January 31, 2023

Volume XIII, Number 31

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January 30, 2023

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California: If A Tree Falls In The City, Is It Serving A Public Purpose?

Today’s posting has nothing to do with corporate law and everything to do with trees.  On November 30 and December 1, 2011, the City of Pasadena experienced an unusually violent windstorm.  Wind speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour were recorded within the city, toppling over 5,000 municipally owned trees.  See Pasadena Tree Failure Analysis (July 2012).  One of these trees fell on the home of James O’Halloran.  Fortunately, the homeowner was insured and he received $293,000 in compensation for his loss.  His insurance company then sued the city for inverse condemnation and nuisance.

But why would the insurer sue for inverse condemnation if the city didn’t take Mr. O’Halloran’s house?  It turns out that Article I, Section 19 of the California Constitution provides that private property “may be taken or damaged for a public use and only when just compensation . . . has first been paid to the . . . owner”.  In City of Pasadena v. Superior Court2014 Cal. App. LEXIS 733 (Aug. 14, 2014), the Court of Appeal found that an inverse condemnation claim requires (1) a deliberate action by the state; and (2) a furtherance of a public purpose.

The Court of Appeal found evidence demonstrating that both of these elements were met.  First, the Court found that the tree was a “street tree” that was part of the city’s program to enhance residents’ and visitors’ quality of life.  I don’t think that the Court was casting any aspersions on the tree just because it was living on the streets.  In fact, homelessness in the case of trees may be a positive virtue.  Second, the Court found that trees served the public purpose of improving public roads. Thus, the Court found that the trial court properly denied summary adjudication for the city.

© 2010-2023 Allen Matkins Leck Gamble Mallory & Natsis LLP National Law Review, Volume IV, Number 231
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About this Author

Keith Paul Bishop, Corporate Transactions Lawyer, finance securities attorney, Allen Matkins Law Firm
Partner

Keith Bishop works with privately held and publicly traded companies on federal and state corporate and securities transactions, compliance, and governance matters. He is highly-regarded for his in-depth knowledge of the distinctive corporate and regulatory requirements faced by corporations in the state of California.

While many law firms have a great deal of expertise in federal or Delaware corporate law, Keith’s specific focus on California corporate and securities law is uncommon. A former California state regulator of securities and financial institutions, Keith has decades of...

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