Price Development Co. v. Redevelopment Agency of City of Chino, Cal.

Decision Date22 July 1988
Docket Number87-6232,Nos. 87-6037,s. 87-6037
Citation852 F.2d 1123
PartiesPRICE DEVELOPMENT COMPANY, a Utah corporation, Plaintiff-Appellant-Cross-Appellee, v. REDEVELOPMENT AGENCY OF the CITY OF CHINO, CALIFORNIA, a public agency, and Haagen-Chino Partnership, a California partnership, Defendants-Appellees-Cross-Appellants.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Ninth Circuit

Eric Olson, Halstead, Baker & Olson, Los Angeles, Cal., for plaintiff-appellant-cross-appellee.

Daniel K. Spradlin, Rourke & Woodruff, Orange, Cal., for defendants-appellees-cross-appellants.

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

Before HUG, KOZINSKI and THOMPSON, Circuit Judges.

DAVID R. THOMPSON, Circuit Judge:

Price Development Company brought suit for reimbursement of a $200,000 option deposit it paid to the Redevelopment Agency of the City of Chino, California as part of an exclusive negotiating agreement. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Agency, and Price appeals. The Agency cross-appeals from the district court's order denying its motion for an award of attorney fees. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1291 and we affirm.


In 1984, the Agency engaged in efforts to develop a 41-acre parcel of land in Chino, California into a commercial shopping center. The property was then owned by Peter Borba & Sons ("the Borbas"). On April 2, 1985, the Agency entered into a Purchase and Sale Agreement with the Borbas to acquire the 41-acre parcel. The agreement required the Agency to pay a $200,000 option deposit to the Borbas, which would be forfeited as liquidated damages in the event escrow failed to close by September 3, 1985.

On the same day the Agency entered into the Purchase and Sale Agreement with the Borbas, Price and the Agency entered into a First Amended Agreement to Negotiate Exclusively ("negotiating agreement"). Pursuant to paragraph I.C of this agreement, Price agreed to advance to the Agency the $200,000 deposit it was required to pay to the Borbas. In exchange for the $200,000, the Agency agreed to negotiate exclusively with Price for a 6-month period in an effort to reach a Disposition and Development Agreement ("DDA") pursuant to which the Agency would convey the Borba property to Price which would then develop it into a shopping center, hotel, offices and other uses.

In an effort to reduce its risk of forfeiting the $200,000, Price insisted on the inclusion of paragraph I.C(2) of the negotiating agreement. This provision required the Agency, in the event a DDA was not reached, to reimburse Price, "to the extent legally permissible," the $200,000 out of the proceeds of an "assessment or development fee" to be levied on any subsequent developer of the project. The provision reads, in relevant part:

Agency shall, to the extent legally permissible, reimburse [Price] the full amount of the [$200,000] Deposit (without interest) out of the proceeds of an assessment or development fee to be imposed on any subsequent developer(s) of the [subject property]; provided, that (i) in no event shall the Deposit reimbursement be a personal obligation of the Agency itself or be payable out of any source other than the source specified herein, and [Price's] sole remedy for any Agency breach shall be appropriate equitable relief to compel Agency to impose the assessment or development fee on the subsequent developer(s); (ii) Agency makes no representation or warranty regarding the validity of any such assessment or fee, and specifically represents that it has made no investigation and conducted no research on that subject; and (iii) the details of and the mechanism for such assessment or development fee shall be negotiated during the exclusive negotiation period of this Agreement.

The Agency and Price were unable to agree upon the terms of a DDA. On September 3, 1985, the negotiating agreement expired by its own terms and the $200,000 was forfeited to the Borbas. The Agency subsequently entered into a DDA concerning the Borba property with a different developer, Haagen-Chino Partnership ("Haagen"). The Agency did not impose an assessment or development fee on Haagen and was otherwise unable to get Haagen to pay Price the $200,000.

Price brought suit to specifically enforce what it alleged to be the Agency's obligation to reimburse Price the $200,000. Price alternatively sought to establish and foreclose an equitable lien for $200,000 upon the Borba property, or to impose on the property a constructive trust.

A. Specific Performance

We review the district court's grant of summary judgment de novo. Ashton v. Cory, 780 F.2d 816, 818 (9th Cir.1986). In this diversity of citizenship case, we apply the substantive law of the forum state, California. See Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 78, 58 S.Ct. 817, 822, 82 L.Ed. 1188 (1938).

When interpreting the terms of a contract, we look first to the language used in the contract. See Cochran v. Union Lumber Co., 26 Cal.App.3d 423, 426, 102 Cal.Rptr. 632, 634 (1972). According to the express terms of paragraph I.C(2) of the negotiating agreement, the Agency agreed "to the extent legally permissible" to reimburse Price the $200,000 deposit out of the proceeds of an "assessment or development fee" to be imposed on any subsequent developer. The Agency contends the assessment provision is not specifically enforceable because the details of the mechanism for imposing the assessment or development fee were never fully negotiated.

California courts have specifically enforced agreements that have not expressly contained all of the terms agreed upon. See, e.g., Goodwest Rubber Corp. v. Munoz, 170 Cal.App.3d 919, 216 Cal.Rptr. 604 (1985) where, in reversing a judgment denying specific performance when the contract called for payment at "market value," the court stated:

The modern trend of the law is to favor the enforcement of contracts, to lean against their unenforceability because of uncertainty, and to carry out the intentions of the parties if this can feasibly be done. Neither law nor equity requires that every term and condition of an agreement be set forth in the contract.

Id., 170 Cal.App.3d at 921, 216 Cal.Rptr. at 605 (emphasis added). If non-essential terms of a contract are left for future agreement, the contract is still enforceable. City of Los Angeles v. Superior Court, 51 Cal.2d 423, 433, 333 P.2d 745, 750 (1959).

We do not believe the details regarding the mechanism for assessing the $200,000 fee on Haagen were such an essential element of the agreement as to make it unenforceable in the absence of their inclusion in the contract. Under the terms of the agreement, however, the Agency was required to exact reimbursement of the $200,000 "to the extent legally permissible." Redevelopment agencies are governed by the Community Redevelopment Law, Cal. Health & Safety Code Secs. 33000 et seq. (West 1973 and Supp.1988) ("Redevelopment Act"). Being a creature of statute, a redevelopment agency may engage only in those activities authorized by statute including, for example, acquiring and managing real property, Cal. Health & Safety Code Secs. 33390-33402, clearing and developing property, id. Secs. 33420-33422 and disposing of real property for public housing projects, id. Sec. 33442.

There is no provision in the Redevelopment Act allowing a redevelopment agency to levy an assessment on real property or on a developer of property for the purpose of reimbursing money to another developer. An assessment proceeding is "an administrative procedure provided by the Legislature to enable authorized governmental entities to provide public improvements of special benefit to only a limited area and to spread the costs upon the lands so benefited in proportion to the benefits conferred." County of Riverside v. Whitlock, 22 Cal.App.3d 863, 874, 99 Cal.Rptr. 710, 718 (1972). The only assessment provisions contained in the Redevelopment Act applicable to a redevelopment agency are found in Health & Safety Code Secs. 33800-33855 (West Supp.1988) and pertain to payment of certain indebtedness incurred prior to July 1, 1978. These provisions have no application to the present case.

Price has also failed to establish that Agency could have legally imposed a development fee upon Haagen. The term "development fee" is generally used to describe a funding mechanism by which a fee is imposed, in lieu of dedication of land, upon a developer by a local agency as a prerequisite for approval of subdivision plans. See Cal.Gov.Code Secs. 66410-66499.58 (West 1983 and Supp.1988) ("Subdivision Map Act"). The California legislature has restricted the exaction of development fees to those "reasonably required to regulate and benefit the particular subdivision." B & P Development Corp. v. City of Saratoga, 185 Cal.App.3d 949, 962, 230 Cal.Rptr. 192, 201 (1986). A redevelopment agency generally may not exact development fees that are not specifically authorized by the Subdivision Map Act. Id. at 955, 230 Cal.Rptr. at 196. See also Associated Home Builders, Inc. v. City of Walnut Creek, 4 Cal.3d 633, 647, 484 P.2d 606, 617, 94 Cal.Rptr. 630, 641, appeal dismissed, 404 U.S. 878, 92 S.Ct. 202, 30 L.Ed.2d 159 (1971) (development fees may be utilized only for purposes related to the acquisition and improvement of land).

In the present case, a development fee imposed on Haagen for the...

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