Years after Tinhorn Flats bar in Burbank closed, judge throws out COVID shutdown case

A two-year court battle between the city of Burbank and a Western-themed bar that refused to shutter during the COVID-19 pandemic is now over after a judge dismissed all of the remaining claims from both sides earlier this month.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Armen Tamzarian’s Nov. 7 ruling ended the long running legal dispute pitting Burbank and Los Angeles County health officials against Baret Lepejian, the former operator of Tinhorn Flats Saloon & Grill, his company, Barfly Inc., and his two children.

The dispute stems from Lepejian’s refusal to shut down Tinhorn Flats in December 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic spread through the greater Los Angeles region: Lepejian and his son, Lucas, continued to serve diners while ignoring dozens of visits and citations by the county between the end of 2020 and early 2021. After the county padlocked the front doors to the restaurant, Lucas Lepejian cut his way back in with a hacksaw.

The matter was seemingly settled when Lepejian’s ex-wife, who owned the property, evicted him and Barfly from the location. That ended the city’s attempts to shutter the restaurant, but the legal conflict continued to play out in court until this month.

According to court records, Burbank sought to have Tinhorn Flats Saloon & Grill’s health permit revoked. The city also wanted the court to ban Baret Lepejian and Barfly from operating the location on Magnolia Boulevard ever again.

Tamzarian threw out those claims, pointing to the eviction as well as Lepejian’s statements that he no longer is seeking to run any restaurants.

“The restaurant closed two years ago,” Tamzarian wrote. “There is no longer any need to enjoin defendants from operating it.”

In a countersuit, the Lepejians accused Burbank officials of retaliating against them and violating their First Amendment rights out of animus for their continued refusal to close during COVID-19 shutdown orders in 2020 and 2021.

Tamzarian said the Lepejians produced no evidence that the city bore ill will against them. He said Burbank, on the other hand, showed ample evidence that city officials were following the county’s lawful orders.

The judge said the Lepejians’ claims that the county’s COVID-19 lockdowns were “unconstitutional” were presented without evidence. And he cited a 2021 2nd District Court of Appeal ruling siding with L.A. County’s outdoor dining bans during the pandemic.

“It is undisputed that (the operators of Tinhorn Flats) repeatedly violated the laws (Burbank and L.A. County) enforced against them,” Tamzarian wrote. “(The bar operators) only argue that the public health orders they violated were unconstitutional. The Court of Appeal decided otherwise.”

It was not clear what options, if any, either side had to appeal the ruling.

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