Rancho Santa Fe couple appeals ruling on noise lawsuit against resort


A Rancho Santa Fe couple who sued the Rancho Valencia Resort in 2012, alleging that noise from the resort during weddings and other events constituted a public nuisance, plan to appeal a ruling issued in February by a San Diego Superior Court judge.

In a 26-page ruling issued on Feb. 2, Judge William S. Dato wrote that the couple, Angel and Linda Mendez, had failed to prove that the resort had violated San Diego County’s noise ordinance, and he declined to issue a permanent injunction that would have barred the resort from holding certain types of events on its Croquet Lawn, which is about 600 feet from the Mendez property.

On April 3, the couple, through their attorney, Philip Burkhardt of Rancho Santa Fe, filed a notice of appeal, signaling their intent to request a review of the case by California’s Fourth District Court of Appeal.

The notice precedes written briefs to be filed by the two sides, outlining their arguments on why the appeals court should or should not overturn Dato’s ruling, said Burkhardt. Oral arguments will also be held before the appeals court rules.

One key argument the couple will raise in the appeal is that in his ruling, Dato conceded the resort may have violated a county ordinance, called the Resort Services Regulation, Burkhardt said. That regulation, the judge wrote, prohibits the use of a public address system at such volume that words can be understood outside the boundaries of the resort property.

“The evidence at trial compels a conclusion that the public address system used by the Resort on the Croquet Lawn operates at a volume that allows words to be understood outside the boundaries of the Rancho Valencia property,” Dato wrote.

Based on that finding, Burkhardt said, the judge should have issued an order prohibiting the resort from using the P.A. system in a way that violates the country Resort Services Regulation.

“One of the points of the appeal will be that the courts should not be looking the other way for these violations, that they have a duty to enforce the law,” Burkhardt said.

Steve Strauss, an attorney representing the resort, disagreed with Burkhardt. He said the argument regarding the violation of the Resort Services Regulation was a “late hail Mary” in the case “that doesn’t, in my view, provide grounds to reverse on appeal.”

Later in the ruling, Dato wrote that if a violation had occurred, it does not mean the resort is guilty of creating a nuisance. “Any effect flowing from that narrow violation is minor and not substantial,” the judge wrote. Dato added that the couple’s remedy would be a request to county officials to enforce the regulation.

“We believe and expect (Dato’s) ruling will be affirmed on appeal,” Strauss said.

Meanwhile, the resort will also seek to recover costs incurred in defending against the Mendez lawsuit, Strauss said. About two weeks ago, Strauss said, Dato amended his ruling to award the resort $48,276 in court costs.

Attorneys said the appeals process could take one to two years before a ruling is issued.

As a result of Dato’s ruling, a temporary injunction issued by a different judge in December 2012 was lifted. That order prohibited the resort from generating noise that disturbed the couple’s “comfortable enjoyment” of their property.