Federal Suit Labels Hesperia Administrative Citation Process Unconstitutional

More than three years after the city of Hesperia paid out $200,000 to foreclose a federal lawsuit over what a federal magistrate indicated was the unconstitutional application of its municipal authority through the use of its code enforcement division, the city appears poised on the brink of going to trial in yet another federal and potentially even more expensive lawsuit.
Worth noting is that in the current case, the city spurned an offer from the plaintiff’s attorney to settle the matter in return for the city calling a halt to the ongoing administrative adjudication process against his client.
It is the constitutionality of that administrative adjudication process, or lack thereof, that is at the root of the lawsuit filed in the United States District Court in Los Angeles by Upland-based attorney Marc Grossman on behalf of Alexander Cooper Jr. against the City of Hesperia as well as three of its residents – JoAnn Chavis, Lewis Chavis and Christopher Chavis.
It is Grossman’s contention in the suit that the Chavis family has further familial connections to individuals within the City of Hesperia and its code and law enforcement divisions and that they used those connections to vector unjustifiable enforcement action against Cooper because of personal differences that developed between them. According to Grossman, city officials either negligently or maliciously permitted the city’s code enforcement division to be applied against his client, and that the lack of Constitutional protections and accompanying violations of due process inherent in the city’s citation and administrative process resulted in Cooper being railroaded, that is, found guilty without a trial, and assessed fines that are both unjust and excessive.
In September 2012, according to the suit, Cooper moved into a home in the 10700 block of Choiceana Avenue in Hesperia and shortly thereafter an air conditioning unit on the property was stolen. Cooper reported the theft to the sheriff’s department, which serves as the police department in Hesperia. In January 2014, according to the suit, Cooper learned from a neighbor that Christopher Chavis had stolen the air conditioner. Cooper then approached Christopher Chavis, JoAnn Chavis and Lewis Chavis about the air conditioner, according to the suit, only to be met with a tirade of profanity from the trio.
“Joann Chavis then began a pattern of using her connections within the Hesperia Code Enforcement Department to harass Cooper,” according to the suit. “Joan Chavis has since, on several occasions, directed Hesperia code enforcement officers to harass Cooper at his home solely for the purpose of seriously alarming or annoying him, and for no legitimate purpose. Hesperia has conspired and acted in concert with Joann Chavis by continuing to harass Copper at his home relying solely on Joann Chavis’s frivolous complaints against Cooper, such as complains of dust in the air after Cooper moves his car on his property or allegations that Cooper had packages sent to Joann Chavis’s home to in some way commit identity theft. Hesperia has followed such illegitimate code enforcement responses with bills for up to $2,500 per response alleging that Cooper must compensate Hesperia for following up on Joann Chavis’s frivolous complaints. Hesperia has sent demands for a total of $3,912 for such illegitimate code enforcement responses,” the suit states.
Furthermore, according to the lawsuit, on February 4, 2014 Cooper and two of his girlfriend’s children were at his Choiceana Avenue home when he was confronted by eight city employees, including members of the Hesperia code enforcement division in response to what the suit says was “yet another frivolous complaint from Joann Chavis. Cooper was arrested and imprisoned on a citizen’s arrest by Lewis Chavis on charges of actions that did not factually occur. At no time on February 4, 2014 was Cooper creating or causing there to exist loud or unreasonable noise. At no time on February 4, 2014 did Cooper commit a misdemeanor in the presence of any defendant.”
Though he was given a notice to appear in court on April 9, 2014 to answer a criminal complaint relating to allowing excessive noise to emanate from his property the city said was pending against him, according to the suit, “On or about April 9, 2014 Cooper called the court to see if the district attorney had filed charges and was told charges had not yet been filed. Cooper continued to check with the court frequently over the next year to determine if charges had or had not yet been filed. Cooper is informed and believes that the district attorney never filed charges for any matters from February 4, 2014. Unfounded and frivolous disruption at Cooper’s home by Hesperia’s code enforcement in conspiracy with Joann Chavis continued on, but is not limited to, February 7, 2014, July 25, 2014, July 27, 2014, March 31, 2015, May 6, 2015 and May 8, 2015. On June 2, 2014, Joann Chavis’s harassment continued with the malicious filing of an unfounded request for a civil harassment restraining order against Cooper with the California Superior Court. The court denied the petition for lack of evidence following a motion for dismissal.”
According to Grossman, the city has, in violation of Cooper’s Constitutional rights to due process, proceeded with deeming him guilty of the code enforcement violations the city’s officers have cited him with and assessed him for the cost of the code enforcement division’s action against him, by using its administrative citation process, which does not afford the accused a trial. Through that administrative citation process, Cooper has been assessed with the $3,912 in fines. Moreover, according to Grossman, the city continued to hold over Cooper’s head the possibility that it would proceed with a criminal prosecution of the misdemeanors – producing excessive noise and disturbing the peace – referenced in those citations.
The lawsuit against Hesperia Grossman has filed on Cooper’s behalf is reminiscent of a similar suit filed by another Upland-based attorney, Louis Fazzi, on behalf of two other Hesperia residents, Janet and Esther Duran, in which the municipality used its authority, bankroll and control of the code enforcement process to overwhelm its citizens and obtain an inevitable adjudication in the city’s favor.
In January 2010, the Hesperia code enforcement division took up a case that had as its focus a property on Redwood Avenue owned by Esther Duran. which her daughter, Janet, was using as a temporary rescue shelter for horses that would otherwise have been sent to slaughterhouses for euthanization or processing for the dog food or glue manufacturing industries.
Janet Duran, an ambulance driver, in 2004 took up the cause of doomed horses, including wild mustangs run to ground by cowboys in Nevada and Arizona and ones being sold by their owners at auction, ostensibly to buyers interested in using them for horsemeat for as little as $5, $10, or $15 a head.
The Redwood property prior to city incorporation was zoned for agricultural use. The post-incorporation zoning was agricultural residential and the Durans were permitted under the city’s code to have up to six horses on the property per its acreage.
On January 13, 2010, a team of city employees that included two code enforcement officers, four armed sheriff’s department deputies in flak jackets and two animal control officers descended on the Durans’ property. One of the code enforcement officers served Esther Duran with papers and the team then seized three horses and five dogs, one of which was a stray whose owner the Durans were seeking to locate. Both Esther and Janet were cited and slapped with a total of $129,000 in fees, which upon the city’s processing protocol were ratcheted up into liens against the property. Those liens resulted in Esther Duran’s mortgage increasing from $1,400 to $4,700 per month.
Unwilling to take the city’s action lying down, the Durans hired Fazzi. Fazzi brought several principles to bear which the city had in the past routinely overlooked in its enforcement efforts, including compliance with the city’s own codes, which actually allowed for the presence of up to three more horses than the Durans had on the property on January 13, 2010 and up to five dogs, as well as the right to due process. The city’s response was to seek a series of delays, which had the effect of increasing the Durans’ legal costs while the underlying issue – the return of their animals – remained unresolved.
Despite the cost, the Durans did not simply duck out of the fight. Fazzi persisted on their behalf, successfully removing the matter to federal court. Still, the city told the court the Durans were maintaining a substandard property and that the animals for that reason should not be returned to them. Fazzi maintained that the property was up to code and in compliance in all regards. In March 2012, a court-appointed independent inspector went over the Redwood property with a fine-tooth comb, concluding the property was indeed up to code.
In April 2012, U.S. District Court Judge John E. McDermott ruled that the city’s action against the Durans was improper and that their animals would have to be returned to them. Fazzi immediately brought a motion to have McDermott consider whether the entire process the Durans had been subjected to was unconstitutional.
While McDermott’s ruling was pending, the city offered the Durans a $200,000 settlement. The tendering of that offer, and the Durans’ acceptance of it, put the matter to rest, preventing a potentially precedent-setting ruling that would prohibit the city from continuing to employ the same tactics against other city residents.
Thus, the baton for establishing that Hesperia’s administrative citation process is an inherently unconstitutional one has been passed to Grossman, who is now consigned to using the city’s action against Cooper as the means for achieving a precedent-setting decision.
Grossman, in an effort to avoid the drama the circumstance entails, sought a resolution of the matter before taking the case to trial in federal court, which will require scores of hours of preparation and trial by him and his firm and would also cost the city approaching a hundred thousand dollars in legal expenses alone. Two weeks ago Grossman offered to drop Cooper’s case in exchange for the city dismissing the pending criminal and/or infraction prosecutions and vacating the $3,912 in fines being assessed against Cooper as a result of the administrative citation adjudications. The attorney handling the matter for the city, Allen Christiansen, refused. Two days later, the criminal charges against Cooper were dropped. The city, however, is still seeking to assess the $3,912 in fines.
Grossman is now purposed to making the federal case he initiated which promises to complete the circle Fazzi began drawing with the Duran matter but was never driven to its ultimate conclusion: A declaration from a federal magistrate that the City of Hesperia’s practices overstep Constitutional authority and must be significantly curtailed. Grossman is now in the process of fortifying himself with material – testimony and evidence – to press forward with Cooper’s case in federal court.
“Joann Chavis has been trained and authorized by Hesperia to act as a volunteer in its Citizens Patrol program,” Grossman stated “In this capacity, Joann Chavis works closely, communicates regularly and has developed contacts with members of the Hesperia code enforcement division and other agents and agencies of Hesperia.”
According to Grossman “Acting under color of law, defendants worked a denial of Cooper’s rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the United States Constitution or by federal law by conspiring to: (a) deprive Cooper of his liberty without due process of law, causing him to be taken into custody and held there against his will, (b) make an unreasonable search and seizure of his person or property without due process of law, (c) impede and hinder the due course of justice, with intent to deny Cooper equal protection of laws, (d) refuse, or neglect, to prevent such deprivations and denials to plaintiff, thereby depriving plaintiff of his rights, privileges, and immunities as guaranteed by the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States.
Christiansen told the Sentinel, “Unfortunately, we do not comment on pending litigation, so there is nothing I can add for you.”

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