Sixth District Court of Appeal Holds Breach of Public Trust Doctrine Claim Not Ripe for Adjudication in the Absence of Petitioner’s Exhaustion of its Administrative Remedies

In Monterey Coastkeeper v. Monterey Water Resources Agency (2017) ___ Cal.App.5th ___ (Case No. H042623), the Sixth District Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s judgment granting Monterey Coastkeeper’s petition for writ of mandate for violation of section 13260 of the Porter-Cologne Act (failure to file a report of waste discharge), holding that the petitioner had failed to exhaust its administrative remedies.

The Monterey County Water Resources Agency (MCWRA) is a flood control and water agency responsible for operation of the Reclamation Ditch and the Blanco Drain, which collects agricultural wastewater and eventually discharges into surface waters that are subject to the Porter-Cologne Act. Petitioner Monterey Coastkeeper alleged that the MCWRA was in violation of section 13260 of the Porter-Cologne Act for failing to submit a report of waste discharge to the Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB) as required under Porter-Cologne.

Petitioner claimed that it did not have an administrative remedy because the Porter-Cologne Act did not have a defined procedure to administratively pursue grievances for failure to file a report of waste discharge. The court disagreed. It stated that the Porter-Cologne Act expressly gives the RWQCB the authority to require a report of waste discharge, and to hold a discharger civilly liable for failure to do so. The Porter-Cologne Act further provides that the RWQCB may be requested to act, and their decision is appealable to the State Water Resources Control Board. The State Water Resources Control Board decision or order is then subject to judicial review by a writ of mandate. The court found that petitioner could have followed these statutory procedures—but it had not done so. The court held that petitioner had failed to exhaust its administrative remedies.

Due to its failure to exhaust, the court further found that petitioner’s claim for breach of duty under the public trust doctrine was unripe. The court held that because petitioner had not initiated the administrative review process, there was no administrative record upon which to base a decision as to whether the public trust doctrine had been violated.