How To Write Compelling Legal Prose: A Clever Paragraph With Impact

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

Here is a paragraph I found while doing some research on the Internet.  It is from the Complaint, Page 14, Lines 1-4,  Rodriguez et al. v. Burbank Police Department et al., Los Angeles Superior Court Case BC414602, Filed May 28, 2009.

It should be noted that, as of the date of the filing of the within complaint, no African-American employee in the entire history of the Burbank PD has ever been promoted above the title of “police officer.”  No African-American detectives. No African-American sergeants. No African-American Lieutenants or Captains.  Never.”

Usually, sentence fragments are to be avoided in formal writing.  But this simple paragraph forcefully delivers one of the themes of the case.

The information you obtain at this blog is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is established by reading or commenting on this blog.  You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation

A: 1255 W. Colton Ave. Suite 104, Redlands, CA 92374
T: (909) 708-6055

When is a Government Claim (formerly Tort Claims) required in California?

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

When I became an attorney in December 1998, government claims were referred to as “tort claims”.  That all changed with these words by the California Supreme Court  in late 2007:

We also adopt the practice of referring to the claims statutes as the “Government Claims Act,” to avoid the confusion engendered by the informal short title “Tort Claims Act.”   City of Stockton v. Superior Court (2007) 42 Cal.4th 730, 734.

The reason was the change is that the Act involves things other than torts, including contract actions.  When in doubt, file a timely claim with all the required information.

California Government Code section 900 et seq. governs the claim requirements against California public entities (the State of California and local public entities).  This is an overview of the requirement for a government claim, and is not an exhaustive look at the process. Seek appropriate legal assistance for your particular circumstance.  I will explore some areas in depth at later times.

Certain causes of action do not require a government claim to be presented   The following do not require a government claim to be presented to the public entity as a prerequisite to a civil action.  False Claims Act (qui tam) do not require a Government Claim.  Wells v. One2One Learning Foundation (2006) 39 Cal.4th 1164, 1213 (as modified on denial of rehearing).  Federal civil rights actions under the Civil Rights Act do not require a government claim.  Williams v. Horvath (1976) 16 Cal.3d 834, 842.   Government Code section 905 exempts claims under the Revenue and Taxation Code (subsection a); claims related to a “filing of a lien, statement of claim, or stop notice is required under law relating to liens of mechanics, laborers , or charges related thereto” (subsection b); claims  “by public employees for fees, salaries, wages, mileage or other expenses and allowances” (subsection c); workers’ compensation (subsection d); public assistance (subsection e); public retirement or pensions (subsection f); principal or interest on warrants, bonds, notes, or other indebtedness (subsection g); claims related to special assessments as a result of a lien (subsection h); claims by the state or by a state department or by a local public agency or judicial branch entity (though the public entity can require a claim) (subsection i); unemployment insurance (subsection j);  recovery of penalties and forfeitures under Labor Code section 1720 et seq. (subsection k); claims regarding the Pedestrian Mall Law of 1960 (subsection l); claims for the recovery of Civil Code section 340.1 damages regarding childhood sexual abuse regarding conduct occurring on or after January 1, 2009 (subsection m); claims for the recovery of money pursuant to Government Code section 26680 pursuant to Civil Code section 701.820 (subsection n).  Government Code section 905.1 specifically exempts inverse condemnation cases from the presentment requirement of Government Code section 905, except that the entity should process the claim if presented.

A big warning:  local agencies are allowed to adopt their own claims requirements pursuant to Government Code 935 with certain preemption by state law.   For example, the City of San Bernardino’s claim ordinance is found at Chapter 3.16 of the San Bernardino Municipal Code. The City of Highland’s procedures are found at Chapter 3.08 of the Highland Municipal Code.  The City of Riverside’s claim ordinance is found at Chapter 1.05 of the Riverside Municipal Code.  Ontario’s is found at Title 3, Chapter 2 of the Ontario Municipal Code.

The information you obtain at this blog is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is established by reading or commenting on this blog. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.

Milligan, Beswick, Levine & Knox, LLP
A: 1447 Ford St. #201
      Redlands, CA 92374
T: (909) 296-6708

How Not to Handle Government Claims – Good Advice For California Public Entities

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

Here is an anecdote of what not to do as a California Public entity.  The particular entity shall remain anonymous, because as a former government attorney, I am embarrassed for them.  It is a Joint Powers Authority within San Bernardino County.  This particular entity is not involved in a lot of litigation, so I understand why the front-line staff was not trained to deal with the situation.

Before you file a lawsuit against California public entities (with some exceptions, such as a 42 United States Code section 1983 case, or a constitutional tort like inverse condemnation), you are required to file a government claim (which used to be known as a tort claim).  The procedure is found in Government Code section 900 et seq.

Cities and counties get sued enough that you will easily be able to get a claim form and sometimes even instructions to file from them.  Many cities have the claim form online. The best practice is for cities and counties have claim forms that are fillable PDFs.

This particular entity did not have a claim form.  I had called to confirm this fact before hand.  I had to explain to them what I wanted to do, and they finally told me that they did not have such a thing.  That is not a problem, the requirements are found in the Government Code.

I went into the agency’s public entrance.   I told the front counter employee that I was there to file  government claims.  The counter employee did not understand.  The counter employee said  that it should have a purple stamp from the court.  The counter employee then said that  I told the counter employee that the claim had to be filed first (the claim is a prerequisite for suit).  The counter employee then went to find a supervisor.  The counter employee came back and told me that she had been instructed to return the paperwork to me and say goodbye.  I asked politely if there was anyone else I could speak to.  The supervisor came out.  I explained the process, and how the Government Code required that the claim be presented.  I told the supervisor and the counter employee, that they should keep the original of each claim, stamp it in, and give me back a stamped, conformed copy.  I told them that they should send it to their attorneys at a well-known local and statewide municipal law firm.  To their credit, the front-line staff gave me my conformed copies.  The problem was not with the front-line staff, but with higher level staff that has not trained the front-line staff.

The information you obtain at this blog is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is established by reading or commenting on this blog. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.

A: 1255 W. Colton Ave. Suite 104, Redlands, CA 92374
T: (909) 708-6055

 

In California, may disabled people park an unlimited time on streets without posted time limitations?

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

 

In California, may disabled people park an unlimited time on streets without posted time limitations?  A recent California Court of Appeals decision says no.

When I was a Deputy City Attorney for the City of San Bernardino, I became an expert on Parking Citation Appeals to the San Bernardino Superior Court pursuant to California Vehicle Code section 40230.  In my time as an attorney, no party was ever more angry than a disabled person, with a valid disabled placard or license plate, cited for parking on the cross-hatches, particularly if the Judge or Commissioner upheld the citation.

This case was heard in the Second Appellate District, Sixth Division in Spicer v. City of Camarillo (May 31, 2011)  2011 WL 2120460.  This is a rare case where the first paragraph  gives you black letter law:

A local ordinance limits parking times on city streets. On those streets where posted signs limit the parking times, the Vehicle Code permits disabled persons displaying a placard to park an unlimited time. On streets where no such signs are posted, may disabled persons park an unlimited time? We conclude they may not because no statute permits such unlimited parking.  Id. at *1

The procedural posture of the case is a somewhat unusual.  Plaintiff sued the City for  “declaratory and injunctive relief and violation of his civil rights pursuant to Civil Code section 52.1”  Id.  The facts were stipulated by both sides, neither party submitted any evidence, and a bench trial was held.

Basically, the plaintiff parked for more than seventy-two hours in a location without a posted time limit, in violation of the Camarillo Municipal Code and the Vehicle Code.  His vehicle was towed and impounded.  The Court of Appeal and the trial court rejected plaintiff’s statutory, constitutional and res judicata arguments.

 

The information you obtain at this blog is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is established by reading or commenting on this blog. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.

A: 1255 W. Colton Ave. Suite 104, Redlands, CA 92374
T: (909) 708-6055

Filing a 42 United States Code section 1983 Case alleging police misconduct: California Superior Court or United States District Court (Federal)

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

 

Can you file a 42 United States Code section1983 case alleging police misconduct in a California Superior Court?  Yes, but it is in general a poor idea for one reason:  peace officer employment records are protected by the Pitchess Motion process under California law.  As a Deputy City Attorney for the City of San Bernardino and as Assistant City Attorney for the City of Redlands, I handled both defense of Pitchess Motions and Federal Civil Rights cases, so I have some insight into the process.

However, the Federal Courts do recognize some limits to discovery of peace officer personnel records.  For example, in this slip opinion from the Southern District of California:

“Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(c) provides that a court may limit discovery to protect from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense. Federal common law recognizes a qualified privilege for official information. Kerr v. United States Dist. Ct. for N.D. Cal., 511 F.2d 192, 198 (9th Cir.1975), aff’d, 426 U.S. 394, 96 S.Ct. 2119, 48 L.Ed.2d 725 (1976). Government personnel files are considered official information. See, e.g., Zaustinsky v. University of Cal., 96 F.R.D. 622, 625 (N.D.Cal.1983), aff’d, 782 F.2d 1055 (9th Cir.1985). In determining what level of protection to afford the official information privilege, courts balance the interests of the party seeking discovery against the interests of the governmental entity asserting the privilege. See Kelly v. City of San Jose, 114 F.R.D., 653, 660 (N.D.Cal.1987). The party requesting the information must describe how the information sought is “reasonably calculated to lead to discovery of admissible evidence, identifying interests … that would be harmed if the material were not disclosed, and specifying how that harm would occur and how extensive it would be.” Id. at 671. The courts must weigh the potential benefits of disclosure against the potential disadvantages. If the latter is greater, the privilege bars discovery. Sanchez v. City of Santa Ana, 936 F.2d 1027, 1034 (9th Cir.1990); Jepsen v. Florida Bd. of Regents, 610 F.2d 1379, 1384-85 (5th Cir.1980); Zaustinsky, 96 F.R.D. at 625.”  Snowten v. City of San Diego (2010)  2010 WL 2998846, *2.

In lieu of an in-camera hearing, the parties may agree to a stipulated protective order.  Defendants may be willing to do so to avoid running up plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees, and save their clients fees, as well.

The information you obtain at this blog is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is established by reading or commenting on this blog.  You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation

Milligan, Beswick, Levine & Knox, LLP
A: 1447 Ford St. #201
      Redlands, CA 92374
T: (909) 296-6708

 

How to find the City of San Bernardino’s Transient Lodging Tax (elsewhere known as a bed tax or a transient occupancy tax)

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

Someone found my blog looking for the City of San Bernardino’s “bed tax rate.”  You won’t find it using those terms. In my almost five years as a Deputy City Attorney in San Bernardino, litigation regarding the Transient Lodging Tax seemed ever present.

Revenue and Taxation is found in Title 3 of the San Bernardino Municipal Code.  The Transient Lodging Tax is found in Chapter 3.55 of the San Bernardino Municipal Code, commencing at San Bernardino Municipal Code section 3.55.010.  The rate is found in San Bernardino Municipal Code section 3.55.020(A):

For the privilege of occupancy in a hotel, each transient is subject to and shall pay a transient lodging tax in the amount of ten percent of the room rental charged by the operator.

The ordinance was added by the City of San Bernardino’s voters on November 5, 2002.  Chapter 3.52, the Uniform Transient Occupancy Tax of the San Bernardino Municipal Code was repealed by the Mayor and Common Council by Ordinance MC-1006, on November 17, 1997, and Chapter 3.54 was repealed by the Mayor and Common Council by Ordinance MC 1127, on July 15, 2002.

The legal background of these changes is found in various court cases.  Chapter 3.52 was struck down as unconstitutionally vague by the Court of Appeal, Fourth District, Division 2 on November 18, 1997.  City of San Bernardino Hotel/Motel Assn. v. City of San Bernardino (1997)  59 Cal.App.4th 237.   “In a published opinion, this court struck down the City’s original occupancy tax as unconstitutionally vague. The City then revised its occupancy tax, hoping to remedy the defects we had identified. In an unpublished opinion, [City of San Bernardino Hotel/Motel Assn. v. City of San Bernardino (June 22, 2000, E025364) ]  however, this court strongly suggested that the revised occupancy tax was still unconstitutionally vague. The City therefore revised its occupancy tax yet again.”  City of San Bernardino Hotel/Motel Assn. v. City of San Bernardino (2005)  (Not officially published, found at 2005 WL 3198904).   In 2005, the Court found that the revised transient lodging tax passed constitutional muster.

There is a happy ending, at least for the City.  In the 2005 unpublished opinion, the Court of Appeal had this to say: “Although the City had two strikes against it, it has at last hit a home run.”

The information you obtain at this blog is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is established by reading or commenting on this blog.  You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.
A: 300 E. State St., Suite 517
Redlands, CA 92373-5235
T: (909) 296-6708

E: michael@michaelreiterlaw.com

Inspection Warrant and Abatement Warrant Requirements for Inspecting Private Property in San Bernardino County, California

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

Do code enforcement officers need a warrant to inspect private property in San Bernardino County (including incorporated cities and towns in San Bernardino)?  The best practice is to obtain an administrative warrant if the owner/occupant refuses consent to inspect.  Generally, an administrative warrant is not needed if the conditions can be observed from the public right-of-way, or an adjoining property (with permission), and no physical entry onto the property occurs.

When I was a Deputy City Attorney for the City of San Bernardino, California and the Assistant City Attorney for the City of Redlands, California, a good deal of my time was spent on code enforcement.  Both cities emphasized the need for a warrant to inspect and/or abate private property when permission to inspect was denied.  As a private attorney representing private citizens and business entities, some other Inland Empire cities are not as respectful of citizen’s constitutional rights.

Generally, if consent from the property owner and the occupant cannot be obtained before entering private property that is not open to the public, code enforcement officers should obtain an administrative inspection/abatement warrant from the San Bernardino County Superior Court.  Because the United States Constitution’s Fourth Amendment gives property owners and other occupants an expectation of privacy, an inspection warrant is needed.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in Connor v. Santa Ana, held that police officers could not legally enter fenced, private property to abate a nuisance without a warrant, even though the property owner had been provided with extensive administrative hearings.  In the absence of a property owner’s and occupant’s consent, barring exigent (emergency) circumstances, government officials engaged in the inspection of private property or abatement of a public nuisance must have a warrant to enter that private property where such entry would invade a constitutionally protected privacy interest.

The Fourth Amendment provides a high degree of privacy protection to the “curtilage” of a residence, the land immediately surrounding and associated with the residence.  However, the United States Constitution allows authorities to inspect open fields at will.  The “open fields” exception only applies to completely unfenced, unimproved property.

Therefore, code enforcement officers may visually inspect private property from the public right-of-way, or from areas that are open to the public such as parking lots, or from private property upon which the officers have obtained consent from the property owner and/or the occupant, depending on the factual circumstances.

The information you obtain at this blog is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is established by reading or commenting on this blog.  You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.
A: 300 E. State St., Suite 517
Redlands, CA 92373-5235
T: (909) 296-6708

Can a public agency make a California Public Records Act Request?

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

Can a public agency make a California Public Records Act Request?   This question has been popular on this blog lately.  People have searched for it on two separate days a few days apart.

When I was a Deputy City Attorney for the City of San Bernardino, I handled a number of Federal Civil Rights cases against the City and the San Bernardino Police Department.  One case involved a man who had earlier had a 42 U.S.C. section 1983 civil rights case against the City of Riverside.  I called up a Deputy City Attorney for the City of Riverside I knew and asked how to get the depositions in the case.  She suggested that I make a California Public Records Act request.  I did so, and I received the depositions.

This is an easy question to answer because there is a published case on the subject.  “Our conclusion that the City is a “person” entitled to request documents from another governmental entity is the only rational and reasonable interpretation of the statute.”  Los Angeles Unified School District v. Superior Court (2007) 151 Cal.App.4th 759, 771.  The confusion comes because the statute  (California Government Code section 6252(c) reads: “(c) “Person” includes any natural person, corporation, partnership, limited liability company, firm, or association.”

The information you obtain at this blog is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is established by reading or commenting on this blog.  You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.
A: 300 E. State St., Suite 517
Redlands, CA 92373-5235
T: (909) 296-6708

What is a San Bernardino County Code Enforcement Attorney and a Riverside County Code Enforcement Attorney?

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

I have been involved in Code Enforcement for a long time now.  My first exposure was when I was working for the City of Santa Clara during law school at Santa Clara University School of Law.  Most of the code enforcement at that time was done by a Deputy City Attorney and involved drinking in public by Santa Clara University students.  Drinking in public is a common infraction or misdemeanor prohibited by cities’ municipal codes.  One of the reasons behind this is because it is not preempted by the State of California’s prohibition of being drunk in public.  Police officers can cite people with open containers of alcohol seen drinking alcohol or presumed to be drinking alcohol without proving that they were intoxicated.  However, generally, the term “Code Enforcement” means property maintenance.

My next brush with code enforcement came as an attorney for Legal Aid Society of San Bernardino.  A common defense for an unlawful detainer defendant is a lack of habitability.  Often, the tenant would complain to a code enforcement agency about the interior conditions of their house or apartment.  However, sometimes this could have disastrous results.  Either the tenant would complain about the conditions and it would have no effect on the unlawful detainer action, the tenant would get cited into court by the code enforcement agency for the problem, or in the absolute worst-case scenario, the conditions were so bad at the apartment or house that the code enforcement agency red tagged the unit, making the tenant homeless.

When I became a Deputy City Attorney for the City of San Bernardino in February 2001, my role changed from observer of code enforcement to assisting Code Enforcement.  I became a City Prosecutor, prosecuting violations of the San Bernardino Municipal Code in San Bernardino Superior Court, along with other Deputy City Attorneys.   I also co-advised the City of San Bernardino’s Code Enforcement Department (which previously was a Division, and would later become a Division again).  When I was Assistant City Attorney for the City of Redlands, I served a similar function, including prosecuting violations of the Redlands Municipal Code, advising staff at administrative hearings, and drafting code enforcement ordinances.

What does being a Code Enforcement Attorney mean in San Bernardino County and Riverside County?  In incorporated cities and towns in San Bernardino County and Riverside County, that means prosecuting violation of city or town ordinances, usually codified in the Municipal Code, or prosecuting violations of County ordinances codified in the San Bernardino County Code or the Riverside County Code.  It also means drafting new ordinances.  Some of these ordinances are new code enforcement tools, new prohibitions, or modifying existing ordinances to allow certain behavior or prohibit certain behavior.  Being a Code Enforcement Attorney also means representing staff in front of administrative hearing officers, both in post deprivation due process hearings, administrative citation hearings or administrative civil penalty hearings.  Code Enforcement Attorneys also review administrative warrant applications, review criminal citations for filing with the court, review proposed hearing orders, and other similar tasks.  Some of those tasks include training code enforcement officers about the law, including constitutional protections regarding inspections of private property.  Code Enforcement Attorneys help agencies respond to California Public Records Act requests.  Code Enforcement Attorneys also help defend cities and code enforcement officers from collateral attacks on the process, including quiet title actions to nullify code enforcement liens, requests for injunctions to stop code enforcement actions, and allegations of Federal Civil Rights violations pursuant to 42 United States Code section 1983.  Code Enforcement Attorneys also can file civil abatement actions, including nuisance actions, and receivership actions under the California Health and Safety Code.  In Redlands and San Bernardino, I was involved in all of those functions.

However, in addition to public Code Enforcement Attorneys, a Code Enforcement Attorney can protect the rights of the public.  As a private attorney, I have helped clients that are faced with demands from overly-aggressive code enforcement agencies.  When picking an attorney to help you on a code enforcement matter, it helps to find one that has experience on the other side, prosecuting violations of municipal codes.  Find someone with experience with the Public Records Act, because that’s an important tool in defending against a code enforcement action.  Find someone who is familiar with the political systems in play in the relevant entity, and who can give you realistic advice about your options.

Copyright 2011 Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

The information you obtain at this blog is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is established by reading or commenting on this blog. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.

 

Milligan, Beswick, Levine & Knox, LLP
A: 1447 Ford St. #201
      Redlands, CA 92374
T: (909) 296-6708