Judge Drops Arias From Developer’s ‘Pay to Play’ Lawsuit for Lack of Evidence
A judge has dismissed Fresno City Councilman Miguel Arias from a lawsuit alleging that Arias tried to shake down a developer.
In a final ruling Thursday, Fresno County Superior Court Judge D. Tyler Tharpe said that Cliff Tutelian’s lawsuit lacked sufficient evidence to proceed with Arias as a defendant.
Tutelian sued the city of Fresno and Arias last year over a failed deal to further develop the area where the CVS pharmacy is located in downtown Fresno. The project would include retail, as well as market-rate and affordable housing.
The Fresno City Council declined in early 2021 to extend a contract known as an Exclusive Negotiation Agreement with Tutelian. The city has since stopped using that type of development arrangement.
Arias: Lawsuit Without Merits
Tutelian, in his lawsuit, alleged that the city and Arias dealt with him in bad faith. Arias allegedly told Tutelian to “pay or play” in a meeting, according to the lawsuit. Arias vehemently denied Tutelian’s claim.
Attorneys representing Arias filed a motion to dismiss himself from the lawsuit, known as an anti-SLAPP motion (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation). Tharpe granted the motion.
Tharpe was not convinced that Tutelian had sufficient evidence to bring the case.
“Many parts of the (Tutelian) declaration lack foundation or personal knowledge, or consist of bare conclusions or argument,” Tharpe wrote.
Tharpe also found that Arias did not have the power to make any promises on behalf of the city council.
“(Arias) did not have the authority or power to perform the promise, or to make binding representations on behalf of the City, as an individual councilmember. Plaintiff offers no authority in the opposition to show the contrary,” Tharpe wrote.
Arias celebrated the ruling.
“Since day one, I made it clear this claim was without merit and an attempt to intimidate the City and myself — it didn’t work,” Arias said in a text message.
Arias said he is evaluating his options “to ensure those responsible for using these tactics and misusing our judicial system to score political points are held accountable.”
He calls the lawsuit a “coordinated effort by a few to undermine the public’s trust in City government.”
The tentative ruling made earlier this week became final when Tutelian did not request an oral argument.
Tutelian Considering Options
The setback is not fatal to the remainder of Tutelian’s case. The lawsuit against the city will continue.
Regarding Tharpe’s ruling, Tutelian told GV Wire, “In speaking with legal counsel, he indicated that his belief that the judge erred in the ruling and his findings as described and whether or not to appeal is under consideration.”
Tutelian filed a $12 million claim against the city last year. When that was rejected, he filed the lawsuit in Fresno County Superior Court.
The case returns to court on June 7 for a case management conference.