What is a Petition for Declaratory Relief?

A declaratory relief claim is normally used “to obtain a judicial declaration on the rights and duties of the parties under a contract.” (City of Tiburon v. Northwestern Pac. R.R. Co., 4 Cal. App. 3d 160, 170 (1970).) However, declaratory relief is not a tool to redress past wrongs, it operates prospectively to settle controversies before they escalate to a repudiation of obligations, invasion of rights, or the commission of wrongs. (Travers v. Louden, 254 Cal. App. 2d 926, 931 (1967).

“The fundamental basis for declaratory relief is the existence of an actual, present controversy over a proper subject.” (City of Cotati v. Cashman, 29 Cal. 4th 69, 79 (2002).) The object “is to afford a new form of relief where needed and not to furnish a litigant with a second cause of action for the determination of identical issues.” (Cal. Ins. Guar. Ass’n v. Superior Court, 231 Cal. App. 3d 1617, 1624 (1991).)

Declaratory relief has two elements a party must satisfy: “(1) a proper subject of declaratory relief, and (2) an actual controversy involving justiciable questions relating to [the party’s] rights or obligations.” (Jolley v. Chase Home Finance, LLC, 213 Cal. App. 4th 872, 909 (2013).) “One test of the right to institute proceedings for declaratory judgment is the necessity to present adjudication as a guide for plaintiff’s future conduct in order to preserve his legal rights.” (Osseous Technologies of America, Inc. v. DiscoveryOrtho Partners LLC, 191 Cal. App. 4th 357, 364-365.)

The decision of whether to grant a petition for declaratory relief lies within the discretion of the court and cannot be brought up on appeal except for abuse of discretion. (Girard v. Miller, 214 Cal. App. 2d 266, 277 (1963).) The court may refuse to exercise declaratory relief powers where such relief is not necessary or proper at the time under all of the circumstances. (Cal. Civ. Proc. § 1061.)

In instances where there is an accrued cause of action for an actual breach of contract or other wrongful act, declaratory relief may be denied. (Osseous Technologies of America, Inc., 191 Cal. App. 4th at 366.) However, “the mere circumstance that another remedy is available is insufficient ground for refusing declaratory relief, and doubts regarding the propriety of an action for declaratory relief…generally are resolved in favor of granting relief.” (Id. at 364.)

Declaratory relief is traditionally used for statutory and contract interpretation. (Von Durjais v. Bd. of Trustees, 83 Cal. App. 3d 687 (1978).) Declaratory relief is also “an appropriate method for obtaining a declaration that a statute or regulation is facially unconstitutional.” (Tejon Real Estate, LLC v. City of Los Angeles, 223 Cal. App. 4th 149, 154 (2014).) However, it cannot be used to review an administrative order. (Guilbert v. Regents of Univ. of Cal., 93 Cal. App. 3d 233, 244 (1979).)

“The declaratory relief provisions do not empower a court to stop or interfere with administrative proceedings by declaratory decree…a party is entitled to avail itself of the complete administrative procedure…until that procedure has been completed, plaintiff has no standing to ask for judicial relief because it has not yet exhausted the remedies provided by the statute.” (Walker v. Munro, 178 Cal. App. 2d 67, 72 (1960).)

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