The government’s power to take and keep private property by eminent domain is strong, but it is not absolute. With innovative legal research, persuasive advocacy, and hard work, the litigators at Sullivan, Workman & Dee, LLP, were recently able to secure for the previous owner the right to reacquire a historically relevant building that had been taken by the City of Los Angeles.

The firm pursued the appeal in a matter of first impression involving the proper interpretation of Code of Civil Procedure Section 1245.245, a rarely used 2007 addition to the California Eminent Domain Law. In July 2020, the California Court of Appeal issued a published opinion in the matter of Rutgard v. City of Los Angeles that clarified the law and protected the rights of private property owners.

Code of Civil Procedure Section 1245.245 requires a public entity that acquired private property through eminent domain, but has not dedicated that property to the public use for which the property was taken within ten years, to either adopt a new resolution of necessity or offer the right of first refusal to repurchase the property to the owner from which it was taken.

The Los Angeles City Council voted to reauthorize the initial resolution of necessity to acquire our client’s property more ten years after its initial adoption date. The reauthorizing resolution was approved over our client’s objection that the expiration of the ten-year period meant that the City did not have authority to adopt such a resolution and instead had a statutory obligation to offer our client a right of first refusal to buy the property in accordance with Section 1245.245.

Our firm filed a writ of mandate action to force the City to uphold its duty to offer a right of first refusal for property to our client and succeeded at trial on the merits.

On appeal, the City of Los Angeles argued that there was no time limit for adoption of a reauthorizing resolution or, in the alternative, the time limit should run from the effective date of the resolution as opposed to the date it was adopted. The Court of Appeal agreed with our firm’s argument that Section 1245.245 imposes a ten-year time limit on public entities and that beginning and ending dates for the ten-year period track the adoption dates for the resolutions.

The Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s determination that the City had not acted in a timely manner and had a duty to offer a right of first refusal for the property to its former owner. A copy of the decision is here.