Attorney: Judge’s decision in visually important ridgeline case leaves out attorney’s fees
A Nevada County judge has ruled the plaintiffs in the visually important ridgeline case are entitled to their court costs, though the tentative decision makes no mention of attorney’s fees — a key sticking point in the years-long case.
The tentative ruling, which states the county improperly applied its VIR ordinance but notes that no improper “taking” occurred, states Peter Lockyer and Juliet Erickson are entitled to the recovery of their costs, which include money spent on taking depositions and hiring court reporters.
“Plaintiffs are the prevailing party because the primary objective of the litigation was removal of the offending conditions,” the ruling states.
Superior Court Judge Sean Dowling last year ordered the county to issue the couple a building permit without restrictions.
However, the Friday ruling awards no attorney’s fees, which are expected to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The tentative ruling gives attorneys on both sides the chance to file responses. If no one responds by early next week, the ruling becomes permanent.
Attorney Allan Haley, who represents the Lockyers, said he intends to respond.
“He’s left out the subject of damages,” Haley said of the judge’s ruling. “It does not include attorney’s fees. That’s separate.”
The tentative decision states that the county failed to show that the ridge on which the Lockyers want to build an office/garage is protected by the county’s visually important ridgeline. However, no temporary or permanent “taking” occurred.
“We’re pleased that we won the trial on the inverse condemnation claim,” said Alison Barratt-Green, county counsel. “The court ruled that there was no compensable taking and the Lockyers are not entitled to any monetary damages.”
The case centered on whether the county committed a “taking” — an improper government restriction that removed the Lockyers’ ability to use their land.
The Lockyers argue that county officials improperly required them to maintain a tree line to protect the visually important ridgeline. That restriction is a violation of their Fifth Amendment rights that requires government to compensate people for their land, they said.
According to Haley, the county still refuses to issue his clients a building permit.
“We still can’t use the property,” he added. “We can’t build on it.”
To contact Staff Writer Alan Riquelmy, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4239.
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