Melody Ranch, Placerita gate saga continues

Residents pass through the gate on Placerita Canyon Road on Thursday, October 29, 2020. Dan Watson/The Signal

With a recent ruling, a judge allowed a Placerita Canyon movie studio’s lawsuit over a nearby HOA’s gate access and associated claims of vehicle damage to move forward, continuing a years-long grievance between the two sides. 

The Placerita Canyon Corp. (PCC), a mutual-benefit corporation, owns and operates an electronic gate in Placerita Canyon to prevent thru traffic from entering the Newhall enclave. The use of the gate is at the heart of a lawsuit filed by Melody Ranch Motion Picture Studio in Los Angeles County Superior Court in October of last year claiming PCC violated its agreement with Melody Ranch for use of the gate.  

In multiple instances, according to the suit, PCC has prevented entrance through the gate to Melody Ranch staff or set teams and/or damaged the movie studio’s vehicles with the gate. 

A judge Wednesday overruled some, but not all, of the objections raised by PCC against the claims made by the movie studio. 

Judge Stephen P. Pfahler ruled Melody Ranch has an “implicit assignment of rights” through the studio’s owner, the Veluzat family, meaning the movie studio could sue to get through the gate and/or if the gate damages studio vehicles. 

The court also agreed that when PCC disrupts Melody Ranch’s right to access the gated road, Melody Ranch can claim in court that PCC has interfered with that right. 

The alleged modification of the gate, the judge said, “demonstrates an effort to disrupt business operations with the intent of deterring future business.” 

Referring to PCC’s disruption as “a separate troublemaking act with the intent of causing disruption,” Pfahler said Melody Ranch “sufficiently allege independently wrongful conduct.” 

The court agreed with some of PCC’s objections, while offering Melody Ranch the option to amend some of its claims against PCC. 

“Modifications of gate operations, even if failing in accommodating larger commercial vehicles, insufficiently supports a finding of gross negligence,” the judge said of one of Melody Ranch’s 10 claims. 

“Potential property damage from a closing gate or tire spikes will not rise to a level of a reckless, indifferent level of harm to others,” he continued.  

Melody Ranch can change its claim to ordinary negligence – which the court defined as conduct that “consists of a failure to exercise the degree of care in a given situation that a reasonable person under similar circumstances would employ to protect others from harm” – within 30 days of the judge’s ruling. 

On the matter of Melody Ranch alleging “libel per se,” defined as a charged statement not requiring any explanation, against PCC, the judge gave the Veluzats the option to modify their claim to “libel,” which is a false and unprivileged published statement that harms reputation. 

“Gate damage and distribution of codes in no way specifically impugns the integrity of the company in that the distribution of codes or damage in and of itself facially lacks any indication of improper conduct by (Melody Ranch),” Pfahler wrote. 

The judge did agree with PCC in striking down the possibility of punitive charge, an additional monetary penalty meant to punish PCC. 

“Plain unintentional carelessness, characterized as negligence or recklessness, is not sufficient to support punitive damages,” the judge found. 

Attorneys for PCC and Melody Ranch were unavailable for comment as of time of publication. 

The two sides are expected to meet again for a case-management conference Sept. 8 at 8:30 a.m. at the Chatsworth Courthouse. 

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