Yellow-tagged school sues city, seeks $6 million in damages

A private Armenian school that has been fighting to operate for nearly two years is seeking up to $6 million in damages from the city that it claims it suffered as a result of being temporarily shut down.

Scholars Academic Foundation claims in its lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court that the city violated its rights to due process and caused economic harm when officials closed the school by “yellow-tagging” the building in February 2010.

The school is seeking $2.75 million to $6 million in damages, according to court documents.

But City Atty. Mike Garcia argued in court documents that the school's claims lack merit, and even if they didn't, the most Scholars Academic Foundation could recover is three to five weeks' worth of rent.

“The economic impact of the ‘yellow-tagging' is minimal,” Garcia contended.

A judge took the case for review last week, but Garcia said in an email that a decision isn't expected for some time.

The city maintains it had the right to shut down the school after a fire inspection found an inadequate fire alarm and locked or blocked exits. The school's attorneys have said the issues were quickly fixed and the shutdown was excessive.

Due to the legal tussle, Scholars has moved to another city. The school's attorney wouldn't say where, but it operated at Throop Universalist Unitarian Church in Pasadena for some time last school year. It has since moved, a church receptionist said.

“Its losses due to the city's misconduct are staggering. It may never recover fully,” Scholars attorney Richard Foster said in an email. “Whether Scholars would be able to move back to the city of Glendale is difficult to say at this point given the city's attitude and abusive conduct.”

Moses Boyadjian, director of operations at Foster's law firm, said the school has 30 students enrolled at its new location. It once had 300 students, but that dropped steeply after the “yellow-tagging,” according to court documents.

The debacle began when Scholars Academic Foundation moved from its location at 1021 Grandview Ave. to a former Glendale Unified School District building at 3800 Foothill Blvd. in January 2010. But the school did not have proper city permits.

The school's principal, Anahit Grigoryan, said during court proceedings that the city's former zoning administrator, Edith Fuentes, said the school could operate in its new building if it quickly applied for permits. But that turned out to be an incorrect assessment.

The city sent the kindergarten-to-12th-grade school violation notices but never received a response. In a surprise February visit, a fire inspector found it unsafe to occupy.

After the safety issues were fixed, the city still wouldn't let the school open, according to court documents. Several students were enrolled elsewhere, including at Burbank Unified schools.

The school sued the city in state and federal court. The latter was dismissed, but the former — the case now under review — chugged through the system. After filing the state lawsuit, the school applied for city permits, and a judge allowed it to reopen for 15 days, but it continued to operate after that window expired.

At the city's request, a judge ordered the school to close in September.

“There is no statutory right to operate the business of one's choosing in the location of one's choice,” Garcia said in court documents.

TIMELINE

Jan. 29, 2010: City sends Scholars Academic Foundation a notice of violation for missing permits. City does not receive response.

Feb. 24, 2010: Fire inspector “yellow-tags,” or shuts down, the school.

April 1, 2010: Scholars Academic Foundation files lawsuit against the city in Los Angeles County Superior Court. Around the same time, it files a case in U.S. District Court, Central District of California.

April 5, 2010: Temporary court order allows school to occupy building for 15 days.

April 8, 2010: School applies for city permits.

April 19, 2010: City officials discover application checks bounced.

April 20, 2010: Temporary order to occupy building expires.

July 8, 2010: Federal court dismisses case.

July 27, 2010: City rejects incomplete permit application.

Sept 4, 2010: Temporary court order issued for school closure.

April 24, 2012: Judge takes case under review and says decision will take some time.

Source: Federal and county superior court records

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