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Lincoln Place Litigation Proliferates:

Owner-developer AIMCO has filed suit against the City of Los Angeles, once its ally in litigation against the Lincoln Place tenants, and a suit brought by a group of tenants and former tenants for restitution and damages against AIMCO has grown from eight plaintiffs to 191 with the filing of an amended complaint.

Both lawsuits arise out of the September 2007 decision of the California Court of Appeal which held past AIMCO evictions at the 38-acre Venice garden apartment complex unlawful, enjoined further evictions, and directed the City of Los Angeles to enforce AIMCO’s 1995 promise that “[n]o existing tenant would be involuntarily displaced from the site.” [Santa Monica Mirror, September 27-October 3, 2007.]

AIMCO unsuccessfully challenged that decision in the California Supreme Court, but the City of Los Angeles chose not to challenge the ruling, as the City Council approved a motion by Councilmember Bill Rosendahl against the advice of City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo. [Santa Monica Mirror, October 11-17, 2007.]

After the Court of Appeal decision became final, the City of Los Angeles, once a co-defendant with AIMCO in the tenants’ lawsuit that gave rise to that decision, wrote a letter to AIMCO lawyers on February 13, 2008 demanding that AIMCO comply with the conditions of its predecessor’s tract map approval and with the appeals court decision, including that AIMCO “quickly prepare vacant units so that the units will be ready for those tenants wishing to return to Lincoln Place.”

This prompted AIMCO to file on March 25 a federal court declaratory relief action against the City seeking a declaration (a) that AIMCO has abandoned its tract map and is no longer bound by the conditions of its approval and (b) that AIMCO may withdraw all the Lincoln Place units from the rental market under California’s Ellis Act – in effect, declarations that appear to be a collateral challenge to (some would say an end run around) the September 2007 Court of Appeal decision that AIMCO unsuccessfully challenged in the state Supreme Court.

Because the lawsuit was filed only last week, the City has not yet made any reply.

Also after the Court of Appeal decision became final, two lawsuits seeking damages against AIMCO were filed. [Santa Monica Mirror, January 10-16, 2008] There is no connection or coordination between them, except that each seeks redress for Lincoln Place tenants, who have been on the defensive for most of the 20-year battle over demolition and development plans at Lincoln Place.

In one suit, a group of eight present and former Lincoln Place tenants filed a state court action against landlord AIMCO on January 4, 2008 for restitution and damages arising out of evictions and eviction attempts that were ruled unlawful by the Court of Appeal. On March 14, the tenants’ Santa Monica attorneys John Murdock and David Lefkowitz filed a First Amended Complaint in that action naming 191 present and former tenants as plaintiffs.

As is typical in such civil suits, no sum of money is specified in the complaint, which prays for “compensatory damages in an amount according to proof at trial” as well as punitive damages and an order requiring AIMCO “to make restitution of the premises obtained from each tenant” – that is, to reinstate the tenants.

An entirely separate class action lawsuit was filed a month before on December 3, 2007, in Federal court, seeking redress on behalf of all tenants who were actually evicted. Since that time, two executives at the AIMCO headquarters in Denver have been voluntarily dismissed, AIMCO has filed a motion to dismiss to be heard April 14, and the City of Los Angeles (a defendant in this suit but not the 191-plaintiff suit) has answered the complaint. Noel Weiss, the plaintiffs’ lawyer in the class action, says that he is engaged in separate settlement discussions with AIMCO and Los Angeles.

AIMCO lawyers did not respond to request for comment for this article.

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