Meyers Nave Litigators Secure $6.6 Million Award for County of Los Angeles in Land Use, Environmental Protection Case
In a closely watched victory for the County of Los Angeles, a Meyers Nave trial team won a final ruling for the County that awarded a total of $6,673,496.22 in civil penalties, discovery sanctions, costs and attorneys’ fees, plus permanent injunctive relief, in a case that involved the illegal transport and dumping of concrete and other construction debris in the Santa Susana Mountains. The court entered judgement on October 19, 2020, ending years of litigation that was covered in the Los Angeles Times on May 31, 2018. (County of Los Angeles and People of the State of California v. Fishback and ABC Waste Management, Case No. PC056481, Oct. 20, 2020)
Beginning in at least 2014 and without permits, defendant Wayne Fishback and his company ABC Waste Management Corp. began operating a large commercial dump in an ecologically sensitive area of the Santa Susana Mountains. Six days per week, 100 or more trucks per day trekked up a narrow mountain road, paying Fishback/ABC $100-$120 per load to dump concrete, brick, demolition debris and construction waste over hillsides and into ravines, and using earthmoving equipment to create, widen, and flatten roadways to make truck access easier. Their operation was subject to County land use regulations, including those requiring permits for dumping material, grading roadways for truck traffic, and building structures. The operation as a whole also constituted a nuisance and violated unfair competition laws because it was illegal yet held itself out as an authorized business. Fishback argued the operation was not subject to land use regulations because it constituted a recycling operation covered by regulations promulgated by different regulatory agencies. In the May 31, 2018 Los Angeles Times article, Fishback commented that he was not operating a dump. Instead, he was recycling materials to ultimately level undeveloped terrain where he would eventually build a 250-acre Liberty Ranch which would “be a big, beautiful park with cabins, horses and zip lines, too.”
Defendants Violated Court Orders
Because defendants had not complied with County land use regulations, the County cited their operation as an unpermitted “land reclamation project” and “waste disposal facility.” When defendants subsequently continued their operation, the County filed suit and a court issued a preliminary injunction on December 23, 2015 directing defendants to cease operating and ordered them to apply for required County permits. Although defendants repeatedly assured the Court that they were complying with the order and preliminary injunction, they never applied for County permits and evidence (consisting of drone surveillance and more than 500 exhibits) presented to the Court showed defendants continued their operation. After considering this evidence, on August 13, 2018 the Court amended its prior preliminary injunction by barring commercial size dump trucks from entering defendants’ property.
Court Grants County’s MSJ, Issues Permanent Injunction, Awards $6.6+ Million
The County moved for summary judgment on its six causes of action against defendants: four causes of action for violating the County’s Zoning, Building, and Grading Codes; one cause of action for unfair competition (brought in the name of the People of the State of California); and one cause of action for nuisance. The Court granted the motion in its entirety, including granting a permanent injunction that mirrored the terms of the then-existing amended preliminary injunction. The Court also granted the County’s request for civil penalties, court costs, attorneys’ fees, and sanctions, and awarded the County a total of $6,673,496.22. This amount includes civil penalties of $5,693,000; court costs of $33,803.89; attorneys’ fees of $945,192.33; and discovery sanctions of $1,500. The Court also ordered that before engaging any use of the property, defendants must retain a licensed Geologist and a licensed Geotechnical Engineer to submit a permit application to address erosion control and hillside stability issues.