In its terse, no-nonsense opinion in Alliance For the Protection of the Auburn Community v. County of Placer, et al. (2013) 215 Cal.App.4th 25, ordered published onApril 2, 2013, the Third District Court of Appeal affirmed a judgment entered after sustaining a demurrer to a CEQA action without leave on statute of limitations grounds and denying plaintiffs’ Code of Civil Procedure § 473 motion seeking relief based on mistake or excusable neglect. Plaintiffs’ action challenged the EIR for a development project, but was filed 3 calendar days and 1 business day after the 30-day statute of limitations of Public Resources Code § 21167 had expired because its attorney service failed to arrive at the courthouse in time to file on the deadline date. Key takeaways include:
- CCP § 473, despite its liberal construction, does not generally apply to failure to comply with limitations periods in actions instituted by either complaint or writ petition, since statutes of limitation are mandatory, and are “adamant rather than flexible in nature.”
- “If the Legislature desires to allow some flexibility in a statute of limitations, it expressly provides for an extension of the limitations period or a showing of good cause [which] … is the equivalent to a showing under section 473.”
- Absent an express legislative provision in the statute of limitations providing for a good cause extension, “the court infers that the Legislature did not intend such an extension on the grounds of good cause or under section 473.”
- CEQA’s statute of limitations, Public Resources Code § 21167, “makes no provision for extending the limitations period on a showing of good cause.”
- While CEQA is broadly interpreted to protect the environment, this liberal policy applies to the substantive merits of CEQA challenges, not to its procedural requirements, such as its filing and other procedural deadlines, which are designed to serve the public interest by ensuring CEQA challenges are promptly filed and diligently prosecuted.
In holding that relief under Code of Civil Procedure § 473 is unavailable for a litigant’s failure to file its CEQA challenge within Public Resources Code § 21167’s applicable limitations period, the Third District’s decision is not surprising and does not break new ground. It does, however, provide straightforward and useful analysis of the application of § 473 in the CEQA context, as well as a cautionary tale for plaintiffs’ attorneys who wait until the last day to file a CEQA writ petition.