Public agencies prevailed in 71% of CEQA cases analyzed.
By James L. Arnone, Daniel P. Brunton, Nikki Buffa, Marc T. Campopiano, Peter J. Gutierrez, John C. Heintz, Lauren E. Paull, Aron Potash, Lucas I. Quass, Natalie C. Rogers, Jennifer K. Roy, and Winston P. Stromberg
Latham & Watkins is pleased to present its fifth annual CEQA Case Report. Throughout 2021 Latham lawyers reviewed each of the 51 California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) appellate cases, whether published or unpublished. Below is a compilation of the information distilled from that annual review and a discussion of the patterns that emerged.
In 2021, the California Courts of Appeal issued 51 opinions that substantially considered CEQA while the US District Court for the Northern District of California issued one opinion. Notably, 2021 saw an increased focus on CEQA wildfire analysis. In cases like Sierra Watch v. County of Placer, the Court of Appeal ruled that the County of Placer failed to adequately analyze wildfire risks by wrongly assuming first responders would provide traffic control in the event of an emergency. And in Newtown Preservation Society v. County of El Dorado, the Court upheld a mitigated negative declaration in the face of public concerns that a bridge reconstruction project would result in significant impacts on resident safety and emergency evacuation in case of a wildfire.
Also notable in 2021 was the rare occurrence of a Court of Appeal partially affirming the denial of an anti-SLAPP motion following a CEQA lawsuit. In Dunning v. Johnson, the Court found that a project developer had established a probability of demonstrating lack of probable cause for the underlying CEQA petition, as well as a probability of demonstrating that the petitioners pursued the CEQA litigation with malice. Continue Reading