Santa Clara County (November 20, 2022) – The Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID) is a step closer to recovering more than $1 million in attorneys’ fees arising from its successful challenge of the State Water Resources Control Board’s (State Board) curtailment orders issued during the 2015 drought.
On Friday, the Court of Appeal for the Sixth Appellate District (Sixth District Court) ruled that a coalition of California irrigation districts and water agencies (Districts) are entitled to recover their attorneys’ fees incurred during the Santa Clara County Superior Court litigation regarding the State Board’s actions in 2015, when it unlawfully issued curtailment notices under Water Code section 1052 to more than a thousand pre-1914 water right holders, including BBID. The Sixth District Court’s ruling reversed an earlier decision by the trial Court, which denied Districts’ motion for recovering of their attorneys’ fees.
“It has been a long road,” said interim BBID General Manager Ed Pattison. “The District is grateful the Sixth District Court recognized BBID’s right to recover a substantial portion of the expenses it shouldered defending our pre-1914 water rights, which are both the foundation for the communities we serve and the crops grown in our service areas.”
The Sixth District Court’s decision recognizes that the Districts incurred the bulk of their attorneys’ fees after the threat of fines or penalties ceased. The Sixth District Court concluded: “The Districts bore millions of dollars in attorney fees but realized no direct pecuniary gain as a result of their victory on due process and jurisdictional grounds.” The Sixth District Court determined that “the trial court abused its discretion”, directing the trial court “to award the Districts under section 1021.5 the attorney fees that they incurred for the court litigation.”