Lake Nacimiento Ranch Co. v. San Luis Obispo County

Decision Date08 March 1988
Docket Number86-5858,Nos. 85-6475,s. 85-6475
PartiesLAKE NACIMIENTO RANCH CO., Plaintiff-Appellant, v. COUNTY OF SAN LUIS OBISPO, Defendant-Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Ninth Circuit

Michael M. Berger and M. Reed Hunter, Los Angeles, Cal., for plaintiff-appellant.

Vicki E. Land and Thomas F. Winfield, III, Los Angeles, Cal., for defendant-appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California.

Before HALL, NOONAN and THOMPSON, Circuit Judges.


Plaintiff, Lake Nacimiento Ranch Company (Ranch) brought this action against the County of San Luis Obispo (County), alleging that the County's restrictions on its property accomplished an unconstitutional taking. The Ranch also claims that the County Board of Supervisors violated its right to due process because one of the voting supervisors had a conflict of interest. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the County, which the Ranch now appeals. The district court also denied the County's request for attorneys' fees, which the County appeals.

I. Overview

Lake Nacimiento is an artificial reservoir created in 1960 and located in northern San Luis Obispo County. As required by California law, the County has a comprehensive long-term General Plan for development, which includes a Land Use Element. See Cal. Gov't Code Sec. 65302 (West 1983). The Land Use Element describes the County's official policy on the location, growth and development of land uses. Id. Sec. 65302(a). The County also has a zoning ordinance, called the Land Use Ordinance, which states the County's development standards and review procedures.

The County adopted the Nacimiento/San Antonio General Plan in 1971. In 1980, the County amended the Land Use Element and the Land Use Ordinance, reducing the allowed residential densities and reclassifying most of the remaining privately-owned, undeveloped land around the lake from a "Recreation" zone to a more restrictive "Rural Lands" zone. The Rural Lands category, like the Recreation category, expressly permits single-family residences and light agricultural uses. In fact, the Rural Lands category outlines 8 groups of allowed uses and 42 groups of special uses.

The property which is the subject of this action is owned by the Ranch and comprises approximately 1,500 acres bordering the south shore of Lake Nacimiento. The Ranch acquired the property in 1964. 1 Since that time, the property has been held for investment and leased in the interim for cattle and horse grazing and for equestrian purposes. The 1980 amendments to the County's General Plan changed the land use designation for almost all of the Ranch's property from Recreation to Rural Lands.

In 1981, the Ranch applied for an amendment to the General Plan, requesting the redesignation of 800 acres of the property as a Recreation zone. On November 19, 1981, the County Planning Commission unanimously recommended the adoption of the requested amendment. On December 14, 1981, the County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to deny the Ranch's proposed amendment.

One of the supervisors voting against the amendment, Howard Mankins, was a member of the Cal-Shasta Club, a private, non-profit recreational organization owning property contiguous to the Ranch's property. The Cal-Shasta Club openly opposed the Ranch's application for an amendment. Had the amendment been enacted, more people would have had access to lake-shore properties for recreational purposes, thereby diluting the degree of exclusive use enjoyed by club members. The Ranch claims that Mankins owns a cabin, a boat dock, and has an interest in the common realty of the Cal-Shasta Club. Mankins did not disclose his membership in the Cal-Shasta Club or these alleged interests at the December 14 hearing or in the financial interest statements required by California law. See Cal. Gov't Code Secs. 87100-03 (West 1987).

On June 11, 1982, the Ranch initiated this action against the County. The Ranch alleges two causes of action. First, the Ranch claims that the County's General Plan and its Land Use Ordinance so restrict the Ranch's ability to develop its property that they accomplish an unconstitutional taking of the property in violation of the fifth and fourteenth amendments. The Ranch requests orders invalidating, and enjoining the County from enforcing, the 1980 amendments as they apply to the Ranch. It also requests damages under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 for the taking. Second, the Ranch claims that under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983, California law, and the United States Constitution it was denied its fourteenth amendment right to due process because Supervisor Mankins voted against the Ranch's proposed amendment despite his alleged, undisclosed conflict of interest. Pursuant to this cause of action, the Ranch requests damages and one of the following: either the invalidation of the vote of the Board of Supervisors and the sustaining of the Planning Commission's recommendation approving the amendment, or the invalidation of the 1981 decision changing the land use designation to Rural Lands.

The district court, in its unpublished opinion, granted the County's motion for summary judgment as to the Ranch's taking cause of action. Both parties moved for summary judgment as to the due process cause of action, and the district court granted the County's motion. The Ranch now appeals these decisions. The County also appeals from the district court's denial of its motion for attorneys' fees under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1988.

II. The Ranch's Taking Claim

On appeal, the Ranch argues that the district court erred in granting the County's summary judgment motion on the taking claim. We review the district court's grant of the County's summary judgment motion de novo. Martino v. Santa Clara Valley Water District, 703 F.2d 1141, 1145 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 464 U.S. 874, 104 S.Ct. 151, 78 L.Ed.2d 141 (1983). We must determine, viewing all evidence and factual inferences in the light most favorable to the Ranch, whether there are any genuine issues of material fact and whether the district court correctly applied the relevant substantive law. See Ashton v. Cory, 780 F.2d 816, 818 (9th Cir.1986).

A. Standards For a Motion for Summary Judgment

The Ranch claims that the district court failed to view the evidence in the light most favorable to the Ranch as the nonmoving party. The district court is obliged to apply this standard in considering a summary judgment motion, Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. v. MCA, Inc., 715 F.2d 1327, 1328-29 (9th Cir.1983), and it apparently did so. Throughout its opinion, the district court accepted the Ranch's version of the material facts, unless the Ranch failed to submit evidence supporting its version. Therefore, the district court applied the correct standard in viewing the facts.

The Ranch also claims that the district court erroneously placed the burden of proof on the Ranch, and not on the County. The Ranch misunderstands its own burden of proof, which has been clarified by the Supreme Court's recent decision, Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986).

Under Celotex, the Ranch, as the nonmoving party, may avoid summary judgment against it only by making "a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to [its] case, and on which [the Ranch] will bear the burden of proof." 106 S.Ct. at 2552-53. In contrast, the County, as the party seeking summary judgment, "bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Id. at 2553. The County was not required to "support its motion with affidavits or other similar materials negating the opponent's claim." Id. (emphasis in original). The district court properly required the Ranch to make "sufficient showings" supporting the essential elements of its case whenever the Ranch would have carried the burden of proof at trial.

B. The Ranch's "As Applied" Challenge

The Ranch claims that the district court failed to address its claim that the General Plan, the Land Use Ordinance, and the Board of Supervisors' denial of the amendment "as applied" to its property accomplished an unconstitutional taking. The Ranch argues that the district court only addressed its "facial" challenge to these County actions. This is not the case. The district court decided that the Ranch's "as applied" taking claim was not ripe for consideration. We review de novo the district court's ruling that the Ranch's claim was not ripe. Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes v. Board of Oil and Gas, 792 F.2d 782, 787 (9th Cir.1986).

In order for an "as applied" regulatory taking claim to be ripe, a plaintiff must establish two components: (1) that the regulation has gone so far that it has "taken" plaintiff's property; and (2) that any compensation tendered for such taking is not "just." MacDonald, Sommer & Frates v. Yolo County, 477 U.S. 340, 106 S.Ct. 2561, 2566, 91 L.Ed.2d 285 (1986); Kinzli v. City of Santa Cruz, 818 F.2d 1449, 1453, modified, 830 F.2d 968 (9th Cir. 1987). To establish that the regulation has "gone too far," the Ranch must show that the County has made "a final and authoritative determination of the type and intensity of development legally permitted on the subject property." MacDonald, 106 S.Ct. at 2566. This final determination requires two decisions against the Ranch: a rejected development plan and the denial of a variance. Williamson County Regional Planning Commission v. Hamilton Bank, 473 U.S. 172, 187-88, 105 S.Ct. 3108, 3117-18, 87 L.Ed.2d 126 (1985); Kinzli, 818 F.2d at 1454.

The Ranch admits that it has submitted to the County only an informal development proposal for a private membership recreational...

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