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  • Writer's pictureWendie Kellington

Judge Awards Attorneys' Fees to Plaintiff in Rockaway Beach Case

For an attorney, there is no better feeling than winning a case where justice is served – including where the court orders the opposing party to pay that client's legal fees. That's what happened this week in Tillamook County, where attorney Jonathan Radmacher and I represented homeowners: Tai Dang, Tu Nguyen and Hue Le against the City of Rockaway Beach.

Mr. Dang immigrated to the United States from Vietnam with his family when he was just 14 years old, looking for a better life. He became an engineer, and eventually pooled his resources with several friends – Hue Le and Tue Nguyen – to build a beach home for their families to share while their children were young.

They did everything Americans are supposed to do to build their home – they applied for all required permits, did everything the city told them to do, sought and had all the required inspections – did everything to make sure their home was lawfully approved. The city’s paid professional staff put the home through the rigors of the Oregon land use and building code processes and approved Mr. Dang’s home, every step of the way.

With their children grown, Mr. Dang and his colleagues rented the property out part time to help defray expenses. Then, a winter storm severely damaged the deck and put the entire property at risk from further erosion, so he applied to the city to make repairs and install a protective barrier.

The city refused to issue the permit, with a new city planner stating his opinion that he personally disagreed with the city’s previous official’s determination that the home met all standards, more than a decade earlier. Because he personally disagreed with the previous city officials, this new city planner with the blessing of the city’s highest officials, refused to issue the required permits to save the home. The city was content to have Mr. Dang's home to be washed out to sea.

Fortunately, that isn't how the law works. Tillamook County Judge Jonathan Hill agreed that Mr. Dang had a well-established legal right to repair and protect his home. In deciding to award attorney's fees against the city for its conduct, Judge Hill made explained that the city's position was not “objectively reasonable” and made the award as allowed under Oregon law when one side behaves in a way that is “reckless, willful, malicious, in bad faith or illegal.”

A lot of attention has been paid to this latest twist in the story. You can read about it at OregonLive, KOIN News, Oregon Public Broadcasting, The Dalles Chronicle, and KXL. Mr. Dang is proceeding with a $1.8 million civil rights lawsuit against the City of Rockaway Beach in federal court alleging among other things that the city took adverse actions against him because of his race.

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