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Manufactured Home Communities, Inc. v. County of San Diego

March 17, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Napoleon A. Jones, Jr. United States District Judge


Currently before the Court is Defendants' Renewal Motion to Strike State Tort Causes of Action Pursuant to California Code of Civil Procedure § 425.26 ("Renewal Motion"). [Doc. No. 154.] Plaintiff filed an Opposition to the Renewal Motion, and Defendants filed a Reply. [Doc. Nos. 156, 158.] The Court has determined that the issues presented are appropriate for decision without oral argument. See S.D. CAL. CIVLR 7.1(I)(2). For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS Defendants' Renewal Motion.

Factual Background

In July and September of 2002, Plaintiff sent notices to three of its manufactured home parks, Lamplighter Village Mobile Home Park, Rancho Valley Mobile Home Park, and Rancho Mesa Mobile Home Park, informing tenants of upcoming rent increases. (Pl.'s Opp. at 2; Def s Mem. of P. and A. at 2.) In response, tenants of the Lamplighter Village Mobile Home Park ("Lamplighter Park") contacted Defendant Dianne Jacob ("Defendant Jacob"), the San Diego County Supervisor representing District Two. (Decl. Of Pettingill ¶ 2; Def.'s Exs. 1, 2.) Plaintiff claims that Defendant Jacob subsequently undertook the following actions:*fn1

On November 15, 2002, Defendant Jacob issued a News Advisory stating that Plaintiff was preying upon elderly tenants with fixed incomes by raising the rent by 25%. (Sec. Am. Compl. ¶ 14; Decl. of Yusim ¶ 23; Pl.'s Ex. 23.)

On November 16, 2002, Defendant Jacob attended a tenants meeting at Lamplighter Park, where Defendant Jacob made several allegedly false statements about Plaintiff, including the following:

(1) Plaintiff is a greedy, profit-driven company that enjoys forcing the elderly out of their homes in order to move in more expensive homes for a greater profit;

(2) "it would be interesting to see" if Plaintiff had engaged in any fraudulent actions; and

(3) Defendant Jacob had spoken with County Counsel and District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, who were "very interested" in following up on whether civil or criminal actions should be pursued against Plaintiff. (Sec. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 16-18; Decl. of Yusim ¶ 24; Pl.'s Ex. 24.)

In a letter dated November 18, 2002, to Plaintiff's Chairman, Sam Zell, and distributed to Lamplighter Park tenants and attached to a subsequent civil complaint, Defendant Jacob made the following allegedly false statements: (1) Plaintiff's actions were "rent gouging at its worst" and indicative of "corporate greed"; (2) "[s]ome of the residents have already been forced to surrender their homes"; and (3) Plaintiff's rent increase was well above the 2003 Fair Market Rent of $539 for manufactured home spaces. (Sec. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 21, 109, 110; Decl. of Yusim ¶ 27; Pl.'s Ex. 27.)

On or about December 10, 2002, Defendant Jacob allegedly stated to the local news media that Plaintiff had lied to the Department of Environmental Health about Defendant's clean-up effort in response to a sewage spill at Rancho Valley Mobile Home Park ("Rancho Valley Park"). (Sec. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 23, 111.) Defendant Jacob allegedly also stated: (1) that Plaintiff is a "bad company" and that she wanted them "out of town," (2) that they "shouldn't get away with" their lies, and (3) that she wanted "to make sure that they're cited for every single offense . . . and whatever actions need to be taken are taken, civil [sic] or criminally." (Id. at ¶ 23; Decl. of Yusim ¶ 13; Pl.'s Ex. 13.)

On January 9, 2003, the San Diego Union Tribune published an article with Defendant Jacob's statements "to the effect that [Plaintiff] was 'preying on older people of limited economic means,' and that she was going to 'mak[e] things even hotter for the predatory company.'" (Sec. Am. Compl. ¶ 27.)

On April 5, 2003, Defendant Jacob allegedly falsely stated to tenants that Plaintiff made a practice of buying "distressed properties with the intent to run out the older residents to bring in newer homes," and told tenants that since no rent control ordinance had been passed, "'we need to take other measures . . . like litigation.'" (Sec. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 34, 35, 112.)

On August 16, 2003, during a rally at Lamplighter Park, Defendant Jacob (1) described Plaintiff as a "Goliath," (2) encouraged tenants to "FIGHT" against Plaintiff, (3) told residents "You have a PROBLEM, and that problem is [Plaintiff]," and (4) ...

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