Owners of Tinhorn Flats Files Countersuit Against City of Burbank

Tin Horn Flats now sits empty with no new plans announced by the new property owner as the legal case winds it way through the courts for the former owners of the business. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

The contentious relationship between Tinhorn Flats ownership and the City of Burbank continues as the owners of the restaurant have filed a countersuit against the city.

The case was filed on Oct. 12 by owners Baret Lepejian, Lucas Lepejian, and Tayla Lepejian, under their parent company, Barfly, Inc. They are being represented by Mark J. Geragos and Kimberly Casper of Geragos & Geragos law firm. 

The filing alleges that past restaurant shutdown orders, which Tinhorn Flats neglected to follow, are in violation of 5th and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. The suit also cites cruel and unusual punishment by the city, calling it “unconscionable” that they may have to face “ruinous fines and months of incarceration for attempting to earn a living when there are zero factual or scientific bases that exist so as to support the notion that Cross-Complaintaints’ business is responsible for the spread of COVID-19.” They further called the city’s actions against them “unconstitutional,” as well as “arbitrary and capricious,” and lacking “no rational basis.” 

This development is the latest event to take place in an ongoing battle between the restaurant owners and the City of Burbank. This conflict began when the city started to address the owners’ lack of compliance with Los Angeles County Public Health COVID-19 orders at the dining location in late 2020. 

On February 23, 2021, the Burbank City Council voted unanimously in favor of filing a civil lawsuit against the business. This came after Tinhorn Flats owners continued to operate the business although their Conditional Use Permit had been revoked by the City of Burbank, and their County Health Permit was likewise revoked.

Once this lawsuit was filed by the city, the restaurant’s ownership remained defiant in spite of numerous attempts from the city to halt their operations. When the city was granted permission to cut off their power and padlock their doors shut, generators and BBQs were brought in, and padlocks were cut to allow patrons inside. 

In a myth vs. facts list from a page the City of Burbank has dedicated to the Tinhorn Flats controversy, they explain that “The willful actions of Tinhorn Flats’ (THF) owners caused the closure of their restaurant. They continuously ignored and consistently violated COVID-19 rules established by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, including various restrictions on in-person dining, that other Burbank businesses complied with. Even after repeated warnings and violation notices, Tinhorn Flats continued to operate the restaurant after their health permit was suspended and revoked, serving patrons both indoors and out while also inviting people to eat at the restaurant.”

When asked for comments on the countersuit, City of Burbank Public Information Officer Simone McFarland stated that “The City is not able to discuss trial strategy with the public. However, the public can monitor progress on cases by checking with the clerk of the Los Angeles Superior Court or by visiting the City’s update page for Tin Horn Flats at https://www.burbankca.gov/tinhorn-flats.”  

When contacted, the legal representatives of the Tinhorn Flats owners did not respond with a statement.

On June 15, Tinhorn Flats was evicted by the property owner, Isabelle Lepejian. In a press release, the city announced that the property was sold as of Nov. 9, and the fence surrounding the site was removed as of Nov. 12. The new owner of the property is Old Fashioned Investment, LLC but the city has not received an application for reuse of the property.

At the Burbank City Council meeting held on Tuesday, November 16, new Burbank City Attorney Joe McDougall announced that the council decided to drop the landowner, Isabelle Lepejian, from the city’s lawsuit against Tinhorn Flats (Barfly, Inc.).

The city said more information about the terms of the settlement will be released with a couple of weeks.

When asked about the citations they have brought against Tinhorn Flats, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health stated that “the County is in ongoing litigation with Tin Horn Flats,” as the business owners have not yet completed paying these fines. The DPH also said that “the total fine amount for administrative citations issued for violation of the Health Officer Order is $30,000.”