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Federal Court Sides with Civica Law, Will Be Granting Judgment on Multiple Claims In Favor Of City of Palmdale in Substandard Motel Case

by | Mar 25, 2024 | Community, Legal Rulings

In a significant legal triumph, Civica Law recently won a decisive victory for the City of Palmdale and its code enforcement officers, building officials, and other staff in two companion Federal District Court cases.

The cases, William Robert Herrera, et al. v. City of Palmdale, et al./Priscilla Huerta, et al. v. City of Palmdale, et al., involved a multitude of constitutional claims asserted by plaintiff motel owners and tenants following the City’s execution of a civil inspection warrant at the substandard and dangerous motel, issuances of notices, and institution of a successful receivership action to protect occupants and the community.

To safeguard the community, the City conducted a thorough inspection of the motel following the terms of the court-issued warrant, identifying numerous state and local code violations, including mold growth, cracked ceilings, water leaks, unpermitted construction, and exposed electrical wiring, among 427 other violations. Following the inspection, the City issued notices to repair, abate, vacate, and successfully obtained the appointment of a receiver to rehabilitate the documented violations after the responsible parties failed to do so.

The actions of the City and the receiver effectively addressed the on-site dangers, ensuring the safety and well-being of the community. The motel owners even tried to challenge the receivership, but lost in the State Court and then later, in their appeal with the Court of Appeals. Despite the City’s successful efforts to remedy the situation through lawful code enforcement, and with the State Courts endorsing the City’s actions, the motel owners and tenants nonetheless pushed forward on their Federal Section 1983 claim against the City of Palmdale and their underlying Federal claims against City employees.

The plaintiffs alleged violations of their rights under the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments and the Federal Constitution’s Contracts Clause stemming from different theories involved in the inspection, posting notices, ordering of vacating the site, and the receivership; largely all actions that were endorsed in the underlying State Court litigation.

Civica Law stepped in to defend the City and its employees against the wrongful suit. After a review of all evidence stemming back over eight years since the City’s enforcement efforts began, working with key City staff, Civica filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on behalf of the City and its employees in Fall 2023. The motion demonstrated that there was no evidence to support the plaintiffs’ claims that the City and its employees deprived them of their constitutional rights.

In a significant win for the City of Palmdale and its employees, the Federal Court agreed that the City and its employees acted lawfully and that the plaintiffs lacked evidence to support their claims: the Court found no First Amendment, Fifth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment Procedural Due Process, Substantive Due Process, Equal Protection, or Contracts Clause violation. Many of the State Court’s underlying decisions affirming the City’s actions and receivership established there were no constitutional violations, along with the City’s substantive evidence provided on these points in contrast to plaintiffs’ lack of evidence. The Court only found there were possible questions of fact on the Fourth Amendment claim that only a jury could decide, so that one claim remains.

This ruling significantly reduces the City’s costs by narrowing the pending litigation to only a Fourth Amendment inquiry. And recently, the Court re-opened discovery and dispositive motion practice for the parties to try to resolve that claim to avoid trial. Civica Law’s successful defense of the City of Palmdale and its employees underscores the firm’s commitment to upholding the law and protecting the interests of its clients.

    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.