NFL Stadium Planner Scores in Appeals Court

     (CN) — A judge shouldn’t have tossed claims that a city near Los Angeles breached its deal with a developer who spent hundreds of thousands on plans for a new NFL stadium, a California appeals court ruled.
     Richard Rand, the sole member of Rand Resources LLC and the managing and controlling member of Carson El Camino LLC, sued the city of Carson, Calif., and its redevelopment agency for civil rights violations in December 2006.
     The city planned to develop a sports and entertainment complex, including a football stadium, on a 91-acre site near a freeway intersection — 12 acres of which El Camino owns.
     Aiming to persuade a National Football League franchise to make the site its home, the city’s then-mayor demanded a bribe from Rand for the land, but he refused to pay, according to court records.
     Rand prevailed in a jury trial, but later agreed to refrain from enforcing the judgment, accepting the city’s offer to make his firm the exclusive agent for developing the sports complex.
     Rand Resources claims it spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and a great deal of time retaining attorneys, engineers, and architects, and meeting with NFL executives and owners.
     Yet soon after Rand and the city settled his lawsuit in April 2013, Carson allegedly breached their contract by letting Leonard Bloom and U.S. Capital LLC act as the city’s NFL agent.
     Rand and his firm, in turn, sued the city and its mayor, James Dear, as well as Bloom and his firm, alleging they secretly conspired to “get around” the Rand contract.
     Bloom and a colleague “routinely ghostwrote letters for Mayor Dear that [he] put on his official letterhead and sent to third parties” to undermine the contract, Rand’s complaint states.
     Indeed, Bloom allegedly created a new entity for himself and named it Rand Resources LLC.
     A San Diego Chargers representative and several city employees informed Rand of the Bloom defendants’ activities, but Dear falsely denied them, according to the complaint.
     The complaint asserts breach of contract, tort claims, and promissory fraud against the city alone; intentional interference with contract and prospective economic advantage against the Bloom defendants alone; and fraud against all defendants.
     Last year, the trial court granted the defendants’ anti-SLAPP motions to strike certain claims.
     Rand appealed, and California’s Second District Appeals Court reversed the lower court’s ruling Tuesday.
     The tortious breach of contract claim is not premised on protected free speech, but on whether the city carried out its contract with Rand Resources, the ruling states.
     “While having an NFL team, stadium, and associated developments in Carson is no doubt a matter of substantial public interest, plaintiffs’ complaint does not concern speech or conduct regarding a large scale real estate development or bringing an NFL team to Carson and building it a stadium,” Judge Elwood Lui wrote for a three-judge panel. “It instead concerns the identity of the person(s) reaching out to the NFL and its teams’ owners to curry interest in relocating to Carson. The identity of the city’s representative is not a matter of public interest.”
     The judge noted that “the city was not paying Rand Resources for its services or even reimbursing Rand Resources for its expenses.”
     The trial court also erred by striking the interference and fraud claims, the ruling states.
     All of the Bloom defendants’ “duplicitous” activity “pertains to the Bloom defendants’ private conduct of their own business, not their free speech or petitioning activities,” Lui wrote. “They were not, for example, voicing criticism of a plan to have an NFL franchise base itself in the city or even a plan to build a stadium and sports-retail complex there. They were simply attempting to usurp, by any available means, the rights and role of plaintiff Rand Resources.”
     The plaintiffs’ attorney, Joseph Ybarra with Huang Ybarra Singer & May in Los Angeles, said, “Rand Resources is pleased with the decision of the Court of Appeals and looks forward to prosecuting its claims in the trial court.”
     The city and mayor’s attorney, Sunny Soltani with Aleshire & Wynder in Los Angeles said the city is “understandably disappointed” with the ruling.
     But “this litigation is in the very preliminary stages and the city has yet to respond on the merits,” Soltani added.
     “This case has been fundamentally flawed from the outset, and will fail on the merits because the exclusive agency agreement was limited to Mr. Rand serving as the city’s representative before the National Football League,” Soltani wrote.
     “Bloom never ever served the city in that capacity, and that will be proved,” Soltani added. “In fact, as the opinion clarifies and the complaint alleges, any discussions with Mr. Bloom were by the former Mayor Jim Dear. He is one councilperson and cannot bind the entire city. You need to have at least three of the council acting for a city to take action.”
     Noting that the franchise never actualized, Soltani said there are “no damages to Mr. Rand.”
     “This decision is also directly at odds with another published opinion from a sister appellate district,” Soltani added. “We will be briefing the Carson City Council on its litigation options on a going-forward basis, but it is not unreasonable to think that the California Supreme Court may be interested in resolving these conflicting Courts of Appeal decisions.”
     The Bloom defendants’ attorney, John Tamborelli with Tamborelli Law Group in Woodland Hills, Calif., said he would return a request for comment Friday.
     Located about 17.5 miles south of Los Angeles proper, Carson has an estimated population of 93,281, which is 38.6 percent Hispanic, 25.6 percent Asian, 23.8 percent white, and 23.8 percent black, with a median household income of $71,420, census records show.

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