Business Law

City of Oxnard v. County of Ventura (Nov. 23, 2021, B312348) ___ Cal.App.5th __ [2021 WL 5460725]

A city may not administer ambulance services after delegating those services to the surrounding county.

Fifty years ago, Ventura County entered into a joint powers agreement with several municipalities, including the City of Oxnard, requiring the County to administer a countywide ambulance system. The County established exclusive operating areas and contracted with private companies to provide ambulance services in each area. It contracted with Gold Coast Ambulance as the exclusive emergency service provider in the area where Oxnard is located.

A decade later, the legislature enacted the Emergency Medical Services Act (EMS Act; Health & Saf. Code, § 1797.200), which authorized counties to designate a local EMS agency to administer countywide services. The EMS Act included a “transitional provision” that allowed cities that were then providing EMS services to continue providing them until they ceded the provision of services to the local agency. Pursuant to the EMS Act, VCEMSA was established as the exclusive EMS agency in Ventura County, and Gold Coast continued providing EMS services under the auspices of VCEMSA.

More than thirty years later, Oxnard became dissatisfied with Gold Coast’s service based on evidence that it provided inferior services to the city’s less affluent neighborhoods. Relying on the transitional provision, Oxnard believed it could administer its own ambulance services by withdrawing from the pre-EMS joint powers agreement. Oxnard acted on that belief in 2020 by notifying the County of its intent to withdraw from the joint powers agreement and asking the County not to extend its contract with Gold Coast. When the County nonetheless extended the Gold Coast contract, Oxnard sought a preliminary injunction barring the County from providing EMS services within Oxnard city limits. The trial court denied the injunction and Oxnard appealed.

The Court of Appeal affirmed. It explained that Oxnard’s underlying belief was mistaken. While the EMS Act allowed cities to continue providing emergency services they had provided when the EMS Act was enacted, that provision was inapplicable because Oxnard did not provide any ambulance services at that time. Oxnard could not acquire the right to provide or administratively control EMS services by withdrawing from the earlier joint powers agreement because the County’s current authority to provide those services through VCEMSA stemmed from the EMS Act, not that agreement. Accordingly, the trial court properly denied injunctive relief because Oxnard was not permitted to control EMS services that were being provided by VCEMSA under the EMS Act. 

The bulletin describing this appellate decision was originally prepared for the California Society for Healthcare Attorneys (CSHA) by H. Thomas Watson and Peder K. Batalden, Horvitz & Levy LLP, and is republished with permission.

For more information regarding this bulletin, please contact H. Thomas Watson, Horvitz & Levy LLP, at 818-995-0800 or htwatson@horvitzlevy.com.


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