Dan DeVaul's legal team wants judge to toss Sunny Acres labor lawsuit


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Sunny Acres sober-living facility founder Dan DeVaul and his attorneys objected to the labor lawsuit filed by three residents and program participants, arguing that the plaintiffs are not traditionally defined employees.

SPLIT IN TWO The 72-acre ranch on Los Osos Valley Road is split between the Sunny Acres sober-living program and its founder Dan DeVaul. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • File Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • SPLIT IN TWO The 72-acre ranch on Los Osos Valley Road is split between the Sunny Acres sober-living program and its founder Dan DeVaul.

Filed on Aug. 9 by Tardiff & Saldo Law Offices, the notice of objection defined the case as "not a typical wage and hour case of employee against employer." Sunny Acres filed the original labor litigation in April, accusing DeVaul of failing to provide minimum wage, overtime, double time compensation, and rest and meal periods in exchange for work like cutting and selling firewood, growing pumpkins, and selling Christmas trees.

"Labor Code 512 requires California employers to give unpaid lunch breaks to non-exempt employees. Under California Labor Code Section 201, employers generally must pay a discharged employee earned and unpaid wages immediately upon the employee's termination. The key word is 'employee' and at no point in the complaint do plaintiffs allege sufficient facts to support the allegation that they were employees," the objection stated.

The Sunny Acres ranch and the addiction-recovery nonprofit it hosts hold a controversial space in San Luis Obispo County lore. The property is now caught between DeVaul and his supporters, the residents who live on-site and manage the sobriety program, and county officials who have been eyeing numerous code violations that occurred on DeVaul's watch.

According to supporting documents attached to DeVaul's objection, the founder now lives away from Sunny Acres recovering from COVID-19. An individual named Cherisse Sweeney now allegedly has the power of attorney after she began assisting DeVaul with debris removal this April in response to the county's code violation notices. Sweeney declared in a statement that she met one of the lawsuit's plaintiffs on her frequent visits to the Sunny Acres property, and he eventually told her he wished to drop out of the labor lawsuit.

"Mark [Wilson] was recently terminated from the Sunny Acres program and had nowhere else to go. Dan, as he typically has done in the past with people struggling with sobriety, let Mark stay on the property rent-free. As of the date of this declaration, Mark is currently residing in Dan's room in the barn while Dan is away recovering from COVID-19," Sweeney's declaration read. "During my discussions with Mark, he indicated that he was confused about the current lawsuit, was pressured into joining it, and that he no longer wished to be involved."

At the Sunny Acres property, program participants are feeling pressure from the litigation, the prospect of a court-appointed receiver overseeing the notices of violation, and even a potential sale of the land.

"We're continuing on with it day to day and waiting to see what happens with the sale," Joseph Kurtzman, the peer services manager, told New Times. "We haven't been included in discussions on what developers would do after purchasing the property, which is a bit unnerving. It's been over a year since the NOV [notices of violation], and the uncertainty has been stressful." Δ



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