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County seeks end to legal battle over COVID restrictions at Burbank restaurant Tinhorn Flats

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County is seeking a legal finality to its public nuisance allegations against the former CEO and president of the now-closed Tinhorn Flats Saloon & Grill and the businessman’s countersuit alleging the county’s outdoor dining ban in late 2020 was unlawful.

Tinhorn Flats, which did business in Burbank, and at Cronies Sports Grill in Agoura Hills — which is no longer part of the case — were the subjects of a public nuisance suit filed against the businesses in Los Angeles Superior Court in January 2021. The suit, brought just before the outdoor dining ban was lifted, asked for an abatement order directing both restaurants to bring their businesses into compliance with the health orders and to allow inspectors to enter to ensure compliance.

In early 2021, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health revoked Tinhorn Flats’ health permit, and its conditional-use permit was subsequently canceled by the Burbank City Council.

On Friday, county attorneys filed court papers with Judge Maureen Duffy-Lewis asking for judgment in the county’s favor on the public nuisance suit regarding Tinhorn Flats. The filing came just days before the judge is to hold a Feb. 24 hearing on the county’s separate motion to dismiss Tinhorn Flats’ countersuit.

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Through its operating company, Barfly Inc., and Tinhorn Flats CEO Baret Lepejian, the Magnolia Boulevard eatery filed a countersuit in July 2021, arguing in their court papers that Tinhorn Flats “suffered immensely” while other non-essential businesses were allowed to stay open.

The countersuit further alleged that Tinhorn Flats was unfairly targeted and that the outdoor dining ban hampered the business’ ability to earn a living by conducting outdoor dining, despite what the eatery management claimed was a “total lack of scientific evidence or data” to support the order. The restaurant was thus deprived of its “constitutionally protected liberties and rights,” including due process, the countersuit stated.

In September, Duffy-Lewis pared the countersuit, allowing Barfly to bring an amended complaint alleging only a violation of the freedom of assembly clause of the U.S. Constitution.

“In an exercise of its First Amendment right to freedom of speech and assembly, Barfly publicly expressed its political views opposing the shutdown orders,” according to Barfly’s amended countersuit filed in September, which seeks dismissal of all the county’s claims. “This promoted congregations at Tin Horn of like-minded individuals who shared Barfly’s same views against the shutdown orders.”

But according to the county attorneys’ court papers, a state appellate court panel ruled in 2021 that the county’s temporary ban on outdoor dining prohibited all such activity at restaurants, regardless of the reason for the gathering or the type of speech the patrons may have wished to express. In addition, the health orders allowed other safe means of communications, including through video and social distancing with mask wearing, county lawyers further argued in their court papers.

In their court papers seeking judgment on its underlying public nuisance suit, county attorneys argued there are no triable issues and no merit to any of Barfly’s defenses. They want the judge to issue rulings directing Barfly to be prohibited from re-opening the Tinhorn Flats restaurant, or opening any other eatery in the county, unless the proper permits are obtained and health orders in existence at the time are obeyed. A hearing before Duffy-Lewis is scheduled May 4.

In June 2021, Baret Lepejian’s ex-wife, Isabelle Lepejian, obtained possession of the Burbank restaurant, successfully completing an eviction process she initiated against the eatery as the property owner. She also is 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 allegedly not permitted to be there.

Isabelle Lepejian later sold the property to Old Fashioned Investment LLC.

In October 2021, the county and Cronies reached an agreement for the restaurant to pay a $25,000 civil penalty that was suspended, plus $10,000 in abatement costs.

Cronies also agreed to injunctive relief ordering them to comply with health orders and to take steps set out by the county for reinstatement of the restaurant’s public health permit, which was revoked in December 2020.

 

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