Keller/Anderle LLP secured a complete jury victory Friday for the City of Costa Mesa in a federal lawsuit challenging its group home ordinance. The City’s law, passed in 2014, was written to balance the rights of all citizens – including residents of group homes – to live in and enjoy Costa Mesa’s single family neighborhoods.
Over the last six years, Costa Mesa has seen explosive growth in the number of sober living homes in the city’s residential neighborhoods, with some cul-de-sacs or blocks having as many as six of these homes on them. Some operators had been packing 15 or more residents in single family homes to maximize profits. The City designed its ordinance to protect both the residents in these homes and others in the community by regulating unlicensed operators to prevent overcrowding, establish minimum standards, and require that group home operators and employees not have serious criminal convictions in the recent past.
Two sober living home operators and an industry trade group brought the suit in the Central District of California in 2014, arguing that any regulation, no matter how favorable to the disabled, was discriminatory. Other cities had lost lawsuits challenging their own ordinances, settled them, or had been intimidated into not passing ordinances at all. The Costa Mesa City Council hired Keller/Anderle in March of this year, when it was clear the City would need a complete victory at trial in order to preserve the ability to enforce reasonable regulations on group home operators.
After a four week trial before the Honorable James Selna, the eight person jury deliberated for half a day on Friday before returning a unanimous verdict on all counts for the City of Costa Mesa. The jury agreed with the City that the law is not discriminatory and does not violate the Fair Housing Act.Costa Mesa’s law will likely be a model for many Orange County cities that have been awaiting the results of this case as they consider how to regulate this industry.
Jennifer Keller and Chase Scolnick were co-lead counsel and Anand Sambhwani was second chair, backed by Michael Schachter and Nahal Kazemi. “The Costa Mesa City Council stood tall and refused to be intimidated by the Plaintiffs,” Ms. Keller said. She added: “This is a victory not just for the people of Costa Mesa and those in recovery homes, but also for every city in California.”