In Kink v. Township of Scott, 139 S.Ct. 2162 (2019), the Supreme Court reversed over three decades of precedent when it removed the requirement that a plaintiff must seek legal redress in the state before filing a challenge in federal court. Following the ruling by the Supreme Court, federal courts saw a significant increase in the number of federal lawsuits. In Gearing vs. City of Half Moon Bay, the city was able to convince the federal court to take a back seat and to allow a later state jurisdiction suit against eminent domains, while the federal suit was suspended.
Plaintiffs own six vacant lots in the City of Half Moon Bay in an area subject to development restrictions. These development restrictions were set by a certified land use plan that the city passed in an effort to comply with the California Coastal Act.
In 2019, California legislature passed Senate Bill 330 (SB 330), which aims to accelerate housing development by, among other things, restricting an agency’s ability to reject certain housing projects. In October 2020, plaintiffs filed a SB 330 application with the City of Half Moon Bay. The city refused to process the application on the grounds that the application did not meet the requirements of the certified zoning plan. The city council informed plaintiffs that the decision was final and non-appealable.
In the same year, the city council approved an update to the zoning plan that made residential development possible but prioritized public acquisition. In December 2020, the city sent the plaintiffs a notification for assessment as a preliminary stage of the acquisition process. In January 2021, the city made a formal offer to purchase the plaintiffs’ property. In March, plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that their property had been seized in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, a right to federal due process, and a right to equal protection by the state. The next day the city passed an emergency decree. About a week later, the city filed a major domain lawsuit in a state court seeking the plaintiffs’ property.
In an effort to advance the state major domain lawsuit and delay the federal trial, the city has filed a motion to suspend the federal lawsuit based on the application of the Pullman Abstention doctrine. Doctrines of abstinence essentially recognize that the federal court has reasonable jurisdiction over a matter, but allow the federal court to suspend or reject the federal proceeding because of a competing interest. The competing interests vary with abstention doctrine. In memory of Pullman The Federal Supreme Court must abstain from voting that: (1) the complaint affects a sensitive area of state social policy, (2) the constitutional issue in federal proceedings through a final decision in state proceedings on a. State issue can be avoided or narrowed, and (3) the state legal issue is new or unresolved.
The federal court found that all three requirements were met in this case and exercised its discretion to stay the federal lawsuit pending the completion of the state significant domain lawsuit. With regard to the first factor, the Federal Supreme Court found that the federal action touched a sensitive area of social policy, as it concerned a state land use policy within the meaning of SB 330. Regarding the second factor, the federal court found that the state case settlement would at least narrow the federal revenue issue as it would result in fair compensation for the permanent use of the property at the time of the deposit. However, the federal court found that the state case would not resolve the federal provisional receipt claim, as plaintiffs claimed the government receipt was made when the city rejected the request in October 2020, months prior to the deposit. Regarding the third factor, the federal court found that the proceedings would likely require an interpretation of SB 330, and since SB 330 was a relatively recent enactment with limited jurisdiction, since both the state major domain lawsuit and the state regulation case are likely to be Would require interpretation. can solve new problems related to SB 330, [and] the third Pullman Factor fulfilled. ”
The federal court, while upholding the city’s suspension motion, expressly retained jurisdiction over federal constitutional issues, including federal process and equal protection claims, that were not asserted in the federal eminent domain lawsuit.
Doctrines of abstinence are usually permissive because they allow a federal court to refrain from solving a problem, but do not oblige the court to do so. Thus, the possibility of a defendant authority to rely on a Pullman The motion to abstain depends on the judge and the specific facts. In this case, for example, the judge could have been influenced by the fact that the city significantly advanced acquisition efforts prior to filing the federal lawsuit. Hence, the main lesson from this case is that even after Kink, federal courts reserve the right, in their sole discretion, to refrain from ruling on state claims if circumstances warrant invoking any of these abstention doctrines.