DEL MAR — The Winston School will be allowed to move forward with all claims outlined in their lawsuit against the city of Del Mar when the case goes to trial next year, a judge ruled earlier this month.
The Winston School’s lawsuit — which alleges the city terminated the school’s lease at the Shores Park property in bad faith in 2021 — includes six causes of action for declaratory relief related to their obligations under the 55-year lease with the city.
The city of Del Mar requested for these causes of action to be overruled, arguing that declaratory relief, which provides a statement of a parties’ rights from the court, “is not the not the proper vehicle to determine elements of contract questions” and that a breach of contract claim would be more fitting.
San Diego County Superior Court Judge Kenneth Medel agreed with the city in earlier hearings, tentatively granting their motion back in March and forcing the school to amend their complaint to include a breach of contract claim. The city filed another motion to dismiss in May, but the judge allowed Winston School to bring forward more information supporting their causes of action.
After reviewing the amended complaint from the school, Medel changed his tune and rejected the city’s second motion related to declaratory relief at an Aug. 18 hearing, ruling that there are controversies related to the terms of the lease that could be addressed through declaratory relief.
“The Court finds that the action is proper subject of declaratory relief, and that an actual controversy exists involving justiciable questions related to rights and obligations of the Winston School,” Medel said.
Winston officials considered the ruling a small win for their case ahead of trial.
“We knew our case had a solid legal footing. The judge’s request for additional information in July only made it more robust,” said Winston School Board President Laura Cunitz.
While the Winston School has been located at the Shores Park property since 1988, they first entered into their 55-year lease with the city of Del Mar in 2010, after helping to raise funds for the city to buy the property from the Del Mar Union School District.
Issues arose in 2019, when the school began submitting plans to majorly renovate a portion of the campus in order to fulfill requirements for property improvements outlined in the lease. The city rejected 13 different plans over the next two years, with Winston claiming the city was purposefully moving the goalposts.
Lease terms stated that the city could terminate the lease or shorten its term to 40 years if the school failed to correct redevelopment plan deficiencies within a designated cure period. The Del Mar City Council unanimously voted in August 2021 to terminate the lease, giving the Winston School until July 1, 2023, to vacate the property, demolish the current buildings and restore the site to a graded lot.
Winston filed a lawsuit in October 2021. A trial date was recently set for March 3, 2023, with a trial readiness conference scheduled for Feb. 17.
Leslie Devaney, attorney for the city of Del Mar, noted that the overturning of demurrer motions is not unusual, and that it does not signify any rulings on the merits of the case.
“The City will not be limited by Winston’s narrow declaratory relief causes of action. As it stands, the Court has not ruled on the merits of the case. This ruling simply puts the case ‘at issue’ and will allow the Parties to engage in further discovery,” Devaney said.