Judge Rebuffs Eatery Over Preliminary Injunction

Photo by Christian Leonard / Burbank Leader
Representatives of Tinhorn Flats Saloon and Grill (above) attempted to persuade a judge to dissolve a court order that prevents the eatery from operating. The judge refused on Friday, pointing out the restaurant still doesn’t have the required permits.

A judge on Friday rejected Tinhorn Flats Saloon and Grill’s request to end the court order prohibiting it from operating and to fine the city of Burbank for fencing in the restaurant.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff’s ruling retained the preliminary injunction against the controversial eatery, which for months has faced lawsuits from Burbank and L.A County in connection with its refusal to abide by former health orders prohibiting in-person dining.

The preliminary injunction prohibits Tinhorn Flats from being operated until it regains its required county health permit — which was revoked because of the restaurant’s defiance — and Burbank conditional use permit, which the City Council unanimously voted to remove in February.

Beckloff’s ruling also denied Tinhorn Flats’ request that the city be fined a total of $100,000 for arresting the owner’s son and fencing in the restaurant. The judge said Tinhorn Flats’ representatives had failed to present sufficient evidence for their motion, and emphasized that the eatery isn’t allowed to operate until it regains the proper permits.

The city’s public battle with Tinhorn Flats has been at a relative standstill since April 10, when the municipality built a chain-link fence around the property after it was “red-tagged,” or declared unsafe. Officials said the restaurant had a number of safety violations primarily related to its lack of electricity, which the city shut off with permission from the court.

Tinhorn Flats’ attorneys, Mark Geragos and Alexandra Kazarian of the law firm Geragos & Geragos, argued that the preliminary injunction was moot because county coronavirus regulations no longer restrict indoor or outdoor dining.

They also argued that the city’s fencing in of Tinhorn Flats went against Beckloff’s previous orders, which allowed Burbank officials to switch off the restaurant’s power and padlock its doors to prevent operation but not to barricade the location. 

The judge, in an April ruling, said he was concerned that Burbank’s “suggested enforcement mechanisms present their own public health and safety risk — not only to [parent corporation] Barfly and its patrons but to the surrounding neighborhood, as well.”

The Burbank Police Department’s arrests of Lucas Lepejian, son of Tinhorn Flats owner Baret Lepejian, were also in violation of the court’s order, Geragos and Kazarian said. A temporary restraining order — which was later extended into a preliminary injunction — barred employees from operating Tinhorn Flats at the time.

BPD officers arrested Lucas Lepejian twice on suspicion of violating a court order and once for his alleged attempt to remove city-placed sandbags barricading the restaurant’s doors after it was red-tagged. Just a day before the first arrest at the beginning of April, the 20-year-old publicly sawed the city’s padlocks off Tinhorn Flats’ doors to operate the eatery.

The business’ attorneys noted in their filings that the court order allows Lepejian to enter the property “for non-business purposes,” though they did not argue that Lepejian’s alleged attempts to enter Tinhorn Flats were for those purposes.

“The City has become the nuisance that it purported to extinguish,” they wrote. “The City has now permanently and illegally seized Tinhorn Flats and prevented it [from] accessing their own property creating significant structural damage to the property itself, and it has terrorized Lucas Lepejian by repeatedly, and unlawfully arresting and citing him for vague allegations of contempt.”

However, City Attorney Amy Albano and senior assistant city attorneys Michael Lee and Jill Borght pointed out in court filings that, regardless of the status of coronavirus-related health orders, the restaurant has yet to regain its required permits.

They added that Lepejian’s third arrest and the fencing of Tinhorn Flats stemmed from its being red-tagged. Because of this, the attorneys said, the city’s actions preventing access to the property were lawful under Burbank’s municipal code.

The attorneys also claimed that Tinhorn Flats’ representatives have not reached out to the city to request access to the property.

“Because the property was red-tagged, and lesser measures to prevent entry had been breached, the City was authorized to install a fence based on the Building Official’s emergency powers in order to secure the property,” the city’s attorneys wrote.

“This was separate and apart from the City’s request to the Court for authorization to barricade the property. Although the Court denied that request, the Court did not prohibit the City from utilizing other enforcement mechanisms, which include enforcement tools provided under the [Burbank municipal code].”

Beckloff agreed, noting in his ruling that “the absence of a court order authorizing the City to take certain actions is not a court order against such conduct.”