In Mt. Holyoke Homes v. California Coastal Commission, (— Cal.Rptr.3d —, 2008 WL 4635869, Cal.App. 2 Dist., Oct. 21, 2008), a California Court of Appeal considered a dispute regarding the jurisdiction of the California Coastal Commission (“Commission”) over a development permit in a case where the Commission failed to set a hearing within the required 49 days after the appeal was filed, but in which the developer had nonetheless continued to participate in subsequent Commission proceedings. The court ruled that by continuing to participate in Commission proceedings, the developer had acquiesced to the Commission’s continuing jurisdiction and could not later claim the Commission lacked jurisdiction.
Mt. Holyoke Homes (“MHH”) was a partnership that sought to develop real estate near the coastline in Los Angeles (“City”). After the City Council approved the proposal, opponents appealed the decision to the Commission in June 1999. Because of delays in the City’s production of documents to the Commission, a hearing on the matter was not held until May 2000. After more delays and further hearings, the Commission finally denied MHH’s permit in July 2003.
MHH filed suit seeking to overturn the denial citing Public Resources Code Section 30621, which states that if the Commission fails to hold a hearing on an appeal of a local government’s action within 49 days after receiving the appeal, the decision of the local government becomes final.
The trial court ruled the Commission did not adhere to Section 30621 and the City’s approval of the MHH plan was final. The Commission and other opponents of the development appealed.
In Encinitas Country Day School v. California Coastal Commission (2003) 108 Cal.App.4th 575, a California Court of Appeal found the Commission failed to adhere to the 49-day limit, overturned the Commission’s denial of a proposed school development, and ordered reinstatement of the City of Encinitas’ approval of the plan.
The distinction here, the court said, is that rather than promptly challenge the Commission’s jurisdiction after the 49-day limit had elapsed, MHH continued to actively participate in Commission proceedings for more than three years afterward, thereby forfeiting its right to challenge later. The court added, “…. its actions over such an extended period of time constituted consent (acquiescence) to jurisdiction, or alternatively, invited error.”
Once an action has commenced, a defendant who makes a general appearance without objecting to personal jurisdiction acquiesces in the court’s exercise of jurisdiction and forfeits any future challenge to the court’s power over him or her. The court found the same principle applies here. MHH was therefore estopped from challenging the Commission’s jurisdiction, the trial court judgment was reversed, and the Commission’s denial of MHH’s permit was reinstated.
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