Cemex silent on lawsuit’s dismissal

Abandoned equipment stands at the Cemex site in Canyon Country. Dan Watson/The Signal

As long-sparring foes, Cemex and the city of Santa Clarita enter what appears to be the final 16 months of their rocky relationship. A recent lawsuit filed by the former against the latter was done without fanfare and withdrawn just as quietly.

On Dec. 22, 2017, lawyers representing Cemex Inc. filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court claiming a breach of contract, dealing in bad faith, running smear campaigns and violating civil rights.

Cemex claimed in the civil suit that the city failed to honor the settlement agreement signed by both parties in July 2006.

The conflict began shortly after Cemex obtained two contracts to mine sand and gravel in Soledad Canyon.

“The city began what would prove to be a multimillion-dollar, decades-long campaign to obstruct, interefere with, and otherwise oppose the Soledad Canyon (Sand and Gravel Mining) Project,” the lawsuit read.

“In the ensuing years, the city’s NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard) campaign has included multiple unsuccessful lawsuits, some ending with attorney fee sanctions against the city for bad-faith litigation actions, failed land-use challenges and changes, untoward public relations campaigns and political efforts, and every other manner of vexatious conduct,” it claimed.

Attorneys representing the mining firm compared the alleged abuses to those that triggered a similar lawsuit near Sacramento.

In that lawsuit, the jury awarded the mining company more than $100 million in damages.

Cemex cited the case in its 2017 lawsuit against Santa Clarita with the warning: “The City’s illegal actions will fare no better in this case.”

In July, however, city officials learned they would not be facing any consequences in the case whatsoever when Cemex withdrew its lawsuit.

Case dismissed
On July 3, 2018, lawyer Lara R. Leitner, representing Cemex lawyers at Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell LLP, filed a request for dismissal in case BC688740, the case against the city of Santa Clarita.

On July 9, the court dismissed the case.

Leitner said on the phone Thursday she could not talk about the case or why the dismissal was requested.

Phone calls and emails seeking an answer to the same question were placed with three of the law firm’s attorneys Thursday. None were returned.

Officials with the city of Santa Clarita, when asked for insight about the lawsuit and its dismissal, also did not comment Thursday.

In the 2017 suit against Santa Clarita, Cemex lawyers drew comparisons to the previous “similar case” of Hardesty v. Sacramento Metro Air Quality Management District.

The 2017 suit read, in part: “Now, 12 years after signing the settlement agreement, the city and its affiliates are acting in total disregard of the settlement agreement terms, and have breached the agreement in multiple ways. The city has once again proposed to annex the Soledad Canyon Project site, once again without the environmental review and notice to Cemex that are required under the settlement agreement and state law.

“This latest salvo in the city’s relentless campaign against the Soledad Canyon Project, with the city’s varying forms of political influence, bad-faith litigation tactics, and public-relations smear campaigns, strikes a chord remarkably similar to the facts in a recent judicial ruling involving unlawful actions taken by public officials and project opponents to block the the operations of two surface mining companies.

“The jury in Hardesty awarded the surface mining companies over $100 million in damages. The city’s illegal actions will fare no better in this case,” the lawsuit read.

The 2017 lawsuit naming Santa Clarita as a defendant was filed in the final months of a review carried out by the Interior Board of Land Appeals into Cemex’s appeal of the contract-canceling decision made by the Bureau of Land Management in July 2015.

The IBLA revealed its mixed decision on the review Wednesday.

Civic leaders focused on one key aspect of the much-anticipated ruling Wednesday: that all of Cemex’s mining rights in Soledad Canyon will expire in July 2020.

Mike Murphy, the intergovernmental relations manager for the city of Santa Clarita, said Wednesday the ruling technically leaves Cemex with one of two contracts still valid, but without much time remaining.

“The practical implications of this ruling are that Cemex is left with a 16-month valid contract for a mine, but they don’t have any of the permits in place,” he said.

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