County of Alameda Must Pay Storage Facility Company $2 Million In Damages and Attorney’s Fees For Violation of Constitutional Property Rights
Court of Appeal in San Francisco labels County’s legal position “nonsensical and convoluted;” taxpayers on the hook due to government ineptitude. Kassouni Law announces major property rights victory.
“Government officials for too long have lost sight of the importance of the Fifth Amendment as an essential safeguard of liberty.”
San Francisco, CA May 12, 2013
In a unanimous landmark decision issued May 9, 2013, the California Court of Appeal in San Francisco affirmed an award of almost 2 million dollars in damages and attorney’s fees to a Bay Area storage company for the County of Alameda’s egregious violation of Constitutionally protected private property rights. The case is Lockaway Storage v. County of Alameda, Court of Appeal Case No. A130874, First District, Division Three.
The Los Angeles and Sacramento land use firm Kassouni Law represented Lockaway Storage, a storage facility company which has been at odds with the County of Alameda for ten years over its conditional use permit.
As stated by the Court of Appeal, in 2000 Lockaway bought a parcel of land which had a preexisting conditional use permit for the construction and operation of a storage facility in Dublin, California. Shortly after the sale, the voters of Alameda County passed Measure D, a growth control initiative which banned the operation of a storage facility on the property. After Lockaway spent over $400,000 in development costs, the building department halted construction in light of Measure D in 2002. This decision was made two years after Measure D was adopted.
Lockaway successfully challenged the County’s decision, and in 2004 the trial court issued a writ commanding the County to issue building permits. Lockaway has built the facility and it has been in operation for over five years. However, as the Court of Appeal recognized, Lockaway lost significant income and had to pay increased construction costs in light of the delays. In 2008 the trial court awarded Lockaway $989,640 for these damages, as well as an additional $728,000 in attorney’s fees. The trial court concluded that Lockaway’s Fifth Amendment constitutional property rights were violated, and that the County had ignored provisions in Measure D which protected property owners who had obtained discretionary permits prior to Measure D, such as Lockaway. That award will actually be higher once additional attorney’s fees and interest are finally calculated.
In a scathing decision the Court of Appeal chastised the County for ignoring key provisions of Measure D which would have allowed the project to be built without delays. Characterizing the County’s arguments as convoluted “nonsense” the Court of Appeal upheld all damages, and further upheld every penny of attorney’s fees awarded to Lockaway by the trial court.
Lead counsel Timothy Kassouni is quoted: “It is a credit to Lockaway that it never waivered in its commitment to seek just compensation for the County’s inexplicable conduct. Unfortunately the conduct of the County of Alameda is not unique. It is hoped that the Court of Appeal’s strongly worded decision will reverberate throughout the state. Government officials for too long have lost sight of the importance of the Fifth Amendment of our Constitution as an essential safeguard of liberty.”
Lockaway v. Alameda is a landmark decision in that cities and counties in California have rarely been found liable for a taking of private property. The Court of Appeal’s decision sends a powerful message that growth control measures are limited by the Fifth Amendment and that the private property rights of individuals and businesses will still be protected by the courts in California.
The Court of Appeal decision can be read here.
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