Rutherford v. State of California

CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals
Citation188 Cal.App.3d 1267,233 Cal.Rptr. 781
Decision Date09 January 1987
PartiesE.C. RUTHERFORD et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. STATE of California et al., Defendants and Respondents. D003131.
Diane Altamirano and Boggust, Zimmerman & Altamirano, Brawley, for plaintiffs and appellants

John K. Van de Kamp, Atty. Gen., R.H. Connett, Asst. Atty. Gen., David L. Chandler and Denis D. Smaage, Deputy Attys. Gen., for defendants and respondents.

WORK, Associate Justice.

E.C. Rutherford, S.T. Rutherford, and Julia Ann Rutter (Rutherford) appeal a judgment in favor of the State of California, Resources Agency, Department of Fish and Game, and several individuals for injunctive and declaratory relief, inverse condemnation, violation of constitutional rights pursuant to 42 United States Code section 1983 and violation of rights guaranteed by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Rutherford contends the trial court erred in finding Fish and Game Code section 1603 1 constitutional on its face and as applied; collateral estoppel did not apply; there was no federal or civil rights violation; and the officers were immune for their actions as there was no malice shown. We conclude these contentions are meritless and affirm the judgment.


Rutherford owns approximately the north one-half of the San Felipe Valley, consisting of meadow and range land historically used for grazing cattle and farming. The specific area of this large parcel involved in this litigation is a meadow which is a natural watershed and water On May 22, 1981, all the roads were completed and the repair work was essentially 90 percent complete. On that date, Carl Bumgarner of the Fish and Game Department (Department) approached the job foreman and asked whether permits had been obtained. The foreman stated he did not know. (The record is in dispute whether Bumgarner told the foreman to cease work because if there were no permits they might have to remove what they had completed.) The Department acted pursuant to section 1603, requiring Rutherford to notify it of any changes in the bed, channel, bank of a river, stream or lake designated by the Department. Apparently, the work did cease and the equipment stood idle for a time before the construction work was completed in early 1983.

                storage area;  however, at no time during Rutherford's ownership of the property before [188 Cal.App.3d 1275] 1980 had the water overflowed at that location.  The normal rainfall in the area had been approximately 45 inches a year, but for the two years preceding the first quarter of 1980, the rainfall was approximately 65 to 70 inches.  The meadow and underlying aquifer filled with water, became saturated and created washed-out areas.  These washes ranged from 25 to 75 feet wide and 25 to 30 feet deep at the South end of the property.  Toward the North and uphill, the washes became narrower and shallower. 2  Once the rain ceased, it took approximately 14 to 15 months for the area to dry before heavy equipment and machinery could be brought in to repair the washouts and damage.  Rutherford obtained a Small Business Administration emergency loan to repair since the area had been declared a disaster area.  He began putting roads across the still saturated meadow, horizontal to the washout, at 500 to 600 feet intervals.  The majority of the dirt for the 20 to 25 feet wide and 2 to 3 feet high roads was taken from the high sides of the streambed

Rutherford was charged with violating section 1603 for failing to file a notification of the work intended and, following trial, was convicted. On appeal to the Appellate Department of the Superior Court, his misdemeanor conviction was summarily reversed without opinion.

This civil action is on Rutherford's fifth amended complaint. The trial was bifurcated with the legal issues tried first, resulting in a defense judgment based on the findings section 1603 is constitutional on its face and was not unconstitutionally applied, collateral estoppel does not apply, the absence of any federal civil rights violations, and the officers are immune from suit because they acted without malice.


Rutherford first contends the trial court should have found section 1603 unconstitutionally vague, for not meaningfully defining the terms "notice," "substantially divert," "stream," "streambed" and "emergency work necessary to protect life or property," or for lacking a clear standard to determine when an existing fish or wildlife resource is likely to be adversely affected. Because of its perceived unconstitutionality, Rutherford claims the statute does not clothe the Department's conduct with legal authority. Moreover, he claims the statute was unconstitutionally applied in that the Department failed to verify whether fish and wildlife would be adversely affected by Rutherford's activities.

In reviewing the constitutionality of a legislative provision, we presume its validity, resolving all doubts in favor of the legislative act. In other words, it will be upheld unless it clearly and unquestionably conflicts with a provision of the state or federal Constitution. (California Housing Finance Agency v. Elliott (1976) 17 Cal.3d " 'a statute which either forbids or requires the doing of an act in terms so vague that men of common intelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning and differ as to its application violates the first essential of due process of law.' [Citation.] This principle applies not only to statutes of a penal nature but also to those prescribing a standard of conduct which is the subject of administrative regulation. [Citations.]" (McMurtry v. State Board of Medical Examiners (1960) 180 Cal.App.2d 760, 766, 4 Cal.Rptr. 910; Hall v. Bureau of Employment Agencies, supra, 64 Cal.App.3d at p. 491, 138 Cal.Rptr. 725.)

                575, 594, 131 Cal.Rptr. 361, 551 P.2d 1193.)   However, "[s]tatutes, regardless whether criminal or civil in nature, must be sufficiently clear as to provide adequate notice of the prohibited conduct as well as to establish a standard of conduct which can be uniformly interpreted by the judiciary and administrative agencies [citation]."  (Hall v. Bureau of Employment Agencies (1976) 64 Cal.App.3d 482, 491, 138 Cal.Rptr. 725;  United Business Com. v. City of San Diego (1979) 91 Cal.App.3d 156, 176, 154 Cal.Rptr. 263.)   In other words, it is firmly established

Accordingly, within this context, statutes will be upheld unless their unconstitutionality as to vagueness clearly, positively and unmistakably appears. (United Business Com. v. City of San Diego, supra, 91 Cal.App.3d at p. 176, 154 Cal.Rptr. 263.) Indeed, reasonable certainty under the circumstances is all that is required; for, a statutory provision will not be declared void for uncertainty if any reasonable and practical construction can be attached to the language. (In re Carson Bulletin (1978) 85 Cal.App.3d 785, 794, 149 Cal.Rptr. 764; see also United Business Com. v. City of San Diego, supra, 91 Cal.App.3d at p. 176, 154 Cal.Rptr. 263.)

Section 1603 makes it unlawful to substantially divert or obstruct the natural flow or substantially change the bank, of any stream or lake, or to use any material from the streambeds, without first notifying the Department. 3 Similarly, section "The protection and conservation of the fish and wildlife resources of this state are hereby declared to be of utmost public interest. Fish and wildlife are the property of the people and provide a major contribution to the economy of the state as well as providing a significant part of the people's food supply and therefore their conservation is a proper responsibility of the state. This chapter is enacted to provide such conservation for these resources."

                1601 requires governmental entities to [188 Cal.App.3d 1278] notify the Department of any project which will divert, obstruct or change the natural flow of any river, stream or lake, or if there is at any time a fish or wildlife resource, or from which these resources derive benefit, or when the project will use materials from streambeds designated by the Department.  "Although both statutes envision that the rivers, streams or lakes shall be 'designated by the Department,' the Department chose to designate all rivers, streams, lakes and streambeds in the State of California, including those which may have 'intermittent' flows of water (Cal.Admin.Code, tit. 14, § 720)."  (People v. Weaver (1983) 147 Cal.App.3d Supp. 23, 32, 197 Cal.Rptr. 521.)   This designation of all state waterways by the Department was upheld in Willadsen v. Justice Court (1983) 139 Cal.App.3d 171, 175-177, 188 Cal.Rptr. 488.   A violation of section 1603 is a misdemeanor.  (Id. at p. 176, 188 Cal.Rptr. 488;  People v. Weaver, supra, 147 Cal.App.3d Supp. at p. 32, 197 Cal.Rptr. 521;  57 Ops.Cal.Atty.Gen. 475, 476 (1974).)   Finally, since we construe a statute as consistently as possible with the objectives of the legislature, we note section 1600 declares

Guided by the established standards requiring only reasonable certainty and the upholding of the statute if any reasonable and practical construction can be given its language by reference to other definable sources (People v. Superior Court (Hartway) (1977) 19 Cal.3d 338, 345, 138 Cal.Rptr. 66, 562 P.2d 1315), we conclude the challenged phrases are not void for vagueness rendering the statute in its entirety unconstitutional. For,

" '[t]he root of the vagueness doctrine is a rough idea of fairness. It is not a principle designed to convert into a constitutional dilemma the practical difficulties in drawing criminal statutes both general enough to take into account a variety of human conduct and sufficiently specific to provide fair warning that certain kinds of conduct are...

To continue reading

Request your trial
36 cases
  • Cassidy v. Board of Educ. of Prince George's County, 169
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • September 1, 1987
    ...... by judgment is well settled, the only difficulty being in its application to the facts.' " State v. Ellis, 197 Conn. 436, 497 A.2d 974, 988-89 (1985) (quoting Pelham Hall Co. v. Carney, 27 F.Supp. ...American Tel. & Telegraph, Co., 606 F.2d 842, 845 (9th Cir.1979); Rutherford v. State, 188 Cal.App.3d 1267, 1283-84, 233 Cal.Rptr. 781, 789-90 (1987); Marsland v. ......
  • Suter v. City of Lafayette, A073743
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • September 16, 1997
    ....... No. A073743. . Court of Appeal, First District, Division 1, California. . Sept. 16, 1997. . Review Denied Dec. 10, 1997. . Page 422 .         [57 Cal.App.4th ... to obtain land use permits and police permits in addition to the licenses already required by state and federal law. Appellants contend that the ordinance is preempted by state law and that it ... (Rutherford v. State of California (1987) 188 Cal.App.3d 1267, 1279, 233 Cal.Rptr. 781.) "Primary," is such a ......
  • Alfaro v. Terhune, C034286.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • May 16, 2002
    ......state criminal proceedings (hereafter plaintiffs) challenge the implementation of the DNA and Forensic ...(a)(1).) The Act further provides that the California Department of Justice shall (1) serve as a repository for those items, (2) perform a ...748.) But reasonable certainty is all that is required. (Rutherford v. State of California (1987) 188 Cal.App.3d 1267, 1276, 233 Cal.Rptr. 781.) A statutory scheme is ......
  • Nisei Farmers League v. Cal. Labor & Workforce Dev. Agency
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • January 4, 2019
    ...ex rel. Gallo v. Acuna (1997) 14 Cal.4th 1090, 1116, 60 Cal.Rptr.2d 277, 929 P.2d 596 ( Acuna ); see Rutherford v. California (1987) 188 Cal.App.3d 1267, 1276, 233 Cal.Rptr. 781 ["statutes will be upheld unless their unconstitutionality as to vagueness clearly, positively and unmistakably a......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT