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California court dismisses man's suit over neighbor's demolition of Laguna Beach house

By Charmaine Little | Feb 19, 2019

SAN DIEGO (Legal Newsline) – A man’s attempt to have his case over a house demolition heard in court instead of a local commission was denied by the Court of Appeal of the State of California in the 4th Appellate District, Division Three on Feb. 13.

Acting Presiding Judge William W. Bedsworth wrote the opinion and judges Richard M. Aronson and Raymond Ikola concurred, ruling that Orange County Superior Court was right to dismiss the civil action.

Respondent Hany Dimitry acquired a coastal development permit (CDP) from the defendant city of Laguna Beach to demolish his home in the area. Plaintiff and appellant Mark Fudge, Dimitry’s neighbor, stepped in and took issue with the permit. He first challenged the California Coastal Commission and also filed this lawsuit in the state court against the city, saying the city should not have granted Dimitry a CDP. 

"Then the Commission accepted Fudge’s appeal, which meant it would hear that appeal 'de novo.' ... Because the commission’s hearing would be 'de novo,' the trial court followed Kaczorowski v. Mendocino County Bd. of Supervisors ... and McAllister v. County of Monterey ... in concluding that there was no relief that Fudge might be able to obtain in his court action," the ruling states.

The Superior Court dismissed the civil action and Fudge appealed, saying the commission’s hearing wouldn’t be “de novo” since it would use different policies than the city uses. 

"Specifically, he notes, while the city was required to make its decision under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the commission would be deciding his appeal under the California Coastal Act (the Coastal Act). Thus, he reasons, there must still be something left of the city’s decision for him to attack in civil court–specifically the alleged deficiencies under CEQA inherent in that decision," the ruling states.

The appeals court weighed in and said, “when it comes to a local coastal entity’s decision on a CDP, the legislature has constructed a system in which appeals to the commission would be heard de novo under the Coastal Act even though the original local decision was decided under CEQA.” 

Ultimately, this is why the appeals court affirmed the decision from the lower court.

Fudge also asked for attorney’s fees from the trial court decision, despite not winning that case. The court denied this request.

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