People ex rel. Gallo v. Acuna

Citation60 Cal.Rptr.2d 277,929 P.2d 596,14 Cal.4th 1090
Decision Date30 January 1997
Docket NumberNo. S046980,S046980
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
Parties, 929 P.2d 596, 65 USLW 2567, 97 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 724, 97 Daily Journal D.A.R. 1023 PEOPLE ex rel. Joan R. GALLO, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Carlos ACUNA et al., Defendants and Appellants.

Amitai Schwartz, Antonio Ponvert III, Sara T. Campos, Edward M. Chen, San Francisco, Alan L. Schlosser, Daniel M. Mayfield, San Jose, Patricia Price, Amanda Wilson, San Mateo, Siner, Steinbock, Hofman & Pennypacker and Stuart D. Kirchick, San Jose, for Defendants and Appellants.

Heller, Ehrman, White & McAuliffe, Sergio Garcia-Rodriguez and Joyce M. Cartun, Palo Alto, as Amici Curiae on behalf of Defendants and Appellants.

Joan R. Gallo, City Attorney, George Rios, Assistant City Attorney, Carol C. Weinstein and Glenn D. Schwarzbach, Deputy City Attorneys, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

James K. Hahn, City Attorney (Los Angeles), Debbie Lew and Candice I. Horikawa, Deputy City Attorneys, George W. Kennedy, District Attorney (Santa Clara), Dale R. Sanderson, Deputy District Attorney, Gil Garcetti, District Attorney (Los Angeles), George M. Palmer, Brent Riggs and Deanne B. Ancker, Deputy District Attorneys, Berliner Cohen, Frank R. Ubhaus, Stacy L. Saetta, Robert Teir, Kent S. Scheidegger, Stephanie J. Finelli, Daniel J. Popeo, David A. Price, Sweeney, Mason & Wilson and Roger Mason as Amici Curiae on behalf of Plaintiff and Respondent.

BROWN, Justice.

At the request of the City Attorney of the City of San Jose (hereafter the City), we granted review to resolve an array of challenges to two provisions of a preliminary injunction entered by the superior court against individual members of an alleged "criminal street gang." The underlying action was instituted under the provisions of sections 731 of the Code of Civil Procedure and 3480 of the Civil Code, the operative core of California's civil "public nuisance" statutes.

The 48 declarations submitted by the City in support of its plea for injunctive relief paint a graphic portrait of life in the community of Rocksprings. Rocksprings is an urban war zone. The four-square-block neighborhood, claimed as the turf of a gang variously known as Varrio Sureno Town, Varrio Sureno Treces (VST), or Varrio Sureno Locos (VSL), is an occupied territory. Gang members, all of whom live elsewhere, congregate on lawns, on sidewalks, and in front of apartment complexes at all hours of the day and night. They display a casual contempt for notions of law, order, and decency--openly drinking, smoking dope, sniffing toluene, and even snorting cocaine laid out in neat lines on the hoods of residents' cars. The people who live in Rocksprings are subjected to loud talk, loud music, vulgarity, profanity, brutality, fistfights and the sound of gunfire echoing in the streets. Gang members take over sidewalks, driveways, carports, apartment parking areas, and impede traffic on the public thoroughfares to conduct their drive-up drug bazaar. Murder, attempted murder, drive-by shootings, assault and battery, vandalism, arson, and theft are commonplace. The community has become a staging area for gang-related violence and a dumping ground for the weapons and instrumentalities of crime once the deed is done. Area residents have had their garages used as urinals; their homes commandeered as escape routes; their walls, fences, garage doors, sidewalks, and even their vehicles turned into a sullen canvas of gang graffiti.

The people of this community are prisoners in their own homes. Violence and the Among other allegations, the City's complaint asserted that the named defendants and others "[f]or more than 12 months precedent to the date of [the] complaint, continuing up to the present time ... [have] occupied [and] used the area commonly known as 'Rocksprings' ... in such a manner so as to constitute a public nuisance ... injurious to the health, indecent or offensive to the senses, [and] an obstruction to the free use of property so as to interfere with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property by those persons living in the ... neighborhood."

[929 P.2d 602] threat of violence are constant. Residents remain indoors, especially at night. They do not allow their children to play outside. Strangers wearing the wrong color clothing are at risk. Relatives and friends refuse to visit. The laundry rooms, the trash dumpsters, the residents' vehicles, and their parking spaces are used to deal and stash drugs. Verbal harassment, physical intimidation, threats of retaliation, and retaliation are the likely fate of anyone who complains of the gang's illegal activities or tells police where drugs may be hidden.

After alleging the usual requisites for equitable relief--the prospect of "great and irreparable injury" and the absence of "a plain, adequate and speedy remedy at law"--the complaint prayed for a broad and comprehensive injunction against defendants' alleged activities in Rocksprings. The superior court granted an ex parte temporary restraining order enjoining all 38 defendants named in the complaint and issued an order to show cause (OSC) why a preliminary injunction should not be entered.

Only five of the named defendants appeared in response to the OSC. Following a hearing, the superior court entered a preliminary injunction against the 33 defendants who had not appeared and continued the matter as to those 5 defendants who opposed entry of a preliminary injunction, leaving the temporary restraining order in force as to them. Eleven of the named defendants (the five who had originally appeared in opposition to the OSC, together with another six of the named defendants) moved to vacate the injunctions. After the matter was briefed and argued, the superior court entered a preliminary injunction. The multipart decree, consisting of some 24 paragraphs, was the subject of an interlocutory appeal by these 11 defendants.

The Court of Appeal disagreed with the superior court, upholding only provisions of the preliminary injunction enjoining acts or conduct defined as crimes under specific provisions of the Penal Code. Although its premise is never clearly articulated, that ruling effectively limits the scope of permissible injunctive relief under California's public nuisance statutes to independently criminal conduct. The Court of Appeal also concluded many of the provisions of the preliminary injunction were void and unenforceable under either the First and Fifth Amendments to the federal Constitution as unconstitutionally vague or overbroad. Altogether, 15 of the 24 provisions of the trial court's preliminary injunction were partially or entirely invalidated. However, the City's petition only sought review of two provisions--paragraphs (a) and (k). We granted the City's petition and now reverse.

We consider first the scope of and conditions precedent to the exercise of the superior court's equitable jurisdiction to enjoin a public nuisance. We then assess defendants' challenges to paragraphs (a) and (k) of the superior court's preliminary injunction, challenges based on restraints inherent in the administration of equitable remedies, and those arising from constitutionally based limitations. Finally, we consider (and reject) defendants' arguments that the STEP Act 1 is the exclusive means of obtaining nuisance-based injunctive relief against a criminal street gang. We will conclude the two challenged provisions fall within the superior court's equitable power to abate a public nuisance and neither runs afoul of rights secured to defendants by the federal Constitution.

I. Equitable Jurisdiction to Enjoin Public Nuisances
A. The Origin and Nature of Actions to Enjoin Public Nuisances

Often the public interest in tranquillity, security, and protection is invoked only to be The state has not only a right to "maintain a decent society" (Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964) 378 U.S. 184, 199, 84 S.Ct. 1676, 1684, 12 L.Ed.2d 793), but an obligation to do so. In the public nuisance context, the community's right to security and protection must be reconciled with the individual's right to expressive and associative freedom. Reconciliation begins with the acknowledgment that the interests of the community are not invariably less important than the freedom of individuals. Indeed, the security and protection of the community is the bedrock on which the superstructure of individual liberty rests. From Montesquieu to Locke to Madison, the description of the pivotal compact remains unchanged: By entering society, individuals give up the unrestrained right to act as they think fit; in return, each has a positive right to society's protection. Montesquieu describes this civil liberty as "that tranquillity of spirit which comes from the opinion each one has of his security, and in order for him to have this liberty the government must be such that one citizen cannot fear another citizen." (Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws (U. Cambridge Press 1989) ch. 6, p. 157; and see Locke, Two Treatises on Government (U. Cambridge Press, student ed. 1988) §§ 122, 140, 211, 227; Madison, The Federalist No. 51 (Rossiter ed. 1961) pp. 324, 325.) As we explain, a principal office of the centuries-old doctrine of the "public nuisance" has been the maintenance of public order--tranquillity, security and protection--when the criminal law proves inadequate.

                [929 P.2d 603] blithely dismissed, subordinated to the paramount right of the individual.  In this case, however, the true nature of the trade-off becomes painfully obvious.  Liberty unrestrained is an invitation to anarchy.  Freedom and responsibility are joined at the hip.  "Wise accommodation between liberty and order always has been, and ever will be, indispensable for a democratic society."  (Kovacs v. Cooper (1949) 336 U.S. 77, 89, 69 S.Ct. 448, 454-55, 93 L.Ed. 513 (conc. opn. of Frankfurter, J.).)   There must be an irreducible minimum of reciprocity for civil

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