California Supreme Court Upholds Strict Interpretation of CEQA 35-Day Statute of Limitations

On April 1, 2010, the California Supreme Court held that even if there are alleged flaws in the decision-making process underlying a CEQA notice of exemption (“NOE”) and the project approval, the 35-day time period in which to file a lawsuit challenging the NOE determination still runs from the day the NOE is filed and posted. The Supreme Court rejected plaintiff’s claims that a NOE can trigger the 35-day limitations period only if it announces a valid project approval, explaining that plaintiff’s argument “runs counter to the principle that limitations periods apply regardless of the merits of the claims asserted, and do not depend on whether a timely action would have been successful. It also contravenes the purpose of notice-based statutes of limitations, as well as the Legislature’s intent–clearly expressed in section 21167(d)–that suits claiming an agency has “improperly determined” a project to be exempt from CEQA must be brought within 35 days after an NOE that complies with CEQA requirements is filed.” The Court also rejected plaintiff’s claim that the NOE was invalid for failing to identify the name of the retail store being developed, holding that the NOE complied in form and content with CEQA’s requirements.

Stockton Citizens for Sensible Planning v. City of Stockton, 2010 Cal. LEXIS 2358 (2010)