Court greenlights Chiquita Canyon to challenge county

Chiquita Canyon Landfill. Eddy Martinez/The Signal.

Waste Connection’s Chiquita Canyon Landfill near Castaic scored a win last week after a judge ruled the waste-management company can pursue a lawsuit over the operational conditions imposed by Los Angeles County.

On Nov. 13, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Daniel Murphy issued a 15-page ruling stating that the county was “equitably estopped from asserting” that the landfill “forfeited its right to challenge 13 operation conditions” in the landfill’s conditional use permit.

Equitable estoppel is a defense doctrine that prevents a party from receiving judgment or other legal relief due to not acting fairly, such as having made false representations of another party. 

In 2017, new permit requirements limited the amount of trash allowed to be tipped there daily, its operating hours and air and water quality testing. The landfill then challenged nearly 30 of the conditional use permit conditions. 

“While courts should entertain estoppel theories advanced against local governments only in limited circumstances, Chiquita has pled facts here that, if taken as true (which we do at this stage of the proceedings), would justify application of estoppel principles,” read a section of the ruling. “As Chiquita tells it, the county directed Chiquita to reserve its rights in a particular manner and then contested the reservation’s effectiveness, which deprived Chiquita of the opportunity to make the hard choice of whether to comply with the 2017 CUP permit as issued or cease operating the landfill while its challenge to certain conditions was heard in court.”

The county did not respond to a request for comment Friday. 

The ruling indicates there was “strong evidence” to support the claim that the county’s Regional Planning Department led the landfill to believe it could reserve its rights to “continue its ongoing operations while challenging permit conditions,” wrote Murphy. 

“This ruling will allow Chiquita Canyon to proceed with its full lawsuit seeking reasonable permit governance that allows the landfill to operate safely, generate equitable fees for the county, and continue to provide affordable waste disposal services to a growing local economy, as Chiquita has for nearly 50 years,” John Musella, spokesman for Chiquita Canyon, said in a statement.

A trial date on Chiquita’s full claims is set for April 23.

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