Court Declines to Address Issue of Future Prescription in Appeal to Santa Maria Groundwater Adjudication

February 2020

California Water Law & Policy Reporter, Volume 30, Number 5

On December 12, 2019, a three-justice panel of the Sixth District Court of Appeal released a third published opinion in the decades-long adjudication of the Santa Maria Groundwater Basin. (City of Santa Maria v. Adam (2019) 43 Cal.App.5th 152.) Following a multiphase trial and during the pendency of a second appeal to the underlying judgment, a group of overlying groundwater users sought clarification from the trial court on whether the overlying rights established in the adjudication were subject to future prescription. The trial court denied the motion on substantive grounds, and the reviewing Sixth District Court of Appeal concluded that the appellants were not entitled to clarification because doing so would require the trial court to answer a hypothetical question without adequate evidence that an actual controversy existed between the parties. Because there was no live controversy, the issue was not ripe and thus not judiciable. The Court of Appeal reversed and remanded the matter to the trial court to issue a decision denying the motion to clarify on the sole ground that the issue was not ripe.

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