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Lawsuit Over National City Eminent Domain Authority Reinstated

A lawsuit challenging National City's updated blight findings and extended eminent domain authority for about 700 parcels in a redevelopment project area has been reinstated after a trial court judge threw out the suit on procedural grounds.

The Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled that the plaintiffs in the suit should be allowed to correct an error in a published summons. The decision permits the Community Youth Athletic Center and the Institute for Justice to press forward with its reverse validation suit regarding an ordinance amending National City's redevelopment plan.

In August 2007, National City adopted an ordinance extending the time period for treating about 700 parcels west of Interstate 805 as blighted and permitting the taking of that property via eminent domain. The Community Youth Athletic Center operates a boxing gym and athletic facility for at-risk youths in the area where the city's redevelopment agency was working on development agreements for a 20-story tower, condominiums and retail space.

The center filed a suit contending it was being deprived of its property without due process and that the city was using the eminent domain law for constitutionally illegitimate purposes, such as economic development. After filing the suit, the center sought a court order for service by newspaper publication on the city and "all persons interested in the matter." In a reverse validation suit such as this, the plaintiff is essentially suing � and must notify � "the world."

When the trial judge was unavailable, the center got the presiding judge to sign the requested order. However, the center had to get a new order when the newspaper altered its publication schedule. But the October 2007 firestorms in San Diego County closed courthouses for a week, so there was an additional delay. When the summons was finally published, it contained the wrong deadline for filing a response to the reverse validation action. The summons specified a November 16, 2007, deadline, when by law the deadline was actually November 19.

Because of this error, the city argued the suit should be dismissed, and San Diego County Superior Court Judge William Cannon granted the city's request.

On appeal, the Fourth District determined the defect "cannot be considered to be minor or inconsequential." However, for good cause � the unavailability of the trial judge, the newspaper schedule change, the courthouse closures � the court should have permitted the center to republish the summons, the Fourth District ruled.

"[P]laintiff adequately set forth reasons why it inadvertently failed to comply with the statute," the court ruled. "Specifically, plaintiff's attorney was seeking to comply with the applicable notice requirements, and the error in the publication date was directly attributable to the administrative difficulties he encountered in obtaining an appropriate order by publication, to afford such notice."

The Case:
Community Youth Athletic Center v. City of National City, No. D052584, 09 C.D.O.S. 858. Filed January 22, 2009.
The Lawyers:
For the center: Richard Segal, Pillsbury, Winthrop, Shaw, Pittman, (619) 234-5000.
For National City: Bruce Beach, Best, Best & Krieger, (619) 525-1300.

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