Judge: Elaine W. Mandel, Case: SC126172, Date: 2022-08-03 Tentative Ruling

Case Number: SC126172    Hearing Date: August 3, 2022    Dept: P

Tentative Ruling
180 PCH, LLC v. Saitman, Case No. SC126172
Hearing Date August 3, 2022 (continued from July 27, 2022)
Adjudication Regarding Ripeness of the Controversy

This case involves a dispute over a roadway from Pacific Coast Highway through defendant Saitman’s property to beachfront property owned by plaintiff 180 PCH, which intends to build homes on the parcel. Plaintiff acknowledges its plans may not be approved by the City of Malibu unless it is allowed to perform grading modifications to allow access to its parcel. 

On May 12, 2022, the court ordered the parties to brief whether the action is ripe for adjudication. Saitman argues the easement does not allow for grading of the road, only ingress and egress; 180 PCH contends it allows for grading. 180 PCH filed a reply to Saitman’s brief. Saitman objected to the reply brief, as the court did not request (or authorize) such briefing. This is correct; the ruling is based on the initial briefs.

In determining whether a controversy is ripe for declaratory relief, courts apply a two-pronged analysis. First, the court determines whether an “actual controversy” exists, declining to adjudicate if it is asked to speculate on the resolution of a hypothetical situation or if the case presents a “contrived inquiry.” Farm Sanctuary, Inc. v. Dep’t. of Food & Agriculture (1998) 63 Cal.App.4th 495, 502. Under the second prong, courts will only adjudicate matters if there is an imminent and significant hardship inherent in further delay, declining to settling a mere “difference of opinion” via declaratory relief. Id.

180 PCH argues its construction plans are not feasible unless roadway grading is allowed. Therefore, 180 PCH argues, the court should issue a declaration of the parties’ rights before it seeks approval of the plans from the City of Malibu.

Saitman argues the matter is not ripe because 180 PCH has not presented specific approved construction plans that require an interpretation of the easement, so the controversy is hypothetical. The court disagrees. If the court does not rule on this matter now, 180 PCH will be required to submit plans to the City which could be rendered moot if the court later rules the easement does not permit grading. Such wasted effort would represent significant hardship to 180 PCH. Further, the dispute is not contrived or hypothetical— 180 PCH cannot realistically proceed with an application to the City of Malibu without prior adjudication of its grading rights. Practically, these rights must be adjudicated before a plan is submitted, not after submission and approval. The matter is ripe and may proceed.