A judge ruled Tuesday, May 3 that a countersuit filed by the former owner of Tinhorn Flats Saloon & Grill and his children against the city of Burbank for the city’s 2021 closure of the restaurant during the coronavirus pandemic will have to be substantiated in order to address most of his allegations.
Former Tinhorn Flats owner Baret Lepejian, along with his operating company, Barfly Inc., and his children, Lucas and Talya Lepejian, filed the current countersuit against the city on October 12, seeking damages- interests and alleging, among other things, that there was an illegal takeover of the company, that it was subject to excessive fines and that Lucas Lepejian was wrongfully arrested on three occasions.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Armen Tamzarian said that of the nine causes of action in the countersuit, only the one for First Amendment violation can proceed without any review.
“Closing his business would prevent a person of normal physical condition from continuing to speak,” the judge wrote.
Tamzarian also noted that the restaurant owner and his children allege the city tried to chill their rhetoric by enforcing rules specifically against Tinhorn Flats, but not other restaurants, in an effort to silence them and punish them for expressed their beliefs.
The judge rejected the restaurant owner‘s claims that he had been subjected to excessive fines by the city, calling the businessman and his children ‘highly guilty’ and noting that they had admitted breaking the law .
“The damage was a public nuisance, namely the operation of a bar and restaurant without the necessary permit, and the potential to increase the spread of a contagious virus,” said Tamzarian, who gave restaurant owner 20 days to file an amended complaint.
Tinhorn Flats attorney Kimberly Casper told the judge she was indeed going to file a revised complaint, but Tamzarian urged her to consider Tuesday’s ruling as well as a previous ruling that was largely in favor of the city, but in which he also authorized the deposit of a modified costume.
Baret Lepejian, who lived in Thailand while his children ran the restaurant, previously said he supported their actions amid the pandemic and pledged not to pay the roughly $50,000 in fines that were imposed. to the company.
Last June, Baret Lepejian’s ex-wife, Isabelle Lepejian, took possession of the Burbank restaurant, successfully completing an eviction proceeding she had initiated against the restaurant as the owner.
She is also the mother of the Lepejian children, including Lucas Lepejian, then 20, who was arrested by Burbank police for being on the property when he was not allowed to be there and has often spoken out against COVID-19 health mandates affecting the company. .
Isabelle Lepejian then sold the property to Old Fashioned Investment LLC. The eviction was separate from actions taken by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff, who issued a preliminary injunction and imposed $1,150 in penalties on Barfly Inc. due to the company’s lack of proper business licenses. restaurant.
In early 2021, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health revoked Tinhorn Flats’ health license, and its conditional use license was later canceled by the Burbank City Council. The preliminary injunction required the business to remain closed until it obtained the legally required permits to reopen.
The city maintained that the restaurant was a permanent public nuisance. The county and city actions came after numerous complaints were received about the restaurant’s continued offer of alfresco dining on its patio in violation of applicable health worker orders at a time when such activity was banned in Los Angeles County, according to city court documents. .
The outdoor dining ban was eased at the end of January, but Tinhorn Flats has not been allowed to resume operations due to its lack of permits.
According to the countersuit, studies have proven that outdoor dining provides key areas of health and well-being that have been needlessly sacrificed under the guise of eliminating a health threat.
But in their court papers, attorneys for the city attorney’s office say numerous courts have dismissed similar civil rights claims filed by other businesses, including restaurants, whose owners have alleged the restrictions related to COVID-19 violated their constitutional rights.
Lawyers for the city attorney’s office also denied in their court papers that the fines imposed on Barfly were excessive and argued that there was no illegal ‘taking’ of the business because the owner was licensed. to continue doing takeout before the shutdown order is issued.