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South-Central Burger Stand Is a Nuisance, Appellate Court Rules

William Fulton on
May 11, 2015

A South-Central Los Angeles fast-food establishment constituted a public nuisance that merited additional restrictions on its operations, the Second District Court of Appeal has ruled.

The City of Los Angeles determined that Tam's Burgers No. 6 - located at Figueroa and 101st Street - constituted a public nuisance even though the burger stand's owners claimed most of the problems arose from the fact that the burger stand was located in a high-crime neighborhood. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Robert O'Brien ruled in favor of the city and the Second District, Division Five, upheld O'Brien's decision.

The City of Los Angeles Zoning Administrator declared Tam's No. 6 a public nuisance in 2012, after the Los Angeles Police Department determined that Tam's had been the subject of an inordinate number of police calls. The city required Tam's to add a wide variety of operational restrictions, including limiting hours of operation, establishing a complaint hot line, and installing a six-foot wrought-iron fence. An appeal to the Los Angeles City Council failed, and then Judge O'Brien ruled against Tam's.

On appeal, Tam's argued that the trial court should have reviewed the matter de-novo, using its independent judgment. Tam's also argued that the nuisance ruling should be overturned because "the City failed to establish a causal connection between their operations and the nuisance activity of third parties."  

Writing for a three-judge panel of the Fifth Division, Justice Richard Mosk concliuded that, no matter what standard of review the trial court uses, the appellate court must use a substantial evidence standard of review. 

Once that had been established, he wrote: "The trial court properly found that the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that the cost of operating conditions would force Tam's out of business. 

Mosk also wrote that the substantial evidence found that Tam's did operate in a manner that constituted a nuisance. Even though Tam's No. 6 argued that ambient crime in the neighborhood was the problem, the appellate court noted that another Tam's 20 blocks away did not have similar problems.

"Plaintiffs assert that they should not be responsible legally for the problems that occur in a high crime area. But there was substantial evidence that the plaintiffs failed to take steeps to ameliorate the problem," Mosk wrote.

The Case:

Jack Benetatos v. City of Los Angeles, No. B253491 

The Lawyers: 

For Benetatos: Benjamin Reznik, Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell, MR@jmbm.com 

For City of Los Angeles, Amy Brothers, Deputy City Attorney, amy.brothers@lacity.org