Daily Journal Names Vergara Decision Top Appellate Verdict of 2016

In its annual review of the largest and most significant verdicts and appellate reversals in California, The Daily Journal named Altshuler Berzon LLP’s victory in Vergara v. California as the top appellate reversal of 2016.

The plaintiffs in Vergara had sued the State of California, several state officials, and three school districts in 2012, alleging that five statutes that provide California public school teachers with certain job security protections after a two-year probationary period violated the equal protection provisions of the California Constitution by causing students to be assigned to “grossly ineffective teachers” in violation of their fundamental right to educational equality.  The California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers, represented by Altshuler Berzon LLP, intervened to help the State defend the statutes’ constitutionality.

After an eight-week trial, the trial court invalidated all five statutes.  The Court of Appeal unanimously reversed, ordering judgment to be entered in favor of the State and the teacher union intervenors, and against the plaintiffs.  The Court of Appeal held that the plaintiffs’ equal protection theories were fundamentally flawed, and that the challenged statutes do not violate equal protection because the statutes do not require different treatment of any identifiable groups of students, do not cause any school district to hire, fire, or assign any particular teacher to any particular student, and do not result in disproportionate assignment of less effective teachers to low-income or minority students.  Plaintiffs filed a petition requesting that the California Supreme Court review the Court of Appeal’s decision, but the Supreme Court denied that petition on August 22, 2016.

Altshuler Berzon LLP partners Michael Rubin, Stacey Leyton, Eileen Goldsmith, and Casey Pitts principally handled the appeal for the teachers unions and were featured in The Daily Journal’s article on the Vergara victory.

District Court Rejects EPA’S Attempt to Avoid Federal Oversight of California Water Quality

In a victory for environmental groups seeking to protect healthy rivers and endangered species, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California today denied the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) motion to dismiss a lawsuit alleging that it has failed to carry out its duty to enforce the Clean Water Act.

In Natural Resources Defense Council v. McCarthy, three environmental groups filed suit alleging that, since 2014, California’s State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) has waived water quality standards in the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary 14 separate times, causing severe damage to a fragile ecosystem providing habitat for dozens of endangered plants and animals, including several salmon species.  Their complaint, filed against the EPA, alleges that the EPA failed to carry out its mandatory duty under the Clean Water Act to review any revision to state water quality standards to ensure that the revised standards meet the minimum requirements of the Clean Water Act.  EPA filed a motion to dismiss the suit, arguing that the SWRCB’s waivers are not subject to federal oversight and do not qualify as revisions because they were temporary in duration.

The District Court ruled in Plaintiffs’ favor.  The Court explained that EPA has a clear statutory responsibility to review any revision to water quality standards and that EPA had failed to demonstrate that the waivers – although temporary in duration – do not effectively revise California’s water quality standards.

Altshuler Berzon LLP represents Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in the litigation.