State v. Ctr. Point

Decision Date23 February 2023
Docket NumberF080961
PartiesTHE STATE OF CALIFORNIA, acting by and through the HIGH-SPEED RAIL AUTHORITY, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. CENTER POINT, LLC, Defendant and Appellant.
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals


APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Madera County Super Ct. No. MCV072655, James E. Oakley, Judge.

Wanger Jones Helsley, Oliver W. Wanger, Jay A. Christofferson and Benjamin C. West for Defendant and Appellant.

Erin E. Holbrook, Chief Counsel, G. Michael Harrington, Deputy Chief Counsel, Lucille Y. Baca and Samuel Law, Assistant Chief Counsel, Jeffrey A. Wilcox, Stacy J. Lau and Deborah L Goodman, Deputy Attorneys, for Plaintiff and Respondent.




After settling eminent domain proceedings brought by the State Public Works Board (State) against Center Point, LLC (Center Point) related to the California HighSpeed Rail (HSR) project, the parties requested the trial court enter a stipulated judgment, which reserved to the trial court jurisdiction under Code of Civil Procedure section 664.6 to enforce the stipulated judgment until its terms had been performed in full.[1]

Approximately five months after it was entered, Center Point filed a motion to enforce the stipulated judgment on grounds State had breached its performance obligations. The motion remained pending for approximately 18 months while the parties worked to resolve their disputes. When the motion was heard in January 2020, the parties had resolved all but two issues. The trial court interpreted the terms of the stipulated judgment, concluded State had not been shown to have breached the terms, and denied Center Point's motion.

On appeal, Center Point contends the trial court failed to properly interpret the stipulated judgment's provision 6A[2] regarding a 35-foot wide easement to which State had promised to give Center Point access, but could deliver only a 20-foot wide easement. Center Point also argues there was no evidence to support the trial court's finding as to State's compliance with provision 6D requiring State to use its best efforts to relocate a railway traction power station (TPS). At oral argument, State asserted for the first time this court lacks jurisdiction over the appeal because the underlying judgment is a consent judgment that is not appealable under section 904.1, subdivision (a)(1) (section 904.1(a)(1) or § 904.1(a)(1)) and, thus, the court's postjudgment order here is not appealable under section 904.1, subdivision (a)(2) (section 904.1(a)(2) or § 904.1(a)(2)).

Center Point has a right to appeal the trial court's postjudgment order under section 904.1(a)(2), which supplies this court with subject matter jurisdiction. Neither the general rule against the appealability of consent judgments or Center Point's waiver of the right to appeal the judgment precludes appellate review under the circumstances here. As for Center Point's contentions of error, we conclude the trial court's interpretation of provision 6A was correct, and State's provision of access to a 20-foot wide easement fulfilled its obligations under that provision. Further, under our de novo construction of provision 6D, we conclude the evidence does not compel a factual finding, as a matter of law, that State failed to use its best efforts to relocate the TPS. For the reasons stated below, we affirm.

I. The Underlying Eminent Domain Actions

This appeal arises from the settlement of two consolidated eminent domain actions filed by State against Center Point. In general terms, these eminent domain actions sought the acquisition of approximately 24 acres from Center Point's 633 acres in Madera County for the HSR managed by the High-Speed Rail Authority (HSRA). The approximate 24 acres needed to construct a rail corridor through this area for the HSR had the effect of splitting Center Point's parcels to the north and south of Avenue 11 in Madera County. In addition, construction of the rail corridor through the southwest corner of Center Point's land would separate a 3.79-acre remnant parcel (remnant parcel) from Center Point's other remaining land, which State was required to purchase pursuant to Government Code section 7267.7, subdivision (a).[3] State originally made a probable compensation deposit of $3,149,000 for the taking, and made a deposit of this amount with the court. This valuation was based on Center Point's use of the property as agricultural land-specifically, almond orchards. Center Point, however, asserted it had already invested millions of dollars to develop the land as a 600-plus acre industrial port, the value and feasibility of which depended on access to Highway 99 and freight rail lines. According to Center Point, because the HSRA's acquisition corridor split Center Point's parcels in a manner that interfered with access to rail lines to the east and access to the highway to the west and substantially reduced the useable size of the remaining parcels, Center Point's industrial port project was a total loss. Center Point provided expert testimony the land and Center Point's damages from the taking totaled over $70 million. On August 16, 2017, upon motion and after an evidentiary hearing, the trial court redetermined the total probable compensation for the property to be $9,000,000, and State deposited the requisite additional sum. Meanwhile, in May 2017, State was granted an order for immediate possession of the acquisition area at issue in the consolidated actions.

II. March 14, 2018, Stipulated Judgment

After continued litigation, the parties appeared for a mandatory settlement conference on February 22 and March 1, 2018. On March 1, 2018, believing they had reached a settlement, the parties attempted to place the terms of their agreement on the record, but they discovered there was not full consensus about the remnant parcel and certain other items. The parties reconvened in the hallway outside the courtroom to discuss the issues, managed to resolve them, and returned to the courtroom to recite the general terms of the settlement on the record with an understanding they would subsequently execute a more detailed and written stipulated judgment.

Center Point's counsel gave the following recitation of the terms: "The State will pay Center Point $36 million. Center Point will remain in possession of a remnant [assessor parcel number] ... MF20914-01-02. The State will provide access to that certain parcel remnant. There will be a sleeve for water that will be conveyed under the right-of-way to that remnant to be placed by the State. There will be a sleeve for electrical utilities on the northern parcel to be placed by the State. The State will use best efforts to move a traction station on the property to the lowest point on a triangle located on the Center Point Property. [|¶ The-all parties will execute a stipulated judgment to resolve the litigation, and this settlement would resolve all claims against the State ._"[4]The parties requested the court retain jurisdiction under section 664.6 to enforce the agreement to the extent that it was adopted by State.

On March 14, 2018, the parties filed a stipulated judgment whereby State would pay $36 million to Center Point in exchange for approximately 24 acres of Center Point's land needed for HSR's rail corridor. The agreement also included several nonmonetary terms, including Center Point's retention of the remnant parcel, which would be separated from the rest of Center Point's property by the HSR's rail corridor, with provisions for Center Point's physical access to the remnant, water and electricity to the remnant, and an agreement the parties would use their "best efforts" to relocate HSRA's planned TPS to a different location. Additionally, the stipulation contained a jurisdiction clause providing the court would retain jurisdiction over the parties to enforce the terms under section 664.6. The stipulated judgment was signed and entered by the court on March 15, 2018.

Within weeks of the stipulated judgment, however, issues arose regarding all four of its special nonmonetary provisions. In August 2018, Center Point filed a motion to enforce the stipulated judgment under section 664.6, but the hearing on the motion was continued multiple times while the court encouraged the parties to resolve their dispute. In July and August 2019, the parties filed supplemental briefs and declarations indicating there was still work to be done, and the hearing was continued again. The parties completed a second round of supplemental briefing with additional supporting declarations in December 2019 and January 2020, and two hearings on the motion were subsequently held on January 10 and January 24, 2020.

At the January 10, 2020, hearing, the remaining issues between the parties centered on special provision 6A and the easement State was to provide to the remnant parcel and on special provision 6D regarding the relocation of the TPS. The parties presented argument and agreed the matters could be submitted to the court for decision with additional briefing and/or an evidentiary hearing if required based on the trial court's consideration of the issues.

At a second hearing on January 24, 2020, the court provided the parties with a tentative ruling in favor of State on both issues, the parties made additional arguments, and the motion was submitted for a decision. On February 5, 2020, the court issued an order denying Center Point's motion to enforce the stipulated judgment, finding State had fully complied with provisions 6A and 6D. This appeal followed.


Raised for the first time at oral argument, State contends there is no right to appeal the postjudgment order at issue...

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