The Office of the City Attorney handles two types of litigation. The first is affirmative litigation, where my team and I prosecute lawsuits and take other affirmative actions to enforce City, state and federal laws and protect and advance the rights of Oakland residents. In recent months, our affirmative litigation team has secured some significant victories.
After definitively winning a lawsuit against a large Oakland real estate and taxi empire in 2021, we recently secured a victory in enforcing that trial court judgment that will provide some immediate protections for Oakland residents. Although the Oakland City Attorney team won on every claim at the trial court – meaning the team proved that the defendants violated Oakland’s Tenant Protection Ordinance and state and local public nuisance laws – the defendants appealed the trial court’s judgment and have claimed that aspects of the trial court’s ruling are on hold during their appeal. Because appeals can take years, the litigation team went back to the trial court to make sure the defendants at least take all of the trial court’s required steps to comply with state and local law even while the legal process moves forward. The court agreed that while the defendants have the right to appeal the lower court’s ruling, they still have to take necessary measures to comply with the law while the appellate process moves forward. This recent development ensures that impacted Oakland residents will immediately feel some of the benefits of our legal win even as the case continues to wind its way through the courts.
The Office has also seen some important recent progress in our effort to hold the opioid industry accountable for the harms these highly addictive substances have caused to Oakland residents and to the city as a whole. As the entire country has become attuned to the devastating effects of the opioid crisis on individuals and communities, Oakland has been part of the nationwide effort by local, state, and tribal governments to hold these corporate actors accountable for their role in the opioid epidemic—and, via settlements, to bring funding from these defendants back to communities to address the crisis’ ongoing fallout. Those efforts have led to several nationwide settlements in which the City of Oakland is participating. Most recently, the City Council approved my office’s recommendation to enter into five new settlements with opioid industry defendants Teva, Allergan, CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart. All told, the City of Oakland will receive more than $10 million across settlements to support programs like homelessness-related services, youth-oriented opioid treatment, and increased access to naloxone, to help abate the opioid crisis.
Also, in late 2022, my office finalized a settlement with Monsanto, bringing an end to litigation that we filed alongside 12 other public entities in 2020 to hold the chemical company accountable for damage caused to our waterways through widespread contamination of the “forever chemicals” known as PCBs. The settlement brought $7.5 million to the City of Oakland to provide compensation to cover part of the costs to remove the contamination.
And in addition to pursuing litigation to protect the health and wellbeing of Oaklanders, my office also lends its voice in support of the efforts of other litigants who are addressing a variety of health, safety, and justice issues at the regional, state, and national levels. In recent months, the litigation team has joined briefs supporting the ongoing legality and importance of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program for immigrant youth; challenging the termination of Temporary Protected Status for people from Haiti, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Sudan; arguing for the legality of President Biden’s student borrower debt cancellation; and more. For example, a March ruling from a California appellate court on a key rent control case closely reflected arguments that the City Attorney’s Office made in a “friend of the court” brief submitted by my team. The ruling found that rehabilitated rental units are not newly constructed, which would make them exempt from rent control under California’s Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act, and therefore can be subject to local rent control.