The Rancho Santa Fe Post

Judge Will Consider Rancho Librado anti-SLAPP Motion

Update: On December 8, 2015, the Superior Court of California, County of San Diego, dismissed eight out of nine Causes of Action in the lawsuit filed by Golden Eagle Land Investment LP and the Mabee Family Trust against the Rancho Santa Fe Association. Read the press release here

On September 1, Golden Eagle Land Investment filed a lawsuit against the Rancho Santa Fe Association over the Association’s alleged false assurances regarding their support for the Rancho Librado project.

Of note, Golden Eagle’s consultant is former RSF Board Manager Pete Smith. The RSF Board revoked Mr. Smith’s severance payments after they allege that he made disparaging comments about the Board in violation of his severance agreement.

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In response to the Golden Eagle lawsuit, the Association filed an anti-SLAPP lawsuit against Golden Eagle Land Investment, alleging that Golden Eagle’s claim lacks substance, legal underpinnings, and evidence. Golden Eagle sought to dismiss the motion. On December 4, Judge Timothy M. Casserly heard each side in the anti-SLAPP and will consider the motion further before issuing a final decision.

The Mabee family wishes to develop senior housing on the 28-acre lot on Calzada del Bosque and has spent over $1.6 million in the design, planning, and engineering phase of the project.

The plaintiffs are suing the Association for $1.6 million in damages, alleging that the RSF Board breached fiduciary duties, made false promises and misrepresentations, that they interfered with prospective economic relations, and they breached an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.

For context, it is alleged that Golden Eagle Land Investment made assurances to other governing bodies including the San Dieguito Planning Commission and the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, telling them that the RSF Board was in support of their project. The claims in this case stem from a decision by the Rancho Santa Fe Board to send a letter to the respective bodies to inform them that the RSF Board had not yet taken an official position on the project.

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Golden Eagle Land Investment further claims that the Association violated its bylaws and the Open Meeting Act (OMA) by discussing Rancho Librado at the May 7 Association Board meeting without proper notice.

Both agenda items on May 7, titled “Presentation on High Density Housing” and “Review of 2006 RSFA Planning Committee Study and Board Decision,” did not specifically mention Rancho Librado. The RSF Board claims that this constituted sufficient notice.

At the December 4 hearing, attorneys from Golden Eagle Land Investment argued their clients “have been treated differently from other members of the Covenant. Over the past 23 years, the process has been the same: seek County approval first and then Association approval.”

A critical component of the case could be that the RSF Board has not voted against the project. Rather, the letter stated that the Board had not taken a position either way.

Judge Casserly questioned the link between Golden Eagle’s claim of disparate treatment from the Association and the $1.6 million in damages. He stated “the project might still happen, yes?” If so, Golden Eagle has no standing to sue for damages since the project is not dead and the $1.6 million would have to be spent either way.

As to the alleged Open Meeting Act violation, the RSF Association’s representation explained that there can only be a violation of the OMA if the Board acted on something that was not on the agenda. The Board contends they did not take any action outside the scope of the agenda items.

Judge Timothy M. Casserly will take the anti-SLAPP case under submission. We will update RSF members when his decision is issued.