The city of Tulare has filed a motion challenging the right of Councilman Greg Nunley to sue the city for defamation, slander and interfering with his real estate development business.
Additionally, the city has filed a response to a second lawsuit by Nunley that seeks the release of an independent investigator’s report on an alleged altercation between Tulare Councilman Carlton Jones and Lt. Jarod Boatman, a member of the city’s police force.
In the defamation case, Nunley is demanding a payment of $16.5 million to recover losses due to damage caused by what he claims was a conspiracy by employees at city hall to both ruin his reputation and hamper his ability to do business. Specifically, Nunley claims the city falsely reported he failed to pay development impact fees associated with his project and did not file required paperwork in a timely manner. Nunley also claims the city created false documents and altered others to support their claims.
The city has denied the allegations, and Nunley’s claim was denied by the city council.
Now, the city has filed a motion to strike Nunley’s request, claiming the suit fits the state’s definition of a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) suit “for the sole purpose of continuing to attempt to exert improper influence over the city.”
According to the city’s motion, Nunley never specified what actions on the part of its employees caused Nunley and his businesses damage. Further, the city says Nunley never sought review of any issues relating to his business dealings with the city council, as required by the Tulare Municipal Code.
Because the city employee’s actions–though they were never specified in Nunley’s lawsuit–occurred while the employees were attempting to enforce the city’s real estate development laws, they are protected by the state’s anti-SLAPP law.
The city is seeking to have Nunley’s motion stricken entirely or in part, and has asked the court to require Nunley to pay the cost of defending the suit.
Failure to Appeal
According to the city’s recent filing, Nunley would have been required by the Tulare Municipal Code to file an appeal of any decision made by the city before filing his lawsuit. The city maintains Nunley did not make any such appeal of its previous conduct, and therefore Nunley is not entitled to seek a remedy by suing.
“Accordingly, any decision which could have been appealed is now barred, and cannot be litigated by this lawsuit,” the city’s motion to strike states.
Further, the city’s lawyers claim Nunley’s defamation suit stems from a lawsuit filed against him by a private citizen. That suit, brought by former Tulare police lieutenant David W. Frost, claims that Nunley failed to pay development impact fees for a trio of his real estate projects. The Frost suit also alleges Nunley falsified documents related to those projects in order to continue to delay payment of the fees. Nunley has denied these allegations, claiming the fees were not due and the incorrect documents, which state Nunley owned property belonging to others, were filed in error.
The city also claims allegations in Nunley’s lawsuit “mirror” charges made against Nunley by city employees, who said the councilman threatened their jobs and created a hostile work environment.
‘A Good Reputation’
In addition to claiming Nunley “cannot demonstrate a likelihood of prevailing on the merits” of the claims in his lawsuit, the city’s filing also describes Nunley’s legal woes during the past year.
Specifically, the city’s motion includes mention of four different lawsuits filed against Nunley and his business, Great Valley Builders. All four of the suits allege breach of contract on Nunley’s part and appear to be associated with his real estate development ventures. The suits against Nunley were filed by various development-related businesses, including engineering firm Quad Knopf, Inc., Visalia Lumber Company and Quinn Rental Services, which filed a pair of suits against him.
The city’s motion also cited criminal charges filed against Nunley for allegedly racing another vehicle while traveling between Tulare and Visalia on Mooney Boulevard in May of last year.
“Notwithstanding, (Nunley) claims here in that he ‘has developed a good reputation for himself and his business enterprises,’” according to the city’s motion.
The court will consider the city’s motion to strike in Department 1 of the Tulare Superior Court at 8:30am on February 24.
The Jones Suit
In a separate filing, the city has responded to a second lawsuit brought by Nunley. In that issue, Nunley is attempting to force the city to make public a report by an independent investigator into an alleged altercation between Councilman Carlton Jones and Lt. Jarod Boatman, a member of the city’s police force.
According to the city’s filing in that matter, Nunley is not entitled to use the court to force its hand, listing 11 different positive defenses against the action.
The city maintains it followed the law in denying Jones and Nunley access to the report. Specifically, the city’s attorneys claim the report, which includes information on city personnel, is protected from disclosure by law. They city also claims Nunley failed to follow the prescribed appeals process before filing his lawsuit.
The city has requested the court uphold its decision not to release the report. No date has been set for a hearing on the matter.