Court rules in city's favor regarding school shutdown

A California appellate court has reversed a lower court’s decision to award damages to a private Armenian school that fought to operate in Glendale after it was temporarily shut down for serious health and safety violations.

The three-judge panel ruled that the administrators at the Scholars Academic Foundation never complied with the city’s permitting process to challenge its shutdown in February 2010 and didn’t exhaust its administrative remedies before they decided to move out of Glendale.

“I do think they are wrong in this case,” the school’s attorney Richard Foster said, adding that his clients haven’t decided whether they will ask the California Supreme Court to consider reviewing the case.

The K-12 school had argued city officials caused economic harm and violated its rights to due process when they yellow-tagged its building in the 3800 block of Foothill Boulevard.

The school won $135,000 in damages in trial court after the judge determined the city had engaged in “improper and unconstitutional enforcement of reasonable and valid regulations that amounted to a taking,” according to the original decision that was cited in the 2nd District Court of Appeals’ opinion.

Foster said city officials tried to circumvent remedies by lying and making it difficult for school officials to comply with their demands.

According to the opinion, the trial court judge found that the city conducted needless yellow-tagging, used intimidating tactics during inspection, doubled the cost of some fees, failed to provide proper notice of violation and refused to inspect conditions that the school’s fixed.

“The misconduct was pervasive,” Foster said. “It was at all levels.”

But the appeals panel ruled the city’s actions didn’t amount to a taking, even though the school argued it interfered with a five-year lease agreement.

The appellate judges determined the school would likely not have been able to operate long term without obtaining the proper permits.

The city issued a statement expressing that the decision “confirms that the city acted lawfully in dealing with a business that was operating in violation of state and local laws.”

The school opened in January 2010 after a conditional-use permit was granted to allow administrators to move into the building, but it could not have students.

Soon after, city inspectors visited the facility after reports that students were already attending the school. Inspectors notified school administrators that they needed to obtain the proper permits to operate.

They examined the building and found the fire alarm system was not working, most exits were locked or blocked, there were only four toilets for 70 students and a subterranean garage was being used as a playground and storage for combustible materials.

City officials later held a meeting to talk about the school and “concluded that the violations were so severe that it would be unsafe for anyone to occupy the building,” according to the appeals court’s unpublished opinion.

The school obtained a temporary restraining order, which allowed administrators to reopen briefly until it was again challenged by the city.

But the school eventually filed a civil lawsuit and moved to Burbank.

Still, the school has never really recovered from the city’s actions, having lost a great portion of its student enrollment, Foster said.

“It’s the city’s loss,” he said.


Follow Veronica Rocha on Google+ and on Twitter: @VeronicaRochaLA.


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