(This story was updated at 12:05 p.m. Monday, June 28.)
Imperial Valley grower and landowner Michael Abatti’s petition for a “writ of certiorari” with the U.S. Supreme Court seeking review of the California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District’s decision in Abatti v. Imperial Irrigation District was denied on Monday morning, June 28.
The denial came with no explanation and was part of a 41-page summary of all writ of certiorari petition approvals, pending decisions, and blanket denials. The reference to Abatti’s denial is on page 4 of the document.
Abatti’s legal team submitted the petition in March after exhausting all judicial avenues through the state appellate process, and the High Court was expected to take up discussions on whether to address the petition on Thursday, June 24.
Abatti was seeking to overturn a previous appellate court ruling that asserts Imperial Irrigation District is the “sole owner” of water rights in the Valley, and farmers do “not (have) an appurtenant water right” but rather are entitled merely to “water service” that is subject to modification by the district at its discretion.
Abatti’s response filing from June 7 states: “This Court should grant the petition, resolve the conflict in the lower courts, and reaffirm the water rights protected by federal law.”
Further, Abatti’s court filing claimed IID misinterpreted Bryant vs. Yellen, but also claims there are more wide-reaching consequences of not taking up the case.
“The Supreme Court’s determination not to take up the case brings closure to this dispute and clarifies certain misunderstandings about IID’s water rights,” IID board President James Hanks stated in a press release. “IID has always agreed that agricultural water users in Imperial Valley have a legally enforceable right to service by the district. All water users in the IID water service area enjoy a usufructuary right — a right to create value by the use of the water that IID holds in trust. The court’s decision to not hear the case at the federal level affirms this.”
IID will “continue to earnestly serve all of our customers,” Hanks added. Further, IID will work with its water users to develop an Equitable Distribution Plan consistent with the appellate court’s ruling that will work for agricultural, municipal, industrial, and other water users.
IID board Vice President JB Hamby stated, “With this dispute resolved, IID and the community will be able to reestablish that providing water for reasonable and beneficial use in Imperial Valley is our highest priority.” He continued, “That includes improving IID’s water service to our users, achieving long-term strategic goals, and preparing for critical drought discussions on the Colorado River.”
The Fourth District Court of Appeals, in July 2020, concluded that agricultural water users within the district possess an equitable and beneficial interest in the district’s water rights, which is appurtenant to their lands, and that this interest consists of a right to water service, according to the IID release. The court also held that the district retains discretion to modify service consistent with its duties to manage and distribute water equitably for all categories of users served by the district.
The High Court’s decision brings an end to litigation against the district, which started in 2013, according to the IID.
A “writ of certiorari” petition means to be “fully informed” and seeks to have an appellate court review a case at its discretion.