving it the right to build all of its Hopetown project within a four-year period. On May 17, 1988, Griffin applied to build 217 units on Hopetown. However, City has, thus far, refused to allow Griffin any allocation grants on Hopetown.

Griffin protested City's refusal to allow for the prompt construction of any more units upon Greenbriar and its refusal to allow for immediate development of Hopetown. On January 23, 1989, the city council rejected Griffin's application to build additional units upon the two parcels.

On July 28, 1989, Griffin filed a petition seeking a writ of mandate to compel City to comply with the slow-growth ordinance, as well as an action for declaratory relief, inverse condemnation, specific performance, and damages for violation of its civil rights. In the complaint, Griffin alleges that, having been placed in the queue, it was entitled under the terms of the ordinance to build to completion its Greenbriar project. Griffin also asserts that it purchased and improved the Hopetown parcel, as well as constructed the necessary infrastructure upon the parcel and donated the park land, in reliance upon City's assurances that 217 homes could be built upon the parcel.

City filed a demurrer. On January 18, 1990, respondent superior court sustained portions of the demurrer without leave to amend. The court found that, although Griffin had labeled two of its causes as being for traditional mandamus, these causes were in fact for administrative mandamus, and, as such, were barred by the statute of limitations. (Code Civ.Proc., § 1094.5.) The court also ruled that Griffin had no federal civil right remedy because it had not alleged the deprivation of a federally protected right. Demurrers to the remaining causes of action were sustained, but with leave to amend.

Griffin sought relief by way of extraordinary writ. This court granted an alternative writ relating to the January 18th ruling.

On February 20, 1990, Griffin filed an amended complaint. Included in the amended complaint were causes of action for declaratory relief, specific enforcement, rescission, and inverse condemnation. City demurred to these causes of action.

On March 22, 1990, respondent court sustained, without leave to amend, City's demurrer to the inverse condemnation cause of action. The trial court was of the view that Griffin had failed to allege sufficient facts suggesting there to be no economically viable use of the land, and that City's granting to petitioner the right to build homes on 63 of the 187 lots on one of the two parcels constituted an economically viable use of Griffin's property.

The trial court overruled the demurrer as to the causes of action for declaratory relief, specific performance, and rescission. The court noted that it had previously overruled the same demurrer upon the ground that the ordinances were for the purposes of growth management, and were not zoning ordinances within the meaning of Government Code section 65009(c). It also held that the procedures set forth in Government Code sections 65864, et seq. are not the exclusive method for local agencies to enter into development agreements and that the question of the existence of a contract was, therefore, one of fact.

Neither side was entirely pleased with the ruling of the trial court. The parties sought review by way of petitions for extraordinary relief. We denied the petition filed by City and Rancho Simi Open Space Conservancy Agency, but issued an alternative writ of mandate on Griffin's petition. (Omaha Indemnity Co. v. Superior Court (1989) 209 Cal.App.3d 1266, 1273, 258 Cal.Rptr. 66.)

A. An Observation

Perhaps due to a perceived uncertainty or confusion in the law, complaints seeking relief in inverse condemnation and related causes of action suffer from a profusion of facts. They are so fact-specific that they read more like declarations in support of a motion for summary judgment than like a traditional complaint. This case is no exception.

While working our way through Griffin's 66-page complaint, we thought nostalgically of Code of Civil Procedure section 425.10 which states that "[a] complaint ... shall contain ... the following: [p] (a) a statement of facts constituting the cause of action, in ordinary and concise language." Long ago, Justice Field lamented: "In numerous instances before us, pleadings [are] filled with recitals, digressions and stories, which only tend to prolixity and obscurity." (Green v. Palmer (1860) 15 Cal. 411, 414.)

Despite our sympathy with counsel's dilemma, we are not prepared to say that complaints for inverse condemnation are exempt from Code of Civil Procedure section 425.10. Brevity is the soul of a well-pled complaint. Providing too many details obscures rather than enlightens. If the future brings us a coherent body of inverse condemnation law, perhaps this problem will disappear.

B. Civil Rights Action

We must decide whether Griffin has sufficiently alleged that the City, in implementing its slow-growth ordinance, has deprived it of rights secured by the Constitution or by laws of the United States and the State of California. We are guided by the rule that the demurrer admits all material facts that are properly pled. (Scott v. City of Indian Wells (1972) 6 Cal.3d 541, 549, 99 Cal.Rptr. 745, 492 P.2d 1137; Baker v. Beech Aircraft Corp. (1974) 39 Cal.App.3d 315, 323, 114 Cal.Rptr. 171.)

Griffin charges that the trial court took too narrow a view of the law relating to federal civil rights actions. It asserts that the superior court was operating under the mistaken impression that such actions under United States Code section 1983 are limited to issues of racial discrimination in the absence of an adequate...

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