CA Supreme Court Rejects City of Pasadena’s Challenge to Inverse Condemnation Decision

The California Supreme Court denied a petition from the City of Pasadena to grant review of the landmark decision described below. In so doing the Court also rejected requests that the decision be depublished made by the City as well as by numerous other groups including the League of California Cities, the California Parks & Recreation Society, the California State Association of Counties, the Association of California Water Agencies, the California Building Industry Association and many other interested parties. The decision is now final, not subject to further review, and can be relied on as precedent.

Prior to the Supreme Court denying to hear the city’s appeal, the California Court of Appeal ruled that a tree that is part of an urban forestry program can constitute a public improvement as a basis for an inverse condemnation claim. In this seminal case brought by Stutman Law, a street tree owned, maintained and controlled by the city of Pasadena fell on a house belonging to Plaintiff’s insured during a windstorm.

Stutman Law brought suit on behalf of Plaintiff, Mercury Casualty Co., alleging inverse condemnation and other causes of action. Pasadena sought summary adjudication, asserting that no case had ever applied inverse condemnation to a tree, and a public improvement must be of the “bricks and mortar” variety. The trial court disagreed and Pasadena sought a writ of mandate in the Court of Appeal. In a decision handed down last week, the Court denied the writ holding that the test to be applied is whether the construction of the public improvement is a deliberate act by the public entity in furtherance of a public purpose. Here, there was evidence sufficient to demonstrate a triable issue of fact that the City took deliberate action to manage its urban forestry program, which served a public purpose in improving public roads.

This is the first case to clearly state that an urban forestry program can constitute a public improvement for purposes of inverse condemnation liability. Accordingly, the door to this powerful cause of action, which carries with it entitlement to expert and attorney fees, is now open whenever a street tree causes property damage.

For a copy of the Supreme Court decision, click here.

For a copy of the opinion, click here.

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