The state Supreme Court has denied a request by San Diego attorney Cory Briggs and his nonprofit client, CREED-21, to unpublish a precedent-setting opinion involving the California Environmental Quality Act and a Wal-Mart project in Riverside County.
In the past, plaintiffs in CEQA trials didn’t have to do much to prove “standing.” Standing means a client must have something at stake in the case. Instead, a number of factors “have all conspired to allow CEQA litigation standing abuses to become a large – and largely unchecked – problem,” according to Arthur Coon, an environmental and land-use attorney with Miller Starr Regalia. (Coon’s firm had no part in the CREED-21 lawsuit).
Wal-Mart argued that CREED-21 lacked standing and asked Briggs to produce a client for deposition. Briggs refused and said the group’s membership was irrelevant. The court then ordered CREED-21 to produce a member. Briggs did not comply, so the court issued a sanction that resulted in ending the case.
The 4th District Court of Appeal published an opinion on Dec. 19 that affirmed the sanction. CREED-21 petitioned the Supreme Court in January to review that decision, and the court denied the request Wednesday. The action also puts an end to CREED-21’s nearly three-year-old environmental lawsuit against the city of Wildomar and a Wal-Mart development.
Wal-Mart’s attorney in the case, Keli Osaki, told inewsource the opinion confirms that parties on the receiving end of these lawsuits “may conduct discovery on issues such as whether a CEQA petitioner is a shell corporation used by its attorney to obtain attorneys’ fees.”
Wal-Mart’s argument in the case echoed those of Briggs’ courtroom opponents in the past – that CREED-21 is a shell corporation Briggs Law Corp. uses to collect attorney fees from large corporations and government agencies. inewsource has documented at least 48 Briggs-related nonprofits – the majority of which have no real-world presence outside a courtroom and have Briggs’ family or close associates as board members.
Briggs, who is out of the country without email access, could not be reached for comment.
For details about the case, see inewsource’s previous coverage here.
We’ll let you know when big things happen.