Thursday, April 28, 2005

O'Connell v. City of Stockton (Cal. Ct. App. - April 22, 2005)

I learned a fair bit from this case. First -- and I apologize if this was already obvious to everyone else in the universe (as it might well be) -- I learned that in California, there's taxpayer standing under CCP 526a to enjoin expenditure of any public funds resulting from the enforcement of an unconstitutional law. And also that this is a neat way around potential statute of limitations problems. I consider myself fairly well-read. But this was a glaring gap in my knowledge, since I had no idea that CCP 526a even existed. And it's a neat little statute. So I learned something right there, and something that many lawyers might well effectively put to use. (Though since the doctrine apparently limits one to a facial challenge, the statute isn't as powerful as one might hope, and many of the claims in this particular suit are rejected precisely because they're only cognizable in an as-applied challenge.)

Second, this is also a great procedural due process case. Indeed, it would be a great review for my first-year Civil Procedure students, who are right now busily preparing for their final exam. (Unless they're wasting their time reading this blog, in which case I can only say: GET BACK TO WORK!) At issue is whether the City of Stockton can seize cars that have been driven to buy drugs or solicit prostitutes. These are increasingly common ordinances, obviously. Justice Butz holds the statute constitutionally infirm on procedural due process grounds, during the course of which she conducts a darn thorough analysis and application of the Supreme Court's relevant (Mathews/Snidach/Fuentes) line of cases. The problem here is that the critical post-seizure hearing simply isn't prompt enough; indeed, it probably won't occur for months. And that's simply too long not to have your car. So I think she's right as to the statute's invalidity.

There's another part of the opinion (Part VII) where Justice Butz also holds that these municipal ordinances are pre-empted by state law. That's obviously important as well, and unlike the procedural due process point, is not one that the City can change by merely tinkering with its own laws. And it's not only important, but in finding the ordinance pre-empted, the Court of Appeals also reaches a finding directly contrary to Horton, a decision from the First Appellate District. So you're almost certainly looking at the California Supreme Court taking up the case. Which I'm sure Justice Butz knows as well, which may (in part) be why she writes a 50-page opinion. But it's a good one.