Court Rules: Urth Caffe’s Countersuit Against Muslim Women for Trespass Stands; Prepare for Trial

Soondus Ahmed, one of seven Muslim women who claims staff at Urth Caffé in Laguna Beach had police remove her group from the eatery on April 22nd not, as the restaurant claims, for overstaying, but because many in the group were wearing hijabs, speaks outside of the Orange County Central Justice Center in Santa Ana on Tuesday. ///ADDITIONAL INFO: LB.Urth.0504 - 5/3/16 - PHOTO BY JOSHUA SUDOCK, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER - Seven Muslim women and their attorneys held a joint press conference outside of the Orange County Central Justice Center in Santa Ana on Tuesday. The women claim they were asked to leave Urth Caffé in Laguna Beach on April 22nd because they were wearing hijabs, traditional headwear. The group is filing a discrimination lawsuit against the restaurant and are seeking punitive damages. The restaurant claims the women had been squatting on a table for several hours -- in violation of a policy posted on signs around the eatery. The women claim they'd only been in the place for, roughly, an hour and point out that the duration rules indicate that they would only be enforced if the restaurant was busy, and that there were actually many empty tables on the evening in question. They also claim that other patrons had been there longer and were not asked to leave. Picture made outside of the Orange County Central Justice Center in Santa Ana, California on Tuesday, May 3, 2016.Yesterday, the Honorable John C. Gastelum, the California Superior Court judge in Santa Ana overseeing the contentious lawsuit between Urth Caffe in Laguna Beach and seven Muslim women, ruled definitively that Urth Caffe’s countersuit for trespass will continue, and he set a date for a jury trial in early September 2017.

Urth Caffe’s trespass claim followed on the heels of a lawsuit filed by the seven women claiming they were subjected to religious discrimination when the Urth Caffe staff asked them to leave because the women refused to abide by the café’s seating policy.  The women later made the fraudulent claim that they were evicted from the café because they wore hijabs—Islamic head coverings worn by some Muslim women.

The Urth Caffe brief was filed by the American Freedom Law Center (AFLC), a national public interest law firm retained by Urth Caffe.

David Yerushalmi, AFLC co-founder and senior counsel, issued the following statement:

“The court’s ruling was spot on.  Judge Gastelum took the time to understand the law and ruled accordingly.  While the underlying lawsuit claiming religious discrimination is a fraud and a hoax on the courts and the media, it has nothing to do with the trespass claim.  The women refused to abide by Urth Caffe’s policy that limited seating to 45 minutes in the popular patio area.  When asked to leave, they wouldn’t, and were thus trespassers at that point.”

Judge Gastelum’s ruling makes this point clear:

“[Urth Caffe’s] cause of action for trespass is not based on any ‘act in furtherance of a person’s right of petition or free speech under the United States or California Constitution in connection with a public issue.’  Specifically, [Urth Caffe’s] claim for trespass is not based on any communications made by Cross-Defendants [i.e., the seven women suing for discrimination], but their refusal to leave the Café after they were asked to leave, i.e., the allegedly wrongful and injury-producing conduct that provides the foundation for the trespass claim is Cross-Defendants’ refusal to leave the café.”

Yerushalmi went on to explain:

“Urth Caffe did not discriminate against the women who have filed this fraudulent lawsuit.  The claim that these women were asked to leave the café because they were wearing hijabs is laughable.  That night, as every Friday night, a large number of young people, including a majority of whom are Muslim and of Arab descent, make up the base of Urth Caffe’s customers.  Not surprisingly, many of these customers are women wearing hijabs.  None of these other Muslim women was asked to leave.  The women who now claim victim status were not asked to leave, but only to abide by the café’s policy to give up their high-demand outside patio table after 45 minutes to allow other customers, including those wearing hijabs, to enjoy the experience.  The women refused to abide by the policy and began causing a scene and disrupting other patrons.  The police were called and only after 45 minutes passed did the women finally leave.  This is trespass plain and simple.”

The trespass countersuit, which was filed under oath as a verified cross-complaint, demonstrates that the seven women now claiming victim status were in fact the aggressors and guilty of trespass.