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Napa Valley Winery Sues Law Firm

Winery Settled Court Case With Napa County Over Alleged Permit and Code Violations
by Kerana Todorov
April 24, 2019

A Napa Valley winery has filed a lawsuit against its lawyers two months after settling a longtime dispute with Napa County for $271,464, according to court records.

Bremer Family Winery in February settled a lawsuit Napa County filed against the company in 2017 over a number of alleged permit and code violations, including hosting too many visitors at the Deer Park winery, producing too much wine, and constructing catwalks, rock walls, outdoor plumbing, footbridges and other structures without permits.

The Bremer Group alleged in its complaint against Dickenson Peatman & Fogarty that the firm’s attorneys “improperly” advised the winery to defend the lawsuit with Napa County “through any means at all costs,” according to the complaint. The case was settled more than a year later “after incurring over half-a-million dollars in wasted, unearned, and unnecessary attorney fees,” according to the lawsuit filed April 14 in Napa County Superior Court.

Owners John and Laura Bremer retained the firm in 2016 in connection with land-use permit modifications, erosion control plans and alleged zoning violations filed by Napa County, according to the complaint.

In their lawsuit, the Bremers accused the firm of having an attorney not yet licensed to practice law in the state of California perform “the vast majority of legal services,” according to the complaint. That attorney, Joshua Devore, was admitted to The State Bar of California in December 2017.

The Bremers allege the firm “neglected” the Bremers’ application, failed to submit materials in time, according to the complaint. The firm allegedly “failed to diligently represent Bremer’s interests in relation to the applications and the County’s demands,” according to the complaint. “As a consequence,” Napa County filed its lawsuit in 2017, the complaint alleges.

The lawsuit against the law firm alleges negligence – legal malpractice, breach of fiduciary duty and breach of contract, according to the court filing.

A representative for Dickenson, Peatman & Fogarty called the lawsuit baseless in a statement issued Tuesday.

“DP&F is disappointed that after years of diligent and successful work on a highly technical legal matter involving Napa County winery use permits and the County’s changing interpretation and enforcement of winery use permits, the Bremers have filed a baseless lawsuit against DP&F to gain leverage for their personal and unearned gain,” said Carol Ritter, managing partner at Dickenson, Peatman & Fogarty in Napa. “We are confident that the clear record of our work will demonstrate our diligence and success in advocating on the Bremers’ behalf.”

“DP&F’s professional obligations prevent us from discussing the details of the Bremers’ matter in the press, but we wish to make clear that we stand behind our work, our professionalism and our efforts in the Bremers’ representation,” Ritter said. “As we litigate this frivolous case, we are confident that the Bremers’ actual motives in bringing this meritless lawsuit will become clear.”

One issue raised was the interpretation of the winery’s 1979 use permit. Owners John and Laura Bremer argued that the 1979 use permit, among other provisions, did not limit the number of visitors to the Deer Park winery they purchased in 2002.

In their settlement reached with Napa County in February, the Bremers agreed to limit the number of visitors to no more than 70 visitors a day; the winery can host up to 3,600 visitors a year – or 300 visitors a month.

The settlement prohibits the winery from hosting marketing events, renting the winery or serving food at the winery. In addition, the Bremers agreed to apply for permits to legalize or demolish out-of-compliance structures on their property, including fermentation tanks and catwalks.

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