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AGC Wins Brown Act Suit at Court of Appeal


The California Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court judgment in favor of the City of Montebello denying the claims of a citizens' group for declaratory and injunctive relief in connection with alleged violations of the Ralph M. Brown Act.  The case was successfully briefed and argued on appeal by AGC Senior Associate Sharon Medellín.

The lawsuit arose from the events of a November 16, 2009 City Council meeting, during which the Council voted in closed session to approve an agreement which purportedly installed a new Interim City Administrator shortly before newly-elected Council members were sworn-in. The new Council majority, at a subsequent closed session meeting on December 9, 2009, then determined that the agreement was void and of no effect.

The lawsuit against the city alleged that the City violated the Brown Act in various respects in connection with the November 16, 2009 City Council meeting and by the approval of the employment agreement during the closed session portion of the meeting.  On July 17, 2012, the trial court issued its judgment in favor of the City.

The appeal was based on the grounds that the trial court improperly relied on the findings made during Writ of Mandate proceedings as to whether the City committed Brown Act violations in connection with the City Council meeting. The appeal also argued the trial court's denial of attorney's fees award for plaintiff was improper.

During oral argument, Ms. Medellin argued that the rulings made during the Writ of Mandate proceedings were binding on the trial court and, therefore, the trial judge was precluded from making independent findings on the alleged Brown Act violations. Ms. Medellin further argued that, to the extent Brown Act violations were found during the Writ of Mandate proceedings, plaintiff was not entitled to declaratory or injunctive relief because: (1) there was no evidence that the City was continuing to violate the Brown Act or likely to violate the Brown Act in the future; and (2) any effects of the violations that were found were cured when the City repudiated the employment contract.

On December 23, 2013, the California Court of Appeal affirmed lower court's judgment in favor of the City.

The Court found that the trial court was bound by rulings in the Writ Proceedings on the Brown Act allegations. The Court further found that because there was not an actual, present controversy over Brown Act compliance, the trial court properly denied the claim for declaratory relief. The denial of the injunctive relief claim was also affirmed because there was no evidence that the past Brown Act violations were likely to recur. Finally, the Court affirmed the denial of an attorney's fees award for plaintiffs on the ground that the lawsuit did very little to vindicate the purpose of the Brown Act.

Congratulations to Ms. Medellín on yet another victory on behalf of AGC's public entity clients. 


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