By Cori M. Badgley

Adam Bros. Farming, Inc. (“Adam”) has spent many years and a lot of money battling the County of Santa Barbara (“county”) over its wetlands delineation that covered land farmed by Adam. The saga began in California superior court, in which Adam brought suit claiming violations of the federal Equal Protection, Due Process and Takings clauses and seeking damages and declaratory and injunctive relief. The superior court found the takings claims were not ripe, and Adam amended its complaint to eliminate those claims. At trial, the court awarded Adam declaratory and injunctive relief and a jury awarded Adam damages. On appeal, the appellate court eliminated the damages, but upheld the declaratory and injunctive relief, holding that the wetlands delineation was contrary to law. See $5 Million Judgment Against Santa Barbara County Overturned by Appellate Court.

In an effort to obtain compensation from the County of Santa Barbara, Adam then went to federal court alleging violations of the federal Takings Clause. Adam lost at the district court based on procedural issues and appealed. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal also ruled against Adam based on procedural issues in Adam Bros. Farming, Inc. v. County of Santa Barbara (2010) 604 F.3d 1142, which is where Adam’s story ends.

According to the Ninth Circuit, Adam’s takings claim was barred by the doctrine of res judicata. Res judicata bars a plaintiff from re-adjudicating claims that have already been decided by another court. In this case, the Ninth Circuit found that the claims adjudicated by the state court involved the same underlying facts, and the fact that Adam decided to amend its complaint by eliminating the takings claims did not bar the application of res judicata to those claims. Therefore, Adam will not be receiving any compensation for the county’s faulty wetlands delineation, and Adam’s fight against the county has finally come to an end.

Cori M. Badgley is an associate at Abbott & Kindermann, LLP.  For questions relating to this article or any other California land use, real estate, environmental and/or planning issues contact Abbott & Kindermann, LLP at (916) 456-9595.

The information presented in this article should not be construed to be formal legal advice by Abbott & Kindermann, LLP, nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship. Because of the changing nature of this area of the law and the importance of individual facts, readers are encouraged to seek independent counsel for advice regarding their individual legal issues.