The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent

Volokh Conspiracy

Surf Thugs Lawsuit Can Proceed

"The Lunada Bay Boys are alleged to be a group of young and middle-aged men, local to Palos Verdes Estates, who consider themselves to be the self-appointed guardians of Lunada Bay. One of their tenets is to keep outsiders away from the surf location through threats and violence."


From Spencer v. Mowat, decided Tuesday by the California Court of Appeal:

Lunada Bay is a premier surf spot, located in Palos Verdes Estates [a rich suburb of Los Angeles, south of LAX -EV]. The Lunada Bay Boys are alleged to be a group of young and middle-aged men, local to Palos Verdes Estates, who consider themselves to be the self-appointed guardians of Lunada Bay. One of their tenets is to keep outsiders away from the surf location through threats and violence.

Plaintiffs are non-locals who have tried to surf Lunada Bay, but encountered harassment by the Bay Boys. They brought suit against the Bay Boys and more than a dozen of its individual members. Two of those members filed motions to dismiss under the anti-SLAPP law (Code Civ. Proc., § 425.16), arguing that the allegations against them were based on protected speech and petitioning activity. The trial court denied the motions, concluding that the allegations against the moving defendants were actually based on a conspiracy to commit assault and other torts. Those defendants appeal, and we affirm….

The operative complaint is the first amended complaint. The plaintiffs are two surfers, Corey Spencer and Diana Milena Smoluchowska-Miernik, and Coastal Protection Rangers, a non-profit dedicated to protecting California's beaches and ensuring they are safe and accessible to all visitors.

The defendants are the Lunada Bay Boys, a number of its individual members, including appellants Michael Thiel and Charlie Mowat, and the City of Palos Verdes Estates. Thiel and Mowat are the only defendants who are appellants in this appeal. Our discussion of the complaint's factual allegations will therefore focus on their conduct, although some understanding of the general allegations is necessary….

Broadly speaking, plaintiffs allege that the Lunada Bay Boys, sometimes with the tacit approval of City officials who did nothing to stop them, engaged in what is known as "localism"—a practice of keeping outsiders away from the surf site through threats and violence. {The complaint alleges more than just tacit approval on the part on the City; it alleges that the City used its discretion to enforce municipal laws in a manner that discriminates against outsiders, and ignored requests of the California Coastal Commission to make Lunada Bay more accessible to the public. As we are only concerned with the anti-SLAPP motions of Thiel and Mowat, we do not further discuss the allegations against the City.}

The complaint alleges that the Bay Boys have "blocked public access to the beaches of Palos Verdes Estates, Lunada Bay in particular, for over 40 years. In what is a multi-generational practice of extreme 'localism,' and using rules established by the 'older boys,' the Bay Boys use physical violence, threats of bodily harm, vandalism to visitor[s'] vehicles, verbal harassment and other intimidation to enforce their unwritten rule: 'If you don't live here, you don't surf here.' Indeed, members of the Bay Boys believe it is 'disrespectful' for outsiders to visit, use or even photograph 'their' beach."

The Bay Boys, specifically including Mowat, were alleged to have built and maintained an unpermitted masonry rock and wood fort seating area, known as "Rock Fort," near the beach. "The steep switch-backed trails that lack proper improvements act as perfect pinch points, which the Lunada Bay Boys use to block access to the shoreline. From the Rock Fort and the bluffs above, the Individual Members of the Lunada Bay Boys orchestrate illegal activity that is intended to keep the public away. Some of the more egregious tactics include: (1) physically obstructing outsiders' access to the beach trails; (2) throwing rocks; (3) running people over with surfboards in the water; (4) punching outsiders; (5) stealing outsiders' wallets, wetsuits and surfboards; (6) vandalizing vehicles and personal property, including slashing tires and waxing pejorative slurs onto vehicle windows; (7) levying threats against outsiders; and (8) intimidating outsiders with verbal insults, gestures, and threats of serious injury."

Due, in part, to the local police's claimed unwillingness to pursue complaints against the Bay Boys, the individual plaintiffs and other would-be surfers who allegedly were harassed by the Bay Boys were often unable to identify the specific individuals who harassed them. As a result, certain allegations of the complaint simply name the "Individual Defendants," a designation which includes Thiel and Mowat. For example, the complaint alleges that, "Individual Defendants intimidate visiting beachgoers with threats and taunts, by taking photos and video of beachgoers, and by congregating near the entrances to both [trails to the beach]." The complaint also alleges a conspiracy amongst the Bay Boys: "For many years, The Bay Boys have conspired to commit wrongful acts for the purpose of keeping outsiders from coming to Lunada Bay. The agreements between the individual members of the Bay Boys are made orally, in writing, and are implied by the conduct of the parties."

The causes of action alleged against the Bay Boys and its individual members (including Mowat and Thiel) include public nuisance, assault and battery…..

The allegations against Mowat and Thiel are that, as members of the Bay Boys and "Individual Defendants," they participated in the conspiracy. However, thanks to discovery in a related federal action, plaintiffs obtained records of some text messages among Bay Boys, and, based on those messages, made some specific allegations regarding participation in the conspiracy. Some of those allegations specifically related to Mowat and Thiel….

There's a lot more, for people who find the case as interesting as I do.