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City of Sunnyvale Rights Championed in Complex Code Violation Appeal

by | Sep 28, 2023 | Case Highlights, Lauren McElroy, Matthew Trujillo, Valerie Escalante Troesh

Partner Valerie Escalante Troesh, Attorney Matthew Trujillo, and Paralegal Lauren McElroy recently led the City of Sunnyvale to a significant legal victory in a complex code violation appeal. The case emerged victorious against a pro se Plaintiff (“Appellant”) in a limited jurisdiction court of appeal.

The Appellant had been cited by City code enforcement for constructing an unpermitted bathroom in the rear yard of her property, in violation of the City’s municipal code and international building code. Despite the City’s efforts to rectify the situation, the property owner challenged the administrative citations leading to a multi-stage legal battle.

The case began in May 2019 when City code enforcement first cited the Appellant. The City subsequently issued eleven administrative citations due to the Appellant’s continued failure to address the violation, despite being given ample notice. The situation was further complicated as the property was rented to tenants, and the unpermitted bathroom posed a hazard.

The Appellant disputed the City’s issuance of the administrative citations through the City’s municipal code procedures. An administrative hearing officer found the Appellant responsible for the violation on all citation dates. While the Appellant ultimately obtained a permit and corrected the issue, she continued to seek a series of appeals in Court against the City’s efforts.

The Appellant initiated a limited De Novo hearing under Government Code Section 53069.4, challenging the administrative hearing decision. This code section allows individuals to challenge administrative fines or penalties, and procedural changes during the COVID-19 pandemic further complicated the case.

“Despite the Appellant’s continued opposition, we worked diligently with the Court and the Appellant to ensure an efficient and fair hearing process. The Court upheld the administrative hearing decision on this de novo review, agreeing that the City’s original citations were properly issued and supported by its evidence.”

Matthew Trujillo

Attorney, Civica Law Group

Undeterred, the Appellant appealed the Superior Court’s decision to the appellate division of the Superior Court. A panel of three judges heard the appeal because it was an appeal of a limited civil case under the Government Code. After extensive briefing and both parties waiving oral argument to minimize costs, a victory was secured for the City. The panel upheld the citations as well.

The Appellant sought to have the matter transferred to the Court of Appeal for further review, but the Court did not grant this request. The City filed a brief answer objecting to the transfer, successfully demonstrating that the legal standard for such a transfer was not met. With that, the case was finally resolved.

“This case underscores the importance of local governments enforcing building and safety laws, even when faced with persistent legal challenges. The Court agreed with the City’s position – property owners cannot ignore laws and build unpermitted additions without facing the consequences, including administrative citations.”

Valerie Escalante Troesh

Partner, Civica Law Group

Valerie and Matthew expertly handled this case, along with invaluable assistance from paralegal staff, including Lauren McElroy. They are recognized experts in Government Code appeals and have navigated them precisely, even amidst the challenges posed by the pandemic and the nuances of limited civil appeal procedures.

The Appellant, representing herself, was persistent and diligent, requiring vigilance and resolve. The complexities of the case were further compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, which required modifications to court procedures.

Nevertheless, the challenges were effectively navigated. The deep understanding of administrative law and procedure and the dedication to the client, the City of Sunnyvale, allowed for a victory in this complex case.

The commitment to public sector clients shines in this case. This victory is a testament to the dedication to clients and administrative and appellate law expertise, which is used to protect the public’s safety and uphold the rule of law. The case is an important reminder of the local government’s critical role in enforcing building and safety regulations, and the essential support legal teams provide in these efforts.

Civica Law continues to serve the City of Sunnyvale and is pleased to see and share the outcome of this resolved code violation appeal: a property that is now in compliance and no longer a detriment to its tenants or the neighborhood.

About the Author

  • Civica Law

    With over 75 collective years of experience, Civica Law has helped cities and counties abate thousands of dangerous and substandard properties, improve housing conditions, and effectively deal with a wide range of quality-of-life issues, from homeless encampments to cannabis, drug, and gang dens to illegal gambling (or tap-tap) facilities, illegal business operations, human trafficking and massage, land use, and zoning, and virtually every other conceivable quality of life and safety issue a public agency may face.