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The Importance of Naming the Correct Parties as Soon as Possible

A recent California Court of Appeal decision, (Organizacion Communidad De Alviso v. City of San Jose 2021 Cal. App. LEXIS 115) highlights this importance. From the official case summary:

Defendant city filed two notices of determination (NODs) for a proposed project to rezone fallow farmland for light industrial uses. The first NOD listed the wrong project applicant and the second correctly listed the project applicant. Despite plaintiff diligently and repeatedly requesting all notices for the project, the city—inexplicably and in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)—failed to send plaintiff the legally operative second NOD for the project. Relying on the first NOD that the city did e-mail to plaintiff, plaintiff named the wrong project applicant in its initial petition for writ of mandate. Plaintiff did not file an amended petition naming the project applicant until well after the statute of limitations had run. The trial court determined that the initial petition was defective for failing to join the project applicant as a necessary and indispensable party, and it dismissed the CEQA cause of action in the amended petition as untimely. (Superior Court of Santa Clara County, No. CV321687, Helen E. Williams, Judge.)

The Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment of dismissal. Although the city violated CEQA by failing to send the second NOD to plaintiff, the second NOD was properly filed with the county clerk, the city provided constructive notice of the correct parties to sue, and plaintiff did not timely amend its petition to name the project applicant as a real party in interest. The elements of estoppel were not met, and the city’s violation of Pub. Resources Code, § 21167, subd. (f), did not affect the requirement to name the project applicant before the limitations period expired. As neither of plaintiff’s proposed amendments would cure the failure to timely sue the project applicant, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by sustaining defendants’ demurrer without leave to amend. The court found no error in the trial court’s decision not to apply the relation back doctrine of Code Civ. Proc., § 474, to allow plaintiff to substitute the project applicant in place of one of the fictitiously named Doe real parties in interest.

Thus, the plaintiffs were completely out of luck in that matter because they, evidently, didn’t get the name of the proper defendant from the county clerk. Essentially, the Court found that it wasn’t enough to simply ask for this information from the defendant City. What do you think? Is this a fair outcome? Should it be appealed to the California Supreme Court?

This case highlights the importance of naming all potentially responsible parties in your action as well as substituting DOE defendants as soon as possible once they are identified.

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