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Meyers Nave Litigators Achieve Record Results On Year’s Highest Profile Cases

In 2015, Meyers Nave litigation attorneys obtained victories at both the trial and appellate level on many of the year’s most prominent court cases and highest profile economic development projects throughout California. The legal and regulatory matters covered a broad spectrum of the firm’s expertise, including Land Use, Environmental, First Amendment, Construction, Utility Regulation, Public Finance, Public Records, and Constitutional Law. Please read the below summary of a few representative examples of our 2015 litigation successes.

$477 Million Downtown Arena for the Sacramento Kings 

Meyers Nave has defeated every legal challenge against the new $477 million downtown arena for the Sacramento Kings NBA team, including (1) an eminent domain victory giving the City of Sacramento permission to take over the final piece of downtown property, (2) a published appellate decision (Feb. 2015) denying a CEQA-based challenge to the project, (3) a published appellate decision (Nov. 2014) denying a constitutional challenge to the special statute passed to streamline the City’s CEQA review of the proposed arena (the first appellate decision concerning the constitutionality of project-specific CEQA streamlining statutes), and (4) an 11-day trial alleging that the public-private partnership behind the arena engaged in a “secret subsidy,” collusion, fraud, concealment, waste and illegal expenditure of public funds, along with alleged illegalities in the City’s bond financing. The case settled for dismissal of all claims with prejudice in exchange for a waiver of costs subsequent to the Court finding that “plaintiffs have failed to meet their burden of proof on any of their causes of action” (Statement of Decision, July 24, 2015).  The trial victory was recognized by The Daily Journal among the “Top Defense Results” in 2015. (Contact David Skinner.)

California Supreme Court’s Most Prominent CEQA Case

Meyers Nave represented Lotus founder Mitch Kapor and his wife Freada Kapor Klein before the California Supreme Court in Berkeley Hillside Preservation v. City of Berkeley, the year’s precedent-setting CEQA case that the Daily Journal featured in a March 2015 cover story. The case also received extensive media attention and coverage in numerous Law360 articles, from a March 2013 article that described it as “the biggest CEQA case the state’s high court will consider” to a December 2014 article following the final day of oral argument in which commentators described it as “a landmark CEQA case…to determine the fundamental legal nature and practical utility of CEQA’s regulatory exemptions…in what promises to be a blockbuster decision.” The Court’s highly anticipated decision resolved years of uncertainty by holding that there must be “unusual circumstances” in order for an otherwise categorically exempt project to be subject to CEQA. The Court also resolved a divide among Courts of Appeal, holding that an agency’s findings as to unusual circumstances are subject to the substantial evidence standard. The Court established a new two-part test to analyze a project opponent’s assertion that a project presents “unusual circumstances” that require CEQA review. (Contact Amrit Kulkarni.)

Largest Fine Against a Utility in the United States

For six years, Meyers Nave served as Special Counsel to the City of San Bruno regarding a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) natural gas pipeline explosion that killed eight people, injured 58 others and destroyed or damaged 90 homes. Meyers Nave’s work was instrumental in the imposition of a record $1.6 billion fine against PG&E, the largest ever levied against a utility in the U.S. Our work also uncovered potential political corruption at the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and led to multiple state and federal investigations of the utility and public agency. On August 10, 2016, a federal court jury convicted PG&E of one felony count of obstructing the federal probe of the blast and five felony counts of knowingly violating pipeline safety laws before and after the disaster. In January 2017, a federal judge ordered PG&E to pay the maximum $3 million fine, complete 10,000 hours of community service and serve five years of probation. In March 2017, PG&E agreed to pay $86.5 million in penalties and fines over 164 illegal ex parte communications it had with CPUC regulators over a five year period. The settlement relates to an email scandal exposed by the City of San Bruno, which broke in 2014 when 7,000 pages of emails revealed questionable communications and an overly cozy relationship between PG&E officials and CPUC regulators both before and after the gas explosion. The City of San Bruno was joined in the case by the City of San Carlos and both cities will receive $6 million in the settlement. The multi-faceted litigation also involved a California Public Records Act lawsuit for which the City of San Bruno received a James Madison Freedom of Information Award from the Northern California Society of Journalists. In 2014, Law360 named Meyers Nave a “California Powerhouse” and specifically recognized that the firm “flexed its muscle” by “marshaling the City of San Bruno through the aftermath of a devastating pipeline explosion.”

$162 Million Meyer and Renee Luskin Conference Center/UCLA

The University of California’s General Counsel engaged Meyers Nave to help “bulletproof” the Environmental Impact Report for one of UCLA’s highest-profile projects, the 294,000-square-foot $162-million Meyer and Renee Luskin Conference and Guest Center. As expected, opposition groups filed lawsuits raising numerous challenges, including CEQA, zoning and taxation. Our guidance during the EIR administrative process with a focus on anticipating potential litigation was validated in a subsequent series of courtroom victories, culminating in December 2015 when an appellate judge rejected all CEQA claims filed by a community group. We also obtained the dismissal of claims that were filed against the Luskins with a published appellate decision confirming that financial support from private donors is expression protected by the constitutional right of free speech. (Contact Amrit Kulkarni.)

$380 Million Expansion at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center 

Meyers Nave represented Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in its September 2015 breach-of-contract suit against Turner Construction regarding its failure to deliver a project which includes the construction of a 366,000 square foot 168-bed inpatient building, construction of a utility loop, and upgrades to the energy plant. During the course of the Project, there were disputes between the County and Turner regarding compliance with California building codes, workplace safety, quality of construction, and completing the project by the contracted dates. The project broke ground in 2009, in August 2015 Turner projected a final project milestone of November 21, 2016 (429 days late), and the County terminated Turner in September of 2015. In January 2016, Meyers Nave finalized an agreement in which both parties agreed to a collaborative approach to finish the project in a reasonable time frame and a firm commitment on completion costs with additional costs capped at $85 million (independent analysts estimated that the cost to complete could reach $126 million). (Contact Eric Firstman.)

Controversial Adult Entertainment Business Shut Down After 2.5 Year Battle

After a three-week trial, Meyers Nave convinced a judge to grant a permanent injunction to close EyeCandy Showgirls, a business advertising itself as providing “the only nude lap dance in San Diego County.” The defendants in the case – owners of several strip clubs in Southern California – had touted their experience obtaining victories against other municipalities awarding millions in attorney’s fees and damages to the adult use operator. The judge agreed with Meyers Nave that the business was operating unlawfully, was in violation of zoning codes, and was a public nuisance that must be shut down. The trial court also overruled objections and granted the City’s cost bill, which included a trial technician assisting with 350 exhibits, including maps, photos and videos, for a total recovery of $50,000. “This is a significant victory for the city and for the rule of law generally,” said Chula Vista City Attorney Glen Googins. From the beginning, the business falsely misrepresented itself when it stated on its business license that the operation would be a comedy club/restaurant serving light meals with a full-service bar. Meyers Nave also helped Chula Vista update and revise its adult business ordinances. (Contact Deborah Fox.)