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,
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.
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
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,
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].)
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.
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
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.)
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.
Moreover, treating the class as claimant is consistent with treatment of the class for purposes of filing the complaint.
It is therefore clear a class claim may satisfy the claims statutes requirements.
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.
INSUFFICIENT COMMUNITY OF INTEREST
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
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.
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.
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
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].)
However, the present action for nuisance and inverse condemnation is
The uncontradicted evidence reveals the development, character, and uses of the geographic region of this proposed class are diverse. Within the region are industrial plants, public buildings, body shops, warehouses, gas stations, office buildings, multi-unit apartments, single family residences, and vacant land — some being farmed. The region is bisected by a major thoroughfare and bounded by a highway. Finally, a railroad right-of-way passes through a portion of the proposed region.
Plaintiffs attempt to avoid the application of Weaver to this case, and thereby to sustain the class, by avoiding the need for individual evaluation. They attempt to divide the parcels of land represented by the class into subclassifications and then to determine, as a group, the diminution in value for all members in each subclassification. This scheme fails in two respects.
First, the scheme necessarily requires plaintiffs to disregard all liability for other forms of damage (i.e., actual physical injury to the property). As we shall conclude below, the representative of a class may not be allowed to commit such a breach of a fiduciary duty. Hence, the proposed classification system is unacceptable.
Second, the scheme is incompatible with the fundamental maxim that each parcel of land is unique. (Civ. Code, § 3387; see also Porporato v. Devincenzi (1968) 261 Cal.App.2d 670, 677 [68 Cal.Rptr. 210].) Although this rule was created at common law, the very factors giving it vitality in the simple days of its genesis take on added significance in this modern era of development. Simply stated, there are now more
We decline to alter this rule of substantive law to make class actions more available.
Moreover, even were we to allow a subclassification process here, the factors giving the uniqueness rule vitality would serve to break down the alleged beneficial aspects which such a process might yield under these facts, making a class action here unmanageable. Given the many recognized factors combining to make up the uniqueness of each parcel of land, the number of subclassifications into which the class would be required to be divided to yield any meaningful result would be substantial. Then, because liability is here predicated on variables like the degree of noise, vapor, and vibration, the problem is compounded by the factors of distance and direction affecting these variables. The result becomes a statistical permutation, and the requisite number of subclassifications quickly approaches the total number of parcels in the class. Under such circumstances, there is little or no benefit in maintaining the action as a class.
Conversely, these uniqueness factors weigh heavily in favor of requiring independent litigation of the liability to each parcel and its owner. Because liability here is predicated on the impact of certain activities on a particular piece of land, the factors determinative of the close issue of liability are the specific characteristics of that parcel. The grouping and treating of a number of different parcels together, however, necessarily diminishes the ability to evaluate the merits of each parcel. The superficial adjudications which class treatment here would entail could deprive either the defendant or the members of the class — or both — of a fair trial. Reason and the constitutional mandates of due process compel us to deny sanction to such a proceeding.
INADEQUACY OF REPRESENTATION
Because we conclude there is insufficient community of interest here to sustain a class suit, and because plaintiffs, in violation of a fiduciary duty, would fail to adequately represent the members of the alleged class, we conclude the trial court's certification of this purported class constitutes a substantial abuse of discretion, for which mandamus lies as a remedy. (Vasquez v. Superior Court, supra, 4 Cal.3d 800, 805-806, 825; Chance v. Superior Court, supra, 58 Cal.2d 275, 278; State Farm etc. Ins. Co. v. Superior Court (1956) 47 Cal.2d 428, 432 [304 P.2d 13].)
The writ of mandamus is granted. The trial court is ordered to vacate its order certifying the class and to enter an order dismissing the class action portion of the above-entitled matter. The alternative writ of prohibition is discharged.
Wright, C.J., McComb, J., and Burke, J., concurred.
The issue before us is whether the trial court abused its discretion in certifying this case as a class action. The majority, however, give no deference to that court's exercise of its discretion. In a one-sided presentation, the majority opinion notes the individual issues which divide the proposed class, but pays little heed to the more significant common issues of law and fact which unite the class; observes the burden of class litigation but overlooks the far greater burden of individual suits; claims to protect the rights of class members to claim damages, but takes from them the most effective means of enforcing that right. The trial judge carefully weighed the benefits and burdens of a class proceeding, and concluded that maintenance of this suit as a class action would yield a substantial saving of time and expense; the majority lean on the scales.
"[T]he determination of the question whether a class action is appropriate will depend upon whether the common questions are sufficiently pervasive to permit adjudication in a class action rather than in a multiplicity of suits." (Vasquez v. Superior Court (1971) 4 Cal.3d 800, 810 [94 Cal.Rptr. 796, 484 P.2d 964, 53 A.L.R.3d 513]; see Collins v. Rocha (1972) 7 Cal.3d 232, 238 [102 Cal.Rptr. 1, 497 P.2d 225].) In the instant case, the underlying legal controversies respecting the liability of an airport for diminution of the market value of adjoining property, the defense of governmental immunity, and the matter of compliance with the claims
The diverse issues stressed in the majority opinion relate to the proof of damages,
As we suggested in Vasquez v. Superior Court, supra, 4 Cal.3d at page 821, and as plaintiffs have proposed here, the class could be divided into subclasses for purpose of trial. Perhaps the trial court could devise a procedure under which a joint trial on the common issues of law and fact would be followed by individual or subclass hearings on diverse issues. In Vasquez we enjoined the trial courts to "adopt innovative procedures which will be fair to the litigants and expedient in serving the judicial process" (4 Cal.3d at p. 821); we should not hastily assume that the trial court's creativity will be unequal to that task in the instant case.
Rejecting the subclassification proposed by plaintiffs, the majority bar maintenance of this suit as a class action on three grounds: (1) that plaintiffs do not properly represent the members of the class; (2) that subclassification offends against the principle that each parcel of land is unique; and
In order to eliminate issues which affect only a portion of the class, plaintiffs limited their prayer for damages to the diminution in market value caused by the flights, and declined to seek additional damages for annoyance, inconvenience, or actual physical injury. The majority maintain that plaintiffs' failure to claim damages for such harm constitutes a breach of the fiduciary duty owing by plaintiffs to the class they represent.
This court gave short shrift to a similar contention in Chance v. Superior Court (1962) 58 Cal.2d 275 [23 Cal.Rptr. 761, 373 P.2d 849]. In the present case, as in Chance, "all of the members of the instant class are ascertainable ..., and it is assumed that they will be given notice of the pending class ... action by registered mail or other like reliable method ..., thereby being afforded an opportunity to decide whether to appear and argue for any and all appropriate or available forms of redress desirable from their individual points of view...." (58 Cal.2d at p. 290.) Thus the continued maintenance of this suit as a class action will permit the class members to choose between asserting their individual damage claims upon whatever theory they select and taking advantage of the economy and convenience of class representation.
Under these circumstances, the assertion that the plaintiffs are not properly representing the class, especially when presented by the defendant, strikes a hypocritical note. The majority opinion speaks of protecting the right of class members to damages, but destroys what may be the only efficient means of redress. The cost and inconvenience of individual litigation may very well dissuade many members of the class from instituting individual suits, and the result of the present decision will then be that such members will recover no damages for loss of market value nor for any other harm.
The majority's assertion that subclassification in the present case is incompatible with the maxim that each parcel of land is unique is both historically and logically unsound. This venerable maxim, which for centuries has served the useful but limited purpose of permitting equitable suits for specific performance of land sale contracts, has nothing to do with class actions. Uniqueness means only that each parcel of land differs in some particular from every other parcel, just as each person differs in some way from every other person. A valid classification, or subclassification, however, does not require that all members of the class possess identical characteristics; it requires only the existence of "issues common
Indeed, this court and others have often entertained actions brought on behalf of a class composed of the owners of interests in real property. (See, e.g., Chance v. Superior Court, supra, 58 Cal.2d 275 (action to foreclose trust deeds); Bauman v. Islay Investments (1973) 30 Cal.App.3d 752 [106 Cal.Rptr. 889] (tenants' action to construe lease); Foster v. City of Detroit, Michigan (6th Cir.1968) 405 F.2d 138 (inverse condemnation); Biechele v. Norfolk & Western Railway Co. (N.D.Ohio 1969) 309 F.Supp. 354 [7 A.L.R.Fed. 894] (nuisance).) The unique character of land did not destroy the classification in those cases; I perceive no reason why the maxim should carry greater weight in the present case.
Finally, the majority assert that since the liability to each landowner will depend upon the use of each parcel, and such variables as noise, vapor, and vibration, compounded by factors of distance and direction, the number of subclassifications required approaches a statistical permutation of these elements. The reasoning is statistically erroneous, since it assumes that each element listed is independent of every other element. If, as seems more likely, the degree of noise, vapor, and vibration each vary directly with distance from the flight path, then these elements are not independent factors and do not require separate classification. (Cf. People v. Collins (1968) 68 Cal.2d 319, 328-329 [66 Cal.Rptr. 497, 438 P.2d 33, 36 A.L.R. 3d 1176].) The majority's reasoning is also legally meritless, for it assumes that each diverse issue compels the creation of a separate subclass, an assumption which conflicts with the principle that class litigation requires only that common issues predominate over diverse issues.
What the majority opinion overlooks are the manifest benefits arising from the use of a class action to resolve the controversy concerning noise and vibration damage to property in the vicinity of the San Jose Municipal Airport. There are 733 parcels within the area described by plaintiffs' complaint.
I conclude that neither the grounds stated in the majority opinion, nor the diverse issues here present, preclude the maintenance of this suit as a class action. The substantial saving in judicial time and litigation expense which would result from use of the class action format fully justify the trial court's exercise of its discretion.
Mosk, J. and Taylor, J.
The petitions of the real parties for a rehearing were denied October 2, 1974. Sullivan, J., did not participate therein. Tobriner, J., and Mosk, J., were of the opinion that the petitions should be granted.