SAN FRANCISCO -- A California appellate court has rejected the petition of an oyster company which alleges their
due process rights were compromised in the investigation conducted by the California
The Court of Appeal for
the First Appellate District ruled the inclusion of some staff members of
the California Coastal Commission did not affect the due process rights of the Drakes
Bay Oyster Company. This decision remained valid despite the
disputed staff members, who supported the enforcement orders against the
company, were also included in the litigation team.
In its ruling, the
appellate court identified the main issue brought forth by the company and responded in the negative.
“As a matter of law,
does the three enforcement staff members’ participation in the litigation after
they had prosecuted the company in commission enforcement proceedings violate
the company’s due process rights?” wrote Justice Theresa
M. Stewart. “We conclude it does not because the staff
members’ participation merely helps the commission act as a party in litigation
and not as a decision-maker in a quasi-judicial administrative proceeding
regarding the company’s interests.”
The matter started in
2003 when the commission ordered the oyster company to cease and desist in their non-permitted development projects in a 1,060-acre mariculture facility at
the Point Reyes National Seashore. In 2006, the company applied for permits in
an effort to continue with some of the improvements and continue the operations.
However, both parties have not yet resolved any of the concerns raised.
In 2013, the commission
conducted an enforcement hearing. Some of its staff members pointed out the
company’s violations of the California Coastal Act. Based on these infringements,
they recommended measures to be sent to the company. These included fulfilling
the permitting requirements under the Coastal Act as well as stipulating the
operating conditions it would implement to ensure the protection of the coastal
The orders also called for the company to halt their ongoing
development projects and to get rid of some of the items specified by the commission. The orders received unanimous approval from the
In response, the company
submitted a petition for writ of mandate and complaint for declaratory relief. Among
the issues raised in the complaint, the company pointed out the
violation of their due process rights.
According to Drakes Bay, the commission erred
in permitting its enforcement staff to be the same representatives and
advisers in the litigation. They noted that this arrangement breached the advocate-witness
rule. The trial court denied the allegations of the company and sided with the commission.
The appellate court shared the same belief.
“We know of no due
process principle that would justify such a prohibition. Once litigation has been filed, the commission and its staff share the same interest in defending its decision,” said Stewart of the panel’s decision.
process does not require that we tie the hands of the commission in the
litigation and prevent it from reaching out to the enforcement staff for
expertise and advice in circumstances in which administrative proceedings are
no longer pending and it is a party to litigation challenging its decision.”
Appeal court justices James A.
Richman and Marla J. Miller concurred with the decision.