A judge Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit brought by the owners of the Classic Cat restaurant against the city of West Hollywood, litigation that began when the eatery sought a court order in 2021 allowing patio dining during coronavirus restrictions on outdoor dining.
The eatery’s owners maintained that the patio was sufficiently ventilated to avoid any potential spread of COVID-19 and also was vital to keeping the business viable.
The litigation later centered on what the restaurant owners maintained was harassment by the city that manifested itself in a variety of ways, primarily through allegedly unreasonable searches at the restaurant and purported noise violations.
The fines started at $1,000 per violation, grew to $2,000 per violation and then “skyrocketed” to $5,000 per violation, totaling about $60,000, the restaurant’s former lawyers stated in their court papers.
But Santa Monica Superior Court Judge Elaine Mandel noted in her ruling Tuesday that the city’s dismissal motion was unopposed by the Classic Cat and that after she granted a motion by the eatery’s lawyers to withdraw from the case in May, no replacements were hired.
“Plaintiff has had sufficient time to retain counsel and has not done so,” the judge wrote. “This delay has caused a delay in discovery, with an upcoming trial date, prejudicing (the city).”
The dismissal was “without prejudice,” meaning the case can be reinstated with the proper legal authority.
The Classic Cat’s former lawyers included ex-Riverside County District Attorney Rod Pacheco. In their court papers, Pacheco and his firm, Pacheco & Neach PC, stated that a breakdown occurred in the attorney-client relationship that could not be resolved.
The Classic Cat owners maintained the patio’s retractable roof created COVID-safe outdoor dining and said they also implemented other protections, including plexiglass and air ventilation improvements.
The civil rights suit filed in March 2021 originally included Los Angeles County as a defendant, but the restaurant dropped the county from the case in September of that year. Lawyers for the county had maintained that the patio did not meet the county’s standards for outdoor dining.
Mandel had noted in a previous ruling that the county Department of Public Health maintained that allowing dining at the Classic Cat “could result in severe harm to the public and increased risk of COVID-19 transmission.”
She noted that the county health order allowed takeout and delivery at the restaurant, but the owners maintained those options did not bring in sufficient income.
The historical Classic Cat was a highly popular stop for locals and tourists, as well as celebrities such as the late Adam West, Charlton Heston and Jim Morrison, as well as Chevy Chase. The modern Classic Cat owners say they intended to build on that heritage, but with an upscale ambience and menu.