City of San Jose v. Superior Court (Lands Unlimited)
Cite as: 12 Cal.3d 447, 525 P.2d 701, 115 Cal.Rptr. 797


CITY OF SAN JOSE, Petitioner,
LANDS UNLIMITED et al., Real Parties in Interest

S.F. No. 23055

September 6, 1974


Hoge, Fenton, Jones & Appel, Charles H. Brock and H. R. Lloyd, Jr., for Petitioner.

Burt Pines, City Attorney, Milton N. Sherman, Assistant City Attorney, James H. Pearson and Ronald J. Einboden, Deputy City Attorneys, as Amici Curiae on behalf of Petitioner.

No appearance for Respondent.

Morgan, Beauzay & Hammer, W. Robert Morgan, Becklund, Siner, Taketa & Salle, Goldstein, Barceloux & Goldstein, J. William Dawson, Fadem, Kanner, Berger & Stocker and Michael M. Berger for Real Parties in Interest.


We are called on to determine whether the trial court abused its discretion in certifying this case to proceed as a class action.

Plaintiffs, real parties in interest, filed an action against petitioner- defendant, City of San Jose, [FN 1] on behalf of themselves and all real property owners situated in the flight pattern of the San Jose Municipal Airport. Seeking recovery for diminution in the market value of their property caused by aircraft noise, vapor, dust, and vibration, they proceed on theories of nuisance and inverse condemnation.

[FN 1] For literary convenience, defendant in the trial court -- petitioner in this proceeding -- will be referred to as defendant. The reference to "plaintiffs" -- real parties in this proceeding -- will refer only to the named plaintiffs and not to the unnamed class members.
Following discovery and pursuant to procedures we suggested in Vasquez v. Superior Court (1971) 4 Cal.3d 800 [94 Cal.Rptr. 796, 484 P.2d 964, 53 A.L.R.3d 513], defendant moved the trial court for an order declaring the action inappropriate as a class action. After affidavits were filed and hearing was held, the court found the action appropriate and ordered notification of class members.

Defendant then sought extraordinary relief, first contending the trial court, for lack of proper motion, was without jurisdiction to certify the class; and second, that the court had abused its discretion in certifying the class because: (a) The claims statutes prohibit the maintenance of class actions against governmental entities; (b) there is insufficient community of interest among the purported class members; and (c) the plaintiffs are inadequately representing the class. [FN 2] Because the issues raised are substantial, we issued alternative writs of prohibition and mandate.

[FN 2] Defendant's challenges go only to the ability of the class action to proceed. No question is raised as to the propriety of the three named plaintiffs' individual actions, which cumulatively seek damages of $500,000.
We conclude the trial court had jurisdiction to certify the class, but under the facts, it abused its discretion in doing so.

Lack of Proper Motion

Defendant contends the court was without jurisdiction to certify the class suit as appropriate because the only motion before the court was limited to determining that the class was not appropriate. This argument lacks substance.

This court has urged trial courts to be procedurally innovative, encouraging them to incorporate procedures from outside sources in determining whether to allow the maintenance of a particular class suit. More specifically, we have directed them to rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, [FN 3] which provides: "As soon as practicable after the commencement of an action brought as a class action, the court shall determine by order whether it is to be so maintained." (Federal Rules Civ. Proc., rule 23(c)(1).) This determination may be made on motion of either plaintiff or defendant -- or on the court's own motion. (Wright & Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure, § 1785, p. 128.) The procedure followed by the trial court here is identical to that approved in Johnson v. City of Baton Rouge, Louisiana (E.D.La. 1970) 50 F.R.D. 295, 298.

[FN 3] See Vasquez v. Superior Court, supra, 4 Cal.3d 800, 821.
Nor is there merit to defendant's claim a court may not on its own motion order notice to class members. Notice is mandatory under the federal rules (rule 23(c)(2)) and should be ordered as soon as possible after the court determines the class action appropriate. (Wright & Miller, supra, § 1788, p. 163.) Because of the constitutional importance of notifying absent class members -- who are suddenly before the court -- such notice should not be left to the whim of litigants.

The order here did not determine the form of notice, but were the class action to be upheld, the appropriate form could be determined in further trial court proceedings.

Ability to Satisfy the Claims Statutes

Defendant asserts the trial court abused its discretion in certifying this purported class because the claims statutes prohibit maintenance of class actions against governmental entities for inverse condemnation and nuisance. It contends a class claim can never be filed which would fulfill the statutory requirements, relying on language to this effect in Bozaich v. State of California (1973) 32 Cal.App.3d 688 [108 Cal.Rptr. 392].

In considering defendant's contention we start from certain well-settled foundations: In actions for damages against local public entities, the claims statutes require timely filing of a proper claim as condition precedent to the maintenance of the action. (Gov. Code, §§ 905, 945.4; County of San Luis Obispo v. Ranchita Cattle Co. (1971) 16 Cal.App.3d 383, 390 [94 Cal.Rptr. 73].); compliance with the claims statutes is mandatory (Farrell v. County of Placer (1944) 23 Cal.2d 624, 630 [145 P.2d 570, 153 A.L.R. 323]); and failure to file a claim is fatal to the cause of action (Johnson v. City of Oakland (1961) 188 Cal.App.2d 181, 183 [10 Cal.Rptr. 409].)

The claims statutes provisions apply to actions brought both for nuisance and for inverse condemnation. (Bellman v. County of Contra Costa (1960) 54 Cal.2d 363, 369 [5 Cal.Rptr. 692, 353 P.2d 300]; Dorow v. Santa Clara County Flood Control Dist. (1970) 4 Cal.App.3d 389, 391 [84 Cal.Rptr. 518]; Mosesian v. County of Fresno (1972) 28 Cal.App.3d 493, 495 [104 Cal.Rptr. 655].) The fact that inverse condemnation is founded directly on the California Constitution (art. I, § 14) neither excuses plaintiffs from compliance with the claims statutes (Powers Farms v. Consolidated Irr. Dist. (1941) 19 Cal.2d 123, 126 [119 P.2d 717]; Dorow v. Santa Clara County Flood Control Dist., supra, 4 Cal.App.3d 389, 391-392), nor renders the claims statutes unconstitutional. (Crescent Wharf etc. Co. v. Los Angeles (1929) 207 Cal. 430 [278 P. 1028]; [FN 4] Dorow v. Santa Clara County Flood Control Dist., supra, 4 Cal.App.3d 389, 391-392.)

[FN 4] Overruled on other grounds in Wilson v. Beville (1957) 47 Cal.2d 852, 861 [306 P.2d 789].
Plaintiffs contend, and the trial court concluded, that the class claim filed here satisfied the claims statutes because the city had been provided with notice and information regarding the rights asserted against it, inasmuch as "a number of individuals potentially within the class had filed claims against the city in the past few years." Hence, the city could not sustain a claim of surprise.

We cannot accept this contention. It is not the purpose of the claims statutes to prevent surprise. Rather, the purpose of these statutes is to provide the public entity sufficient information to enable it to adequately investigate claims and to settle them, if appropriate, without the expense of litigation. (Eastlick v. City of Los Angeles (1947) 29 Cal.2d 661, 667 [177 P.2d 558, 170 A.L.R. 225]; Jackson v. Board of Education (1967) 250 Cal.App.2d 856, 859 [58 Cal.Rptr. 763].) It is well-settled that claims statutes must be satisfied even in face of the public entity's actual knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the claim. Such knowledge -- standing alone -- constitutes neither substantial compliance nor basis for estoppel. (Hall v. City of Los Angeles (1941) 19 Cal.2d 198, 203 [120 P.2d 13]; Powers Farms v. Consolidated Irr. Dist., supra, 19 Cal.2d 123, 130; Johnson v. City of Oakland, supra, 188 Cal.App.2d 181, 184; Allen v. L. A. City Board of Education (1959) 173 Cal.App.2d 126, 129 [343 P.2d 170]; Ghiozzi v. City of South San Francisco (1946) 72 Cal.App.2d 472, 476 [164 P.2d 902]; Eppstein v. City of Berkeley (1942) 52 Cal.App.2d 395, 397 [126 P.2d 365].)

Thus, having rejected the trial court's rationale for finding the claim sufficient, we turn to defendant's contention that it is impossible for a class claim to satisfy the claims statutes and, therefore, the statutes prohibit the maintenance of such actions against governmental entities.

The applicable claims statute (Gov. Code, § 910) provides in part: "A claim shall be presented by the claimant or by a person acting on his behalf and shall show: [¶] (a) The name and post office address of the claimant; [¶] (b) The post office address to which the person presenting the claim desires notices to be sent; [¶] (c) The date, place and other circumstances of the occurrence or transaction which gave rise to the claim asserted; ... and [¶] (f) The amount claimed as of the date of presentation of the claim, including the estimated amount of any prospective injury, damage, or loss, insofar as it may be known at the time of the presentation of the claim, together with the basis of computation of the amount claimed."

In determining the quantity of information required in a class claim to satisfy the provisions of the above section, we note the cases gauging sufficiency of claims must be divided into two groups.

The first treats claims where there has been some compliance with all the required elements -- but compliance has been defective. (See, e.g., Rowan v. City etc. of San Francisco (1966) 244 Cal.App.2d 308 [53 Cal.Rptr. 88] (described place of accident as "3350 Scott St." instead of "3358-3360 Scott St."); Johnson v. City of Oakland, supra, 188 Cal.App.2d 181 (indicated accident occurred in front of 1819 35th Avenue instead of 1819 34th Avenue); Johnson v. City of Los Angeles (1955) 134 Cal.App.2d 600 [285 P.2d 713] (indicated accident occurred on southeast corner instead of southwest corner of intersection); Sandstoe v. Atchison, T. & S. F. Ry. Co. (1938) 28 Cal.App.2d 215 [82 P.2d 216] (verified by father instead of claimant minor child).) In these cases the test of "substantial compliance" controls: Is there sufficient information disclosed on the face of the filed claim to reasonably enable the public entity to make an adequate investigation of the merits of the claim and to settle it without the expense of a lawsuit?

In the second group of cases the courts have been less lenient. Here, claims were successfully challenged for failure to comply entirely with a particular statutory requirement. (See, e.g., Hall v. City of Los Angeles, supra, 19 Cal.2d 198 (failure to state place of accident); Whitson v. LaPay (1957) 153 Cal.App.2d 584 [315 P.2d 45] (claim unverified); Ghiozzi v. City of South San Francisco, supra, 72 Cal.App.2d 472 (failure to state date and place of occurrence); Eppstein v. City of Berkeley, supra, 52 Cal.App.2d 395 (failure to state address of claimant).) In determining the sufficiency of such claims, the more liberal test of substantial compliance has not been applied -- the courts recognizing "[s]ubstantial compliance cannot be predicated upon no compliance." (Hall v. City of Los Angeles, supra, 19 Cal.2d 198, 202; Johnson v. City of Oakland, supra, 188 Cal.App.2d 181, 183.)

From these two groups, we conclude that to gauge the sufficiency of a particular claim, two tests shall be applied: Is there some compliance with all of the statutory requirements; and, if so, is this compliance sufficient to constitute substantial compliance?

To ascertain the quantity of information required in a class claim to satisfy the threshold "some compliance" test, we must first determine the meaning of "claimant" in section 910 as it relates to a class. There are two alternatives: "Claimant" can either be equated with each individual member of the class or with the class itself.

We conclude "claimant," as used in section 910, must be equated with the class itself and therefore reject the suggested necessity for filing an individual claim for each member of the purported class. To require such detailed information in advance of the complaint would severely restrict the maintenance of appropriate class actions -- contrary to recognized policy favoring them. (Code Civ. Proc., § 382; see also Vasquez v. Superior Court, supra, 4 Cal.3d 800.) We do not believe the claims statutes were intended to thwart class relief. [FN 5]

[FN 5] Language indicating a contrary conclusion in Bozaich v. State of California, supra, 32 Cal.App.3d 688, must be read in light of that court's limitation of its holding in its footnote 5, page 699, recognizing the possibility of proper class claims.
Moreover, treating the class as claimant is consistent with treatment of the class for purposes of filing the complaint. (8) While section 422.40 of the Code of Civil Procedure requires a complaint to name the "parties," it is settled the pleading need only establish the existence of an ascertainable class rather than name each member of the class. (Daar v. Yellow Cab Co. (1967) 67 Cal.2d 695, 706 [63 Cal.Rptr. 724, 433 P.2d 732].)

Thus, to satisfy the claims statutes, the class claim must provide the name, address, and other specified information concerning the representative plaintiff and then sufficient information to identify and make ascertainable the class itself. Because such information would meet the statutory requirements of name and address, any effort to identify the class would satisfy the some compliance test. Beyond this, the sufficiency of the identifying information must be measured by the substantial compliance test.

It is therefore clear a class claim may satisfy the claims statutes requirements. Thus, we conclude these statutes do not prohibit class actions against governmental entities for inverse condemnation and nuisance.

However, defendant next argues that even if some class claims satisfy the claims statutes, the claim filed here failed to do so because the description of the class as those people "similarly situated" is insufficient to constitute substantial compliance.

While, as noted above, we cannot accept the "no surprise" rationale by which the trial court approved the claim filed here, we need not decide whether this claim was sufficient. Extraordinary relief is not available to remedy defective compliance with claims statutes. (County of Santa Clara v. Superior Court (1971) 4 Cal.3d 545, 547-551 [94 Cal.Rptr. 158, 483 P.2d 774]; Redlands etc. Sch. Dist. v. Superior Court (1942) 20 Cal.2d 348, 360 [125 P.2d 490].)

Insufficient Community of Interest

Defendant next contends the trial court abused its discretion by certifying this class because there is an insufficient community of interest. The contention is correct.

The class action is a product of the court of equity - codified in section 382 of the Code of Civil Procedure. It rests on considerations of necessity and convenience, adopted to prevent a failure of justice. (Daar v. Yellow Cab Co., supra, 67 Cal.2d 695, 703-704.)

But while this section was designed to foster justice, class actions may create injustice. The class action may deprive an absent class member of the opportunity to independently press his claim, preclude a defendant from defending each individual claim to its fullest, and even deprive a litigant of a constitutional right. (Note, Class Actions and Interpleader: California Procedure and the Federal Rules (1953) 6 Stan.L.Rev. 120; Simon, Class Actions -- Useful Tool or Engine of Destruction (1971) 7 Lincoln L.Rev. 20, 22; Note, Comments on Vasquez v. Superior Court (1971) 18 U.C.L.A. L.Rev. 1041, 1052, fn. 50, 1064.)

The initial response to these dangers was that, despite their widespread recognition, class suits were largely restricted. (Comment, Vasquez v. Superior Court of San Joaquin County: A Class Action in Consumer Fraud (1971) 8 Cal.Western L.Rev. 165, 167.) However, in more recent times, this restrictive tendency has dissipated as class actions have been utilized more extensively to meet the growing number of alleged "group wrongs" in an increasingly complex society.

Dealing with class actions in the past, this court has eliminated the requirements of a "common fund" (Chance v. Superior Court (1962) 58 Cal.2d 275, 288 [23 Cal.Rptr. 761, 373 P.2d 849]); a "common recovery" (Daar v. Yellow Cab Co., supra, 67 Cal.2d 695, 707); and the necessity that class members be "necessary parties." (Weaver v. Pasadena Tournament of Roses (1948) 32 Cal.2d 833, 841 [198 P.2d 514].) It has adopted new procedures to make the use of class suits more effective - again, urging the trial courts to be innovative. (Vasquez v. Superior Court, supra, 4 Cal.3d 800, 820-821.)

However, despite this court's general support of class actions, it has not been unmindful of the accompanying dangers of injustice or of the limited scope within which these suits serve beneficial purposes. Instead, it has consistently admonished trial courts to carefully weigh respective benefits and burdens and to allow maintenance of the class action only where substantial benefits accrue both to litigants and the courts. (Collins v. Rocha (1972) 7 Cal.3d 232, 238 [108 Cal.Rptr. 1, 497 P.2d 225]; Vasquez v. Superior Court, supra, 4 Cal.3d 800, 810; Daar v. Yellow Cab Co., supra, 67 Cal.2d 695, 713.) It has also urged that the same procedures facilitating proper class actions be used to prevent class suits where they prove nonbeneficial. [FN 6]

[FN 6] In Vasquez v. Superior Court, supra, 4 Cal.3d 800, 820-821, this court utilized the Consumers Legal Remedies Act to provide a hearing wherein the plaintiff would be required to demonstrate the appropriateness of maintaining the action as a class. Additionally, it incorporated the provisions of rule 23 (c)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to make the trial court's certification of the class conditional so that the court would be able to respond should the class later appear inappropriate.
The trial court, in utilizing these procedures, certified the class appropriate -- concluding there is as much community of interest here as in Daar and Vasquez. It further expressed belief that recent decisions by this court cast doubt on the continued validity of older cases such as Weaver v. Pasadena Tournament of Roses, supra, 32 Cal.2d 833. The trial court erred in both conclusions.

Holding that a class action cannot be maintained where each member's right to recover depends on facts peculiar to his case, Weaver remains viable in this state. The rule exists because the community of interest requirement is not satisfied if every member of the alleged class would be required to litigate numerous and substantial questions determining his individual right to recover following the "class judgment" determining issues common to the purported class. (32 Cal.2d at pp. 838-840, 842-843.)

This court has consistently recognized the continued validity of this rule. (See Daar v. Yellow Cab Co., supra, 67 Cal.2d 695, 704-705, 707-708; Chance v. Superior Court, supra, 58 Cal.2d 275, 285; Vasquez v. Superior Court, supra, 4 Cal.3d 800, 809, 811, 815-816; Collins v. Rocha, supra, 7 Cal.3d 232, 237-238.) Most significantly, in Gerhard v. Stephens (1968) 68 Cal.2d 864 [69 Cal.Rptr. 612, 442 P.2d 692], this court, based on this rule, refused to certify a class suit, stating, "'Applicable precedents indicate that in observing the ascertainable class requirement they are at the same time giving recognition to the principle that a group of individuals' rights to recover, each of which is based on a separate set of facts, cannot be determined by a judgment in a class action.' [Citation.]" (68 Cal.2d at p. 912.)

The Courts of Appeal have likewise recognized the continued validity of Weaver, refusing to certify classes where the rule applied. (See, for example, Bozaich v. State of California, supra, 32 Cal.App.3d 688, 694-696; Stilson v. Reader's Digest Assn., Inc. (1972) 28 Cal.App.3d 270, 274 [104 Cal.Rptr. 581]; Diamond v. General Motors Corp. (1971) 20 Cal.App.3d 374, 380 [97 Cal.Rptr. 639, 47 A.L.R.3d 759].)

In determining whether sufficient community of interest exists to justify the maintenance of a class action, we start from certain settled premises: Before the imposition of a judgment binding on absent parties can be justified, it must be shown that substantial benefits both to the litigants and to the court will result. (Daar v. Yellow Cab Co., supra, 67 Cal.2d 695, 713; Vasquez v. Superior Court, supra, 4 Cal.3d 800, 810.) The burden of such a showing falls on plaintiff (Vasquez v. Superior Court, supra, 4 Cal.3d 800, 820), and the ultimate determination of whether the class action is appropriate turns on the existence and extent of common questions of law and fact. As noted above, each member must not be required to individually litigate numerous and substantial questions to determine his right to recover following the class judgment; and the issues which may be jointly tried, when compared with those requiring separate adjudication, must be sufficiently numerous and substantial to make the class action advantageous to the judicial process and to the litigants. (Collins v. Rocha, supra, 7 Cal.3d 232, 238.)

In applying these premises, it must be concluded the instant facts do not present a community of interest comparable to Daar or Vasquez. In those cases, the issue of the defendant's liability to the class as a whole could be determined by facts common to all. Liability to the class could be established by evidence defendant engaged in an illegal scheme to cheat or overcharge patrons, coupled with a showing from defendant's own books that defendant was successful in his scheme. [FN 7]

[FN 7] Similarly, see Collins v. Rocha, supra, 7 Cal.3d 232; La Sala v. American Sav. & Loan Assn. (1971) 5 Cal.3d 864 [97 Cal.Rptr. 849, 489 P.2d 1113]; Metowski v. Traid Corp. (1972) 28 Cal.App.3d 332 [104 Cal.Rptr. 599]; Fanucchi v. Coberly-West Co. (1957) 151 Cal.App.2d 72 [311 P.2d 33]; cf. Diamond v. General Motors Corp., supra, 20 Cal.App.3d 374.

Continued in Part Two