Herrington v. County of Sonoma

Decision Date28 December 1993
Docket NumberNos. 92-15834,92-16915 and 92-17012,s. 92-15834
Citation12 F.3d 901
PartiesJohn S. HERRINGTON; David S. Herrington; Quail Hill Ranch, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. COUNTY OF SONOMA, Defendant-Appellee. John S. HERRINGTON; David S. Herrington, and Quail Hill Ranch Co., a partnership, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. COUNTY of SONOMA, Defendant-Appellee. John S. HERRINGTON; David S. Herrington; Quail Hill Ranch, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. COUNTY of SONOMA, Defendant-Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Ninth Circuit

Frederik A. Jacobsen, San Mateo, CA, for plaintiffs-appellants.

Michael D. Senneff, Senneff, Kelly, Kimelman & Beach, Santa Rosa, CA, argued (Stephen K. Butler, Clement, Fitzpatrick & Kenworthy, on brief), for defendant-appellee.

Appeals from the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.

Before: CHOY, HUG and LEAVY, Circuit Judges.

LEAVY, Circuit Judge:

The owners and would-be developers of a tract of California real estate appeal from various rulings of the district court in a long-running dispute arising out of a local government's rejection of a proposed housing development. For the reasons which follow we affirm each of the district court's rulings.


These consolidated appeals represent another round in a protracted legal contest involving John and David Herrington ("Herringtons") and the County of Sonoma, California ("County"). In 1970 the Herringtons inherited a 540-acre farm ("Property") near Sebastopol, California. Six years later they began work on a proposal to develop the Property for residential use. Over the course of the following three years the Herringtons, working with the County's planning staff, scaled back their original plans for a 103-unit residential development to a final proposal for a 32-unit development.

The Herringtons filed their 32-unit application with the County in 1979. The County rejected the application as being inconsistent with both its General Plan 2 and a pending Special Plan for West Sebastopol. In 1980, after exhausting their administrative remedies, the Herringtons filed a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 against the County in federal district court. The district court stayed the proceedings pending resolution of a parallel state court action, and the Herringtons appealed. We reversed the district court, denied the Herringtons' petition for a writ of mandamus, and imposed costs on the County. Herrington v. County of Sonoma (Herrington I), 706 F.2d 938, 940 (9th Cir.1983).

The Herringtons' case went to trial in 1985. The jury awarded them $2.5 million in damages and, pursuant to a stipulation between the parties, the court entered an injunction declaring the County's inconsistency determination to be invalid. Before appealing the judgment against it the County moved to disqualify the trial judge for bias. The district judge denied the motion but recused himself from further participation in the case. The County then appealed, asserting a host of issues. In that appeal, we rejected most of the County's arguments and affirmed all but the damages award, which we vacated as excessive and remanded for a new trial solely on the issue of damages. Herrington v. County of Sonoma (Herrington II), 834 F.2d 1488, 1503-1506 (9th Cir.1987), opinion amended & reh'g denied, 857 F.2d 567 (1988), cert. denied, 489 U.S. 1090, 109 S.Ct. 1557, 103 L.Ed.2d 860 (1989). 3

Following a lengthy period of time devoted largely to the question of deciding just how much the County had to pay the Herringtons' attorneys, 4 the district court retried the damages claim. In a careful and searching analysis of the parties' respective positions, the district court found that the Herringtons were entitled to damages of $52,123.50 and interest in the amount of $69,348.56 for a total judgment of $121,472.06. Herrington v. County of Sonoma, 790 F.Supp. 909, 925 (N.D.Cal.1991) (as amended). In addition, the district court separately ruled that, because the damages awarded were substantially less than the amount offered in settlement by the County before retrial, Fed.R.Civ.P. 68 precluded the Herringtons from receiving the full amount of their requested attorney's fees under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1988. Finally, the trial court rejected the Herringtons' demand for enforcement of injunctive relief, i.e., a request that the County act on the court's prior declaration that the County's inconsistency determination was invalid, holding that to do so would require the court to make additional factual determinations and fashion a new form of relief. The Herringtons have timely appealed from each of these three rulings.

I. Computation of Damages Award [92-15834]
A. Standard of Review

A district court's computation of damages to be awarded is a factual finding examined for clear error. Stephens v. City of Vista, 994 F.2d 650, 655 (9th Cir.1993).

B. Discussion

The question of whether the district court properly calculated the amount of damages caused by the County and suffered by the Herringtons constitutes the very heart of the three consolidated cases now before us. The gist of our prior decision to set aside the damages award of $2.5 million was based on our conclusion that the award was "so grossly excessive that it shocks the conscience." Herrington II, 834 F.2d at 1503. In reaching this conclusion we noted three things: First, the amount of damages awarded was outrageously speculative and nearly double the estimated sale value of the Property with a 32-unit development potential (estimated at between $1.3 million and $1.5 million), an obviously disproportionate figure since the Herringtons still retained possession of the land and never had a right to construct a 32-unit development thereon, anyway. Id. at 1504-05. Second, and even assuming that the Herringtons' proposed development had been approved by the County, the harm they suffered involved only a temporary delay in receiving the difference between the developed and undeveloped values of their land. Id. at 1505. Third, the damages were improperly cumulative because they included profits from both the sale and the development of the land; i.e., if the Herringtons sold their land they could not also realize profits from its development by the purchaser. Id. at 1506.

Before retrial the district court held that certain matters had been disposed of on appeal and were not subject to redetermination. Citing "the principles of the law of the case, the mandate rule, or estoppel[,]" the trial court declared that, because the appellate court had found the Herringtons' claimed lost value figure of $810,000.00 to be too high, the district court was barred from awarding them an amount equal to or greater than that sum. 5 Herrington, 790 F.Supp. at 912-13.

The Herringtons contend that the district court erred by (1) concluding that the law of the case doctrine, the rule of mandate, and/or the principle of estoppel applied to limit their recovery; (2) refusing to consider their new appraisal evidence; and (3) erroneously calculating their damages by (a) deducting the same figure twice, (b) using amounts from the wrong appraisal, and (c) incorrectly determining the delay period to be 1 1/2 years instead of 9 1/4 years. Each of these issues will be discussed in its turn.

1. Law of the Case/Mandate Rule

"The law of the case doctrine states that the decision of an appellate court on a legal issue must be followed in all subsequent proceedings in the same case." Maag v. Wessler, 993 F.2d 718, 720 n. 2 (9th Cir.1993) (citations and internal quotation omitted). The doctrine

is a judicial invention designed to aid in the efficient operation of court affairs. Under the doctrine, a court is generally precluded from reconsidering an issue previously decided by the same court, or a higher court in the identical case. For the doctrine to apply, the issue in question must have been decided explicitly or by necessary implication in [the] previous disposition.

Milgard Tempering, Inc. v. Selas Corp. of America, 902 F.2d 703, 715 (9th Cir.1990). Accord Thomas v. Bible, 983 F.2d 152, 154 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 113 S.Ct. 2443, 124 L.Ed.2d 661 (1993).

Although broader than the law of the case doctrine, the so-called rule of mandate allows a lower court to decide anything not foreclosed by the mandate. See Lindy Pen Co. v. Bic Pen Corp., 982 F.2d 1400, 1404 (9th Cir.) ("An order issued after remand may deviate from the mandate ... if it is not counter to the spirit of the circuit court's decision[, but t]he district court must be given a meaningful opportunity to follow the directive of the circuit in resolving the issues.") (internal citation omitted), cert.denied Because the mandate in the instant case provided for a new trial on the issue of damages, the rule of mandate did not in and of itself serve to preclude the district court from considering the possibility that the extent of those damages might have exceeded $810,000.00 in lost value damages. However, we emphasized in Herrington II that all three components 6 of the $2.5 million damages award were grossly excessive, and that the $810,000.00 figure in particular was "an excessive award for lost value because the $1.3 million dollar [sic] figure is too high and the $490,000 figure is too low." Herrington II, 834 F.2d at 1504. We hold that the law of the case doctrine applies here, and that the district court did not err in concluding that our rejection of the $810,000.00 lost value damages figure set an upper limit on the amount of the Herringtons' recoverable damages. 7

--- U.S. ----, 114 S.Ct. 64, 126 L.Ed.2d 34 (1993).

2. New Appraisal Evidence

In light of our holding that the district court did not err by applying the law of the case doctrine to preclude consideration of evidence supporting a lost value damages claim in excess of $810,000.00, it...

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