Panel Denies Bid to Decide Permissibility of $80 Million Expenditure, Citing Mootness
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal for this district yesterday rejected a plea to decide, despite mootness, the legality of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s action in funneling nearly $80 million into a program under which undocumented aliens received $500 in unemployment benefits in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Presiding Justice Laurence D. Rubin of Div. Five wrote the opinion which affirms Los Angeles Superior Court Assistant Presiding Judge Samantha P. Jessner’s denial of a temporary restraining program.
The money has already been spent, Rubin said, and there’s no need for the court to exercise it’s prerogative of deciding a controversy where no relief can be provided.
Newsom on April 15, 2020, announced in a press release that the Disaster Relief Assistance for Immigrants Project would be set up. The release explained:
“Approximately 150,000 undocumented adult Californians will receive a one-time cash benefit of $500 per adult with a cap of $1,000 per household to deal with specific needs arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. Individuals can apply for support beginning next month.
“The state’s Disaster Relief Fund will be dispersed through a community-based model of regional nonprofits with expertise and experience serving undocumented communities.”
Except for that project, illegal aliens would be ineligible for any unemployment benefits.
Although the project had not been expressly authorized by legislation, the Legislature did on March 16, 2020, enact an emergency measure appropriating $500 million for pandemic relief projects and authorizing additional spending for that purpose of up to $1 billion in total, with disbursements to be made by director of finance, Keely Bosler.
Of the $79.8 million allocated to the project, $75,000 was for benefits and the balance for administrative expenses.
The Center for American Liberty and the Dhillon Law Group filed a petition for a writ of mandate in the California Supreme Court on April 22, 2020 to block implementation of the project. The petition was summarily denied on May 6, 2020.
Superior Court Action
Meanwhile, an unrelated action was filed in the Los Angeles Superior Court on April 29. The plaintiffs on May 4 filed an ex parte application for a temporary restraining order, arguing:
“Without a restraining order, those funds will be spent, and there is no way of recovering them after they are distributed.”
They added, “Once the direct cash benefits are distributed to unlawfully present aliens in violation of federal law, the injury cannot be remedied.”
On May 5, Jessner denied the application, finding “that plaintiffs have not met their burden to support the requested relief.”
On May 14, the plaintiffs sought a writ in the Court of Appeal “commanding Respondent to issue a temporary restraining order restraining and enjoining Real Parties in Interest from making an imminent illegal expenditure of $79.8 million of taxpayers’ funds pending the final determination of a taxpayer action brought by Petitioners in the lower court.”
Four days later, Div. Eight denied the petition, pointing out that an order denying a temporary restraining order is appealable. An appeal was filed; yesterday, it was dismissed as moot.
“On the record before us, the Project provided for ‘one-time’ payments, and the payments were made more than a year ago,” Rubin wrote. “The issue of whether the trial court should temporarily restrain the distribution of payments pending litigation is moot.”
The presiding justice added:
“A court may resolve an otherwise moot case if it raises an important issue likely to recur, but which regularly evades timely appellate review….That is not this case. The Project was an emergency project to provide one-time payments during an extraordinary pandemic, which caused a state of emergency and a temporary pause in the operation of the Legislature; there is nothing in the record suggesting that it is likely to recur.
“Plaintiffs do not argue that this particular project could recur, but argue that the legal issue raised by their appeal does. Specifically, plaintiffs suggest we should address the issue, of public interest, of whether taxpayer harm should be considered sufficient to justify preliminary injunctive relief.”
Supreme Court Opinion
Rubin cited the California Supreme Court’s 2003 opinion in White v. Davis for the proposition that that preliminary injunctive relief is ordinarily not available in a taxpayer action. He continued:
“Plaintiffs ask that we bypass the mootness doctrine in order to disagree with White v. Davis, ‘depart from a rule that does not work, and begin a new way forward by recognizing that an illegal expenditure of public funds does more than just monetary harm to a taxpayer.’ Setting to one side whether we have jurisdiction to depart from a rule stated by our Supreme Court…, we reject plaintiffs’ premise that this legal issue typically evades appellate review. Not every government expenditure is a one-time payment on an emergency basis; whether taxpayers allege sufficient harm from allegedly illegal expenditures has, in fact, repeatedly been addressed in non-moot cases….As the issue does not evade review, this is not an appropriate case in which to exercise our discretion to reach the issue despite the mootness of the appeal.”
The case is Cerletti v. Newsom, B306122.
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