Grassroots Impact Litigation:
Mass Filing of Small Claims


Source: 26 University of San Francisco Law Review 261-281 (Winter 1992)

(Footnotes are found following the end of the text.)


IN SEPTEMBER 1981, Linda Dyson, Delores Huajardo, and 170 of their neighbors filed suit against the San Francisco International Airport in the San Mateo County Small Claims Court. Their complaint was not unusual. As airports have grown larger, busier, and noisier, plaintiffs all over the country have brought suits seeking compensation for physical and emotional injury from airport noise and for the diminution in value of neighboring property. [FN 1] These middle and upper-middle class Bay Area residents differ from litigants elsewhere in their revolutionary method. They filed small claims suits en masse instead of filing a single class action suit, filing traditional individual claims, or battling in the political arena. Moreover, because California does not allow attorneys to represent litigants in small claims court, the San Francisco neighbors represented themselves. As a result, they took a more active role in their case than traditional plaintiffs and saved a great deal of money.

By taking their dispute to a court where they could represent themselves, the San Francisco neighbors transformed the courts, where litigants often feel powerless, into an arena for community organizing and empowerment. Earlier literature suggests that class actions could have such an effect. [FN 2] But lawyers rather than plaintiffs control the reins of most class action suits, and class actions last too long and cost too much to help most communities. The mass filing of small claims, although only suitable to certain cases, can provide an appealing alternative to a class action.

The San Francisco neighbors' story is full of twists and turns and wins and losses, but overall the plaintiffs seem more satisfied with the legal process than other, comparable plaintiffs. Part I of this Article tells the neighbors' story, an example of how a community used a nontraditional legal technique to produce political change. Part I also illustrates the cathartic effect pro se representation can have on litigants. Part II compares the San Francisco neighbors' method and results to the methods and results of comparable groups in Los Angeles and San Jose, who hired attorneys to file more traditional, lengthier, and expensive suits against neighboring airports. Part III considers other situations in which mass small claims might be useful, including the recent wave of small claims suits against landlords of drug-infested properties in the San Francisco Bay area. Finally, this Article concludes that mass filing of pro se small claims suits empowered the neighbors. This method allowed these plaintiffs to achieve economic leverage, credibility, media attention, and success without a lawyer.

I. The San Francisco Story [FN 3]

When a plane on Runway 1 takes off over San Francisco Bay, or when stationary planes test their engines, the engines' backblast bounces off the mountains behind the airport and shakes the houses of Linda Dyson, Delores Huajardo, and their neighbors in Burlingame, two miles away. These mountains effectively form an amphitheater where the planes are on stage and the houses are in the audience. Noise and pollution from the airport also create problems in the neighboring towns of San Bruno, Millbrae, and South San Francisco.

From the time the San Francisco International Airport was built in the early 1960's, its neighbors have attempted to reduce its noise in numerous ways. Delores Huajardo, a homemaker, part-time secretary, ex- flight attendant, and ex-teacher, and Linda Dyson, a homemaker and part-time bookkeeper, got involved and led the anti-noise movement in the mid-1970's. They headed a core group of neighbors who met regularly to compare notes and plot strategy. For several years, they and their neighbors attended meetings and hearings held by the community and by the airport. They organized the San Mateo County Residents for a Less Noisy Airport. They signed petitions and wrote letters. They met with their local politicians and elected environmentalists to their city councils. But, because the airport is owned by the City and County of San Francisco yet located in San Mateo County, a separate jurisdiction, neither those politicians nor their constituents could vote on airport bond issues or airport policies. The neighbors held two demonstrations, highlighted by a "park-in" of over 100 cars that bottled up traffic at the airport the day Prince Charles visited San Francisco in 1977. Although they received substantial media attention, they won no changes.

From 1978 to 1980, the federal government spent $700,000 on a Joint Land Use Study of the noise and pollution problem surrounding the airport. The neighbors participated in numerous study hearings. They were pleased that the study's report recommended numerous mitigation measures and that the airport, the City and County of San Francisco, and San Mateo County agreed with those recommendations. These mitigation measures included limiting nighttime flights, using alternative takeoff and landing patterns when the weather permitted, using buffers to dampen the sound of engine tests, and monitoring and reprimanding offenders. But no sooner had the study been completed than the airport approved an expanded nighttime freight service, using especially noisy aircraft-aircraft that left at night, ironically, in order to arrive in Japan and Hong Kong before their nighttime airport curfews.

The neighbors continued meeting. By 1980, they had attended over 250 meetings. "We've left a paper trail a mile long," Ms. Huajardo said, "but none of the proposed remedies was ever implemented." [FN 4]

In frustration, the neighbors turned to litigation. They learned that the California Supreme Court had recently affirmed a nuisance suit for personal injuries and property damage against a public airport in Greater Westchester Homeowners Ass'n v. City of Los Angeles. [FN 5] Previously, thirty-five or forty of the San Francisco airport neighbors had met with the lawyer who represented neighbors of the Los Angeles International Airport in Greater Westchester. That suit was filed in 1968, went to trial in 1975, and produced a judgment for the plaintiffs in 1976. The judgment was affirmed in 1979 (but reversed as to the calculation of interest and attorneys' fees) and finally paid in 1981 [FN 6] after the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari in 1980. [FN 7] By then, thirteen years had passed from the filing of the suit, and the attorneys' fees exceeded $200,000. [FN 8] In 1978, the Los Angeles plaintiffs' attorney told the San Francisco plaintiffs that a similar suit on their behalf would require over seven years of litigation, a $50,000 retainer (combined with a contingent fee arrangement), and probably more than double that before the litigation was completed. When recontacted in 1980, the Los Angeles attorney's fees had risen substantially. Other attorneys, including those representing plaintiffs in a suit against the San Jose Airport, quoted similar prices and timeframes. Because the San Francisco plaintiffs could not afford these fees and did not want to wait so long for results, they did not retain any of these attorneys.

In February 1981, Barbara Spector, one of the San Jose plaintiffs' lawyers, suggested small claims court. Linda Dyson bought the book Everybody's Guide to Small Claims Courtby Ralph Warner. She and her neighbors were so intrigued with the idea of filing small claims that they called Mr. Warner. Warner, owner of Nolo Press in Berkeley, California, and self-professed "leader of the 'do your own law' movement on the West Coast," [FN 9] agreed to lead a seminar for the airport's neighbors. Over 100 neighbors attended to learn the relatively simple procedures for litigating their own cases in small claims court.

In May 1981, the neighbors filed claims for damages with the City and County of San Francisco. [FN 10] In September 1981, 172 neighbors filed claims for $750 each (the maximum small claim then allowed [FN 11]) in San Mateo County Small Claims Court. On a Nolo Press lawyer's advice, the neighbors simplified their claims and sought damages only for the nuisance caused by the noise and pollution and not for diminution in the value of their property. [FN 12]

The court consolidated the cases as to liability. On Monday, January 18, 1982, Linda Dyson presented extensive evidence of the nuisance caused by the airport. This evidence included tape recordings, noise measurements, maps, and expert reports on the measurements and on the health effects of noise. The airport, represented by a paralegal, [FN 13] responded with experts of its own. Over the next five days, Dyson and 124 of her compatriots individually presented evidence to demonstrate the harm each had suffered from the noise.

On Friday afternoon, January 22, Judge Roderic Duncan announced his decision from the bench:

I was skeptical regarding these claims as the trials got started. It seemed to me obvious that an airport is going to cause some noise and pollution and that people who have property in the area probably should be expected to bear that inconvenience.

But after hearing all of the evidence, I found the magnitude of the problem was much greater than I had anticipated.

My conclusion is that most -- however, not all -- of the Plaintiffs who have testified have proven that the Airport has done at least $750 worth of damages to them by maintaining a bona fide legal nuisance through tortious conduct.

As a whole, the Plaintiffs are a sincere and reasonable group of people who understand and accept the fact that the Airport is going to remain their neighbor and that they must bear some inconvenience as part of the price of a modem transportation system. But the price they have had to pay here in the subject period is not a reasonable one.

Would my result be any different if the Airport were making a reasonable effort to minimize the problem? I have not reached that question because it's clear to me that the Airport is making almost no effort in that direction. [FN 14]

The judge awarded $750 to 116 of the San Francisco neighbors, a total of $87,000.

The neighbors proceeded to file consecutive small claims every 100 days. In Greater Westchester the California Supreme Court implied that airport noise is a continuing nuisance and that an airport is therefore subject to suit until the noise is abated. [FN 15] California's Government Tort Claims Act requires plaintiffs to file claims against a city within 100 days of the alleged tort. [FN 16] Thus, every 100 days the neighbors filed small claims for $750, the maximum allowable amount. In September 1981, 182 neighbors filed a second round of small claims for $750 each. In March 1982, they filed another round of over 100 claims for $1,500 each, the amended maximum allowable amount. [FN 17] Finally, in August 1982, they filed a fourth round of $1,500 claims against the City of San Francisco.

Meanwhile, the novelty of hundreds of ordinary citizens winning small claims judgments against the giant airport attracted media attention like "Man Bites Dog." Further, the prospect of millions of dollars in liability jeopardized the sale of $35 million in bonds to fund the airport's expansion. The neighbors rejoiced. The airport fought back.

The airport and its lawyers responded in three ways. They appealed the small claims judgments to superior court. [FN 18] They challenged the jurisdiction of small claims court, arguing that the issue was too complex for small claims court and that the plaintiffs had violated the rules for small claims court by acting collectively and obtaining outside legal advice. [FN 19] And, they called their state delegates.

The last approach paid off first. In August 1982, at the end of the California legislature's session, the airport and its supporters (the City of San Francisco and the airline, hotel, and tourist industries) obtained an amendment to an otherwise noncontroversial bill. The amendment placed a two-year moratorium on nuisance suits by San Mateo residents against the San Francisco Airport. [FN 20] Dyson, Huajardo, and their neighbors, alerted at the last minute, spent five days in Sacramento trying without success to defeat the amendment. "It was like saying, 'You're right, but we have the power, so we win,' "wrote Dyson and Huajardo. [FN 21] The neighbors, probably correctly, believed that this bar to the courthouse door violated their equal protection rights. But, because they lacked the financial and emotional resources to litigate the issue while also fighting the airport's appeals of their initial victories, they decided not to challenge the moratorium in court. [FN 22]

The airport's neighbors continued to rack up victories in small claims court. In November 1982, another small claims court judge heard the second and third rounds of claims, which had been consolidated for trial. He granted verdicts of $2,250 each ($750 for round two plus $1,500 for round three) for most of the plaintiffs. This pushed the total damages recovered to over $300,000.

The neighbors also prevailed against the airport's attack on the small claims court's jurisdiction. In March 1983, after hearing lawyers for both sides argue the case (the only time a lawyer represented the plaintiffs in court), a California Court of Appeal upheld the neighbors' rights to file their claims in small claims court. [FN 23] The court held that the statutory language giving small claims courts jurisdiction over "minor" issues referred only to the claim's dollar amount, not its legal complexity. [FN 24] The court also held that the First Amendment protected the claimants' rights to meet collectively and that small claims code provisions actually encouraged claimants to seek legal advice before the trial, even though advocates could not appear in small claims court. [FN 25]

In April 1983, the airport's appeal of the initial round of small claims suits went to trial in San Jose Superior Court. Under California law, a defendant who loses in small claims court is entitled to a nonappealable de novo trial in superior court, the state trial court of record. [FN 26] At this trial, the airport exercised its rights to legal representation and to a jury. The neighbors, however, held firmly to their belief that they should do as much as possible themselves, including presenting their own case. Stephen Elias, a lawyer associated with Nolo Press who represented the neighbors in the court of appeal challenge, assisted the neighbors in responding to extensive interrogatories, in drafting various discovery and evidentiary motions, and in preparing jury instructions. But he did not appear in court on their behalf. [FN 27]

The trial lasted over a month. Dyson (eight months pregnant by the end of the trial), Huajardo, and a third plaintiff, Jean Ann Carroll, represented the other plaintiffs. As in small claims court, the rules of evidence are relaxed for small claims appeals. [FN 28] The bailiff provided helpful suggestions to the neighbors, and Elias advised them in nightly phone calls. Although they got their story across, the plaintiffs felt it did not come out as folksy and human as it had in small claims court. Further, they felt outgunned by the professional litigators from the large San Francisco firm of Morrison & Foerster. They felt that they were unfairly treated in jury selection and left out of legal discussions between the judge and the defense attorneys. The jurors apparently accepted the airport's arguments that compliance with FAA standards was all the airport could do to control noise and that further noise abatement would cost jobs in the airport and airport-dependent industries. After four days of deliberations, the jury found for the defendant. [FN 29]

Superior court judgments in small claims appeals do not collaterally estop other small claims suits. [FN 30] So the other three rounds of the neighbors' claims remained alive-two on appeal, the last not yet tried. Also, after the two-year moratorium expired, the neighbors could file additional rounds.

The neighbors were exhausted and disappointed after losing the appeal, but were not defeated. Learning that the airport paid Morrison & Foerster over $800,000 to defend their suits temporarily elated the neighbors: "By God, we're putting pressure on these bastards. [FN 31] But they soon realized that the airport had essentially unlimited resources and could seemingly fight forever. Elias had advised the plaintiffs, "Whenever this ceases to be fun, stop," [FN 32] and it was ceasing to be fun.

In the summer of 1983, less than two years after filing their initial small claims suits, the neighbors entered into settlement negotiations with the airport. The core group of neighbors negotiated with Louis Turpen, the airport director. Most agreed to the airport's condition that they drop the fourth round of small claims and put the second and third rounds of appeals on hold. The neighbors were primarily concerned with lessening the noise rather than receiving monetary damages. Eventually, the parties reached a settlement agreement under which the neighbors dropped their claims. In return, the airport promised to establish an "admonishment program" to determine which planes violated noise policies and reprimand violating airlines, to study noise suppression devices and the noise from Runway 1, and to make various requests to the FAA. The agreement also called for the airport and the "roundtable" (a forum that Turpen had established for neighbors, pilots, and others to air their concerns) to initiate various noise monitoring activities. [FN 33]

Some of the neighbors refused to join in the settlement agreement, and the airport appealed their second and third round of small claims cases. Three out of four of those plaintiffs won their de novo appeals. In addition, because the airport inadvertently failed to file timely appeals, another 23 plaintiffs were paid for their second and third small claims court rounds.

In contrast to the $800,000-plus the airport spent defending the small claims suits, the whole process cost the neighbors approximately $12-13,000. The neighbors paid these costs with money earned from small donations and bake sales.

Generally, the neighbors feel that the airport took them more seriously after their suits, in the settlement negotiations and subsequently. The airport adopted tougher noise limits in January 1985. The airport also continues to fight against FAA efforts to force it to admit aircraft that exceed local noise limits but meet FAA requirements. [FN 34] Although a noise problem still exists in Burlingame and the surrounding cities, the noise is substantially less loud and less frequent.

This abatement may have resulted from coincidental technological improvements and new airport management, rather than the neighbors' suits. But one designer of the "hush kits," which the airport required the airlines to install to quiet their planes, told Dyson and Huajardo that the suits hastened the technology's development. Turpen, the airport director, assumed his position well before the neighbors filed their initial small claims and denies being influenced by the suits. [FN 35] But some of the plaintiffs feel that he only began standing up to the airport commission about noise after they filed the suits. The neighbors credit Turpen, however, for being concerned about their complaints and for taking positive steps toward reducing the noise, particularly for setting more stringent noise limits on nighttime takeoffs. The neighbors concede that if Turpen had been less receptive, fewer changes would have occurred.

Even if exogenous explanations account for some improvements, attorney- advisor Elias observed that the neighbors felt better about themselves for having made the effort: "It's like medicine. You take it and feel better for taking it even though you would've gotten better anyway."' [FN 36] Elias summarized the outcome: "[The plaintiffs] didn't expect to run the airport, but they didn't want to be treated as just a public relations problem. Now, after the [small claims] cases, the plaintiffs are treated with respect. That's what it's all about."' [FN 37]

II. Comparing Various Methods of Litigation

Dyson, Huajardo, and their neighbors, none of whom were lawyers, initially turned to small claims court because it was "the fast, cheap and easy way."' [FN 38] They seem to have hit upon a technique well-suited to their situation. One way to measure the success of the mass small claims approach is to compare its results with the results achieved by similar suits using more traditional approaches.

A. Traditional Airport Suits

1. Los Angeles [FN 39]

As noted above, the Los Angeles suit, Greater Westchester Homeowners Ass'n v. City of Los Angeles, [FN 40] was filed in 1968. When it was filed, over 800 Los Angeles International Airport neighbors joined as plaintiffs. Gerald Fadem, the Los Angeles plaintiffs' attorney, is a leading authority on inverse condemnation law. He has filed numerous suits on behalf of airport neighbors throughout the country. Fadem does not believe in filing these suits as class actions. Because he must prove damages individually, he prefers to name each plaintiff individually and avoid the strictures of court supervision under Federal Rule 23 and comparable state rules. Fadem makes a particular effort to keep individual plaintiffs involved in their cases. He insists that the groups do their own organizing and raise their own money. He holds group plaintiff meetings at least once every three months (about half attend). He also sends frequent letters to the plaintiffs to keep them apprised of case developments.

Despite these model efforts, only 41 of the 800 original Greater Westchester plaintiffs remained at the end of the fourteen-year odyssey- the others dropped out, settled, or moved away. George Heap, one of the lead plaintiffs, finally received $8,500 for his property's diminution in value and $2,800 for his nuisance claim based on annoyance and emotional distress for the years 1967-1975. He complained that "[t]he only people who profited from this were the attorneys, the appraisers, and the realtors. [FN 41] Like other airport neighbors, Heap emphasized that noise abatement, not money, motivated his suit: "Hell, we didn't need the money." [FN 42] He also was proud of the precedent his suit set, one that benefitted the plaintiffs in San Francisco and elsewhere in California. But even after the years of litigation, interviews with him were interrupted regularly by approaching aircraft. "[W]e still have the same problem .... I don't think they're going to lick the noise problem. [FN 43]

Fadem believes that if the San Francisco plaintiffs are more satisfied than his clients, it is because they are poorly informed. (Plaintiff Linda Dyson laughed when she heard this.) He believes, based on his experience in over twenty suits against airports, that the diminution in the neighbors' property value is the major element of their recoverable damages. Fadem claims he has recovered as much as $275,000 in property damage for individual airport neighbors and as much as $100,000 for personal injury (for an unusually sensitive plaintiff). He never seeks injunctive relief because the law effectively precludes it. Further, he claims he has encountered few problems with plaintiffs who are unwilling to submit to discovery. Given its necessary limits on recovery, Fadem believes that small claims is "a band aid for a deep wound." [FN 44]

Fadem may be right, but his approach appears to provide merely a bigger, more expensive band aid. Perhaps the San Francisco neighbors could have won substantially more money if they had pursued a traditional inverse condemnation suit. But such a suit would have taken considerably more time and money than the small claims approach. To hire Fadem for an airport noise suit today costs a group of plaintiffs $1 million (he no longer takes the cases on even a part contingency basis) and requires approximately five years to resolve. Also, for all the additional money that Fadem's clients (and Fadem, as their attorney) have received, they have not achieved the influence on airport noise that the San Francisco Airport neighbors won.

2. San Jose [FN 45]

The suits against the San Jose Airport were even less successful than those in Los Angeles. Although the plaintiffs' attorneys originally sought to bring a class action suit, the court ruled early that the need for individual damage assessments (the plaintiffs claimed both nuisance and inverse condemnation damages) precluded class certification. [FN 46] Approximately 250 plaintiffs continued their suits individually. The court consolidated the cases for discovery and planned to try them jointly on liability and separately as to damages -- similar to the San Francisco Airport cases, but in superior rather than small claims court.

One group of plaintiffs, organized as the Coleman Lupe Association, lived in San Jose under the southern approach to the runway. Gradually, however, the City bought most of the Coleman Lupe properties, some on the market, some by condemnation. Now, almost no one lives there. The other side of the airport is located in the City of Santa Clara, where residents faced the same lack of political leverage that the Burlingame residents faced in their battle against San Francisco. The Santa Clara residents organized as the Northside Residents Association to fight the airport.

Aside from the presence of lawyers, the main difference between the San Jose and the San Francisco suits came in discovery. There was no discovery in the San Francisco small claims court cases, and in the San Francisco superior court appeals, on the plaintiffs' motion (drafted by attorney Elias), the judge strictly limited interrogatories and allowed depositions of only Dyson, Huajardo, and one other plaintiff. In San Jose, by contrast, the airport's attorneys sent voluminous interrogatories and scheduled depositions of all of the plaintiffs at the airport's attorneys' offices. As a result, over half of the plaintiffs dropped their suits to avoid discovery.

Counsel's participation also seemed to produce a distinctly different result in settlement. Although the San Jose plaintiffs, like the San Francisco plaintiffs, assert that they sued to reduce the noise and not for the money, their lawyers apparently focused on a monetary settlement. Because the plaintiffs' attorneys incurred about $50,000 in expenses during the suit's six years, their monetary focus is not surprising. The City offered a $1500 settlement to each remaining plaintiff. Most accepted, leaving them with approximately $1000 each after deducting attorneys' fees. Although the law firm offered to continue representing the plaintiffs if the majority of them refused to settle, it was uneconomical to represent the few non-settling plaintiffs. Consequently, the law firm withdrew and those suits died.

B. Comparative Satisfaction

Interviews with several plaintiffs in each of the three suits indicate that the San Francisco neighbors appear more satisfied with their results than the other plaintiffs. The key to the San Francisco plaintiffs' satisfaction seems to have been their active involvement in the process. Studies indicate that if people perceive the process as fair, they will be more satisfied with the justice system regardless of whether they win or lose. Further, people's perception of fairness, and their resulting personal satisfaction, increase with heightened participation. [FN 47]

The satisfaction that the San Francisco plaintiffs gained from self- representation is linked to choosing small claims court as their forum. The small claims court's informal rules (and in California, its exclusion of defense attorneys [FN 48]) make it the forum of choice for pro se litigation. One study observed that small claims court appears to provide greater satisfaction to litigants because it allows litigants to explain their claims in everyday terms, unconstrained by the usual rules of evidence. [FN 49] As the San Francisco plaintiffs learned, representing yourself can be far less satisfying in a trial court, opposed by defense counsel, in front of a jury. Dyson and Huajardo are adamant, however, that they would represent themselves again, even in superior court. They felt good about controlling their own case, and would be loath to relinquish that control.

These interviews were far from a controlled study. The San Francisco plaintiffs' satisfaction may have resulted, as Fadem suggests, from not understanding the probable outcomes of alternative methods. Or it may have resulted from the outcomes of the various suits, which in turn may have been the product of exogenous factors such as judges, juries, attorneys, airport managers, and idiosyncratic facts. Nevertheless, considering the outcome of their cases, the uniformly high satisfaction of the San Francisco plaintiffs is remarkable.

C. Comparative Effectiveness

Apart from whether the San Francisco Airport's neighbors are happier than their counterparts in Los Angeles and San Jose, the question remains whether their method was more effective at achieving the desired results-quiet, money damages, respect, and influence on the airport.

The answer is unclear but promising. Even if the San Francisco neighbors' suits were objectively more effective than those in San Jose and Los Angeles, that comparative success may have resulted from using small claims court, from proceeding pro se, or from encountering favorable external factors such as a receptive airport director. More likely, it resulted from some combination of the three. This Section compares pro se representation with professional representation, and mass filing of small claims with traditional and class action litigation.

1. Self-Representation vs. Professional Representation

The absence of lawyers in the San Francisco cases seemed to shift the focus of settlement discussions from monetary to non-monetary goals. Although a strong possibility existed that the San Francisco plaintiffs would have received substantial amounts of money ($750 each for their second round of claims and $1500 each every 100 days for their later claims) had they not settled, they ultimately received less money than the plaintiffs who remained until the end of the San Jose and Los Angeles suits. Those plaintiffs, however, did not receive much money$ 1000 each in San Jose and approximately $10,000 each in Los Ange- les-and getting the money took much longer in those cases. But all of the plaintiffs in all of the suits claimed that money was not their primary interest. Only the San Francisco plaintiffs received more than money; only they received airport promises to reduce noise and a permanent voice on a panel that monitors noise levels. [FN 50]

The different outcome in San Francisco seems a result of the plaintiffs' pro se approach. Where lawyers were involved, they had an interest in a monetary judgment that would pay the attorneys' fees. While Fadem stresses that he attempts to put fees out of his mind once he accepts a case, [FN 51] it would be hard to ignore them totally after investing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of time in a contingent fee case, as he did in the Los Angeles case. It might be easier when the lawyer is paid an hourly fee, as Fadem now requires.

Increased plaintiff participation probably increases monetary success. After all, no lawyer knows the facts of a case better than the people who live with those facts. Also, a lawyer does not have as much incentive to press a suit as the individual whose sleep is disturbed and whose conversations are interrupted by roaring airplanes. One study, focusing on more traditional personal injury cases, found that greater client involvement produces greater monetary success. [FN 52] Thus, Fadem's frequent meetings with the Los Angeles plaintiffs may partially account for the larger dollar amounts he won for them, compared to the amounts the San Jose attorneys won for their clients.

Whether lawyers' absence diminishes the prospects for monetary success is uncertain. A study of small claims litigation found that pure self-representation, without any legal assistance, often resulted in plaintiffs failing to make necessary legal arguments and ultimately losing meritorious cases. [FN 53] In states where attorneys are allowed in small claims courts, unrepresented plaintiffs facing a represented defendant could be severely disadvantaged. [FN 54]

The San Francisco neighbors found that pro se representation has drawbacks. Dyson and Huajardo felt at a distinct disadvantage in the more formal setting of superior court, where counsel represented the airport. The airport's attorneys outmaneuvered them in picking jurors, in admitting and excluding evidence, and in presenting the airport's case to the jury. (They also might have outmaneuvered the plaintiffs on jury instructions if the plaintiffs had not called in a lawyer.) One case is too small a sample to draw general conclusions, but the fact remains that the pro se plaintiffs lost when matched against professional litigators.

The need for some legal knowledge, however, does not require plaintiffs to relinquish their suits' reins to a lawyer. Plaintiffs can obtain legal coaching when necessary, and substitute a lawyer for pro se appearance when absolutely essential, but still control the litigation and do most of the work. The San Francisco neighbors benefitted from the assistance of attorney Elias. [FN 55] Perhaps more coaching would have helped when Dyson and Huajardo faced Morrison & Foerster's attorneys in superior [FN 56] court.

Despite its drawbacks, the pro se approach (with some legal coaching) empowered the San Francisco neighbors. Their approach resembled community organizing. The neighbors' early protests and attempts at political change failed because the neighbors could not vote in pertinent elections. Bringing claims pro se, however, allowed them to bring aspects of community organizing into the legal system. Rather than rely on an attorney to articulate their grievances and fight for them, they spoke and fought for themselves. Although Dyson and Huajardo took the lead, each individual plaintiff presented his or her own evidence of damages.

This community empowerment forced the airport to treat its neighbors with respect and to include them in the "roundtable" that now monitors airport noise problems. Having proved themselves capable of standing up for their rights in court, the San Francisco neighbors earned the right to speak for themselves in meetings on airport policy. This role should not be overblown -- the roundtable has no real authority -- but it was, and is, an important step.

This experience contrasts with plaintiffs' experiences elsewhere. Those who had little role in prosecuting their cases now have no role in operating their neighboring airports. Even in Los Angeles, where Fadem did an exemplary job of meeting with the plaintiffs, the plaintiffs played an almost entirely passive role. Although individual plaintiffs, such as Heap, made suggestions for noise control at various citizens' meetings with airport officials, the airport never included him or any other airport neighbors in its policymaking discussions. Nor did the San Jose plaintiffs achieve any role in airport policymaking. The attorneys in Los Angeles and San Jose had no ongoing role either; once the suits ended, they moved on to other pastures.

2. Mass Small Claims vs. Traditional Litigation

Independent of the advantages and disadvantages of self-representation, the technique of mass filing of small claims added to the San Francisco neighbors' effectiveness. This technique provided some of the benefits traditionally associated with class action suits, such as aggregating claims and thus multiplying the plaintiffs' economic and political clout, without multiplying their expenses. [FN 57] Facing the possibility of small claims totalling millions of dollars, the San Francisco airport authorities were encouraged to bargain with the airport's neighbors. And bringing these suits in small claims court, with its limited discovery, informal rules of evidence, and short calendar, eliminated the expense and delay normally associated with traditional class actions.

One potential disadvantage of small claims court is that generally only monetary damages are available. [FN 58] Unlike class actions or political action, both of which can change behavior directly (by injunctions or changes in governmental policy), mass small claims can only change behavior indirectly (by making a defendant's decision not to change costly or by giving plaintiff's leverage to negotiate a settlement). The importance of this limit, like the need for capable plaintiffs, varies with the situation. According to Fadem, courts almost never grant injunctions against airport noise because the general benefits of airports outweigh the harm to individual neighbors and because federal law preempts most injunctive relief. [FN 59] Thus, the unavailability of injunctive relief is not a handicap in this context. In San Francisco, monetary pressure - the possibility of several successful small claims court rounds and the airport's large litigation costs-combined with the neighbors' newly won credibility, to strengthen the plaintiffs in their negotiations with the airport for noise reduction.

Small claims courts' limit on the amount of monetary recovery creates another possible drawback. [FN 60] If plaintiffs desire substantial damages for particular claims, such as the diminution in property value that Fadem considers primary in his airport suits, small claims court may not provide an adequate remedy. Where plaintiffs, like the San Francisco neighbors, seek damages 'only for a continuing nuisance, the low limit is less important because they can file claims repeatedly. Where attorney representation is not allowed in small claims court, as in California [FN 61] and some other states, the two unusual aspects of the San Francisco neighbors' technique -- self-representation and the mass filing of small claims -- are inextricably linked. Forced to represent themselves, as in a community organization, the neighbors found themselves on equal footing with an institution ordinarily far more powerful. As Dyson told her opponents, "We went to Small Claims Court because it was affordable. And one of the nice things about it is that attorneys aren't involved. And I felt that that was the one time that I was on even ground with the airport." [FN 62] No plaintiff in San Jose or Los Angeles ever felt on even ground with his or her neighboring airport.

III. Other Applications for Mass Small Claims Filings

With or without self-representation, mass filing of small claims may be a useful technique for plaintiffs' lawyers and activists in other contexts. Class action-type suits that require individual proof of damages present one possibility for mass small claims. Other nuisances, such as noise, odor, or pollution from factories, can affect neighbors in the same way airport noise does, and present similar possibilities. Residents of large apartment buildings, sharing common complaints against their landlord, might also sue in small claims court.

Partially inspired by the airport neighbors, groups of neighbors of crack houses and other drug-infested buildings that produce a spillover of violence and harassment have successfully sued the drug dealers' landlords for nuisance in San Francisco and Berkeley small claims courts. [FN 63] Although not a traditional nuisance, drug dealing and drug use definitely impair the quiet enjoyment of neighboring property. Recently, groups ranging from fifteen to sixty-seven neighbors, frustrated with the failure of landlords, police, and housing inspectors to halt drug dealing in their neighborhoods, filed small claims. In at least five separate cases, the California small claims courts (and superior courts on appeal) held that the crime and noise resulting from drug dealing are nuisances actionable in small claims court. These courts held landlords who ignored the problems responsible, and awarded up to $164,250 in damages to a group of forty-one neighbors who sought $5000 each. [FN 64] The media have given these suits extensive coverage, and the neighbors have won not only money but also the drug dealers' eviction, as the landlords sought to avoid further liability. [FN 65]

Because small claims court jurisdiction is limited only by the dollar amount of damages claimed and not by the complexity of the case, [FN 66] almost any type of action can be brought there. For example, plaintiffs can bring civil rights suits under 42 U.S.C. section 1983 in small claims court if actual compensable injury results. [FN 67] Prisoners too, can bring complaints for damages resulting from official mistreatment or unconstitutional conditions. Small claims judges will be unfamiliar with the relevant law, but may welcome the change from their ordinary fare.

Mass small claims should be another arrow in the quivers of both litigators and social activists. Small claims courts provide a forum for ordinary people, requiring a minimal expenditure of time and money. They provide an opportunity for confronting, and possibly beating, corporate or criminal forces against which citizens otherwise feel powerless. By providing these results quickly and by using the citizens' own efforts, mass small claims also can provide a mechanism for community organization and empowerment.


Noisy jets still rattle the homes of Linda Dyson, Delores Huajardo, and their neighbors. But, despite opposition from some airlines and the FAA, the San Francisco Airport has implemented some of the most stringent noise regulations in the country. [FN 68] The airport neighbors feel that their efforts in small claims court deserve much of the credit for these regulations.

Filing successive rounds of 170-plus suits in small claims court and arguing the suits themselves gave the San Francisco neighbors economic leverage, credibility as negotiators, and media attention. Consequently, they achieved their primary goals of reducing noise near their homes and gaining influence in airport policymaking, and they achieved these goals quickly and inexpensively.

As important as their tangible achievements, the neighbors felt pride, power, and vindication by reaching these goals themselves. Unlike a lawyer, who might view the superior court verdict in favor of the airport as a crushing defeat, Dyson and Huajardo wrote:

After we recovered, we realized that we hadn't really lost at all. We had done our own trial, tread the paths of "lawyerland," and completed the journey with our heads held high. We had the satisfaction of proving that the courts can adjust, no matter how imperfectly, to self-representation. [FN 69]


* Associate, Brown, Goldstein & Levy, Baltimore, Maryland. A.B., 1981, Harvard College. J.D., 1986, Stanford University.

** Associate, Keller Rohrback, Seattle, Washington. B.A., 1982, J.D., 1987, Stanford University.

The authors wish to thank Professor William Simon for his assistance.

1. For descriptions of some of this litigation, see Kathryn Landreth, Comment, The 1980 Airport Noise Act: Noise Abatement or Just More Noise?, 14 U.C. DAVIS L. REV. 1049 (1981) and James F. Gesualdi, Note, Gonna Fly Now: All the Noise About the Airport Access Problem, 16 HOFSTRA L. REV. 213 (1987). Airport noise litigation was recently substantially changed by the Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990, 49 U.S.C.A. App. 2151-58 (Supp. 1991). This Article is incidentally concerned with the substance of such litigation. Its primary purpose is to explore the mass small claim method used by the neighbors of San Francisco International Airport.

2. See, e.g., Lynn Mather, Conclusion: The Mobilizing Potential of Class Actions, 57 IND. L.J. 451, 456 (1982) (arguing that successful class actions use legal issues "as political instruments to mobilize people," thereby changing the terms of political debate of the issue).

3. Unless otherwise indicated, the information in this Section regarding the suit against the San Francisco Airport comes from interviews with plaintiffs Linda Dyson, Delores Huajardo, and Duane Spence, and with the lawyer who advised them, Stephen Elias, from the depositions of Ms. Dyson and Ms. Huajardo in City and County of San Francisco v. Small Claims Court, No. 263365 (Cal. Super. Ct., San Mateo County 1983), and from a series of articles the two women wrote: Linda Dyson & Delores Huajardo, Giant Killers Win Big in Small Claims, NOLO NEWS, Fall 1982, at 3; Linda Dyson & Delores Huajardo, Giant Killers Meet S.F Octopus in Round Two of Small Claims Fight, NOLo NEWS, Winter 1982, at 6; Linda Dyson & Delores Huajardo, Ordeal by Fire: Our First Jury Trial, NOLO NEWS, Fall 1983, at 5. See Diana Waggoner, Noise Suits on Airport Paying Off, NAT'L L.J., Mar. 1, 1982, at 11; Small Claims Court: Suit Over S.F Airport Noise, S.F. CHRON., Jan. 19, 1982, at 2; Bill Workman, Residents Win $750 Each in S.F Jet Noise Case, S.F. CHRON., Jan. 23, 1982, at 1; Bill Workman, How Airport Landed in Small Claims Court, S.F. CHRON., Jan. 27, 1982, at 9; S.F. Appeals Verdicts in Noise Cases, S.F. CHRON., Feb. 12, 1982, at 7; "National Asset:" FAA to Fight Foes of Airports' Noise, S.F. CHRON., Feb. 19, 1982, at 18; San Diego Case: Supreme Court Shuts Ears to Airport Noise, S.F. CHRON., Mar. 9, 1982, at 10; Bill Workman, New Move in Airport Noise Battle, S.F. CHRON., Apr. 20, 1982, at 2; Airport May Again Land in Small Claims Court, S.F. CHRON., May 13, 1982, at 5; Harry Jupiter, Airport Noise Critics Hear a Quieter Jet, S.F. CHRON., June 4, 1982, at 4; Steve Wiegand, SF Airport Dispute: Noise Foes Outflanked, S.F. CHRON., Aug. 27, 1982, at 14; John Balzar & Steve Wiegand, Legislature Passes Airport Lawsuits Bill, S.F. CHRON., Sept. 1, 1982, at 1; Bill Signed Barring Airport Noise Suits, S.F. CHRON., Sept. 15, 1982, at 8; Steve Wiegand, The Noise Issue: Ban on Suing Airport Called Unconstitutional, S.F. CHRON., Dec. 18, 1982, at 6; William Carlsen, S.F. Airport Loses Dispute With Neighbors, S.F. CHRON., Mar. 30, 1983, at 4; Steve Wiegand, Airport Suits Lose in Assembly Panel, S.F. CHRON., Apr. 26, 1983, at 10; Bill Workman, Neighbors Lose Awards Won Against Airport, S.F. CHRON., May 11, 1983, at 2; Robert Bartlett, Veto of Bill on Airport Suits, S.F. CHRON., Sept. 16, 1983, at 10; Airport Neighbors Win $301,500 Court Round, N.Y. TIMES, Dec. 5, 1982, 1, at 29.

4. Dianna Waggoner, Noise Suits on Airport Paying Off, NAT'L L.J., Mar. 1, 1982, at 11.

5. 603 P.2d 1329 (Cal. 1979), cert. denied, 449 U.S. 820 (1980).

6. Telephone interview with Gerald Fadem, plaintiffs' attorney in Greater Westchester (June 28, 1988) [hereinafter "Fadem Interview"].

7. Greater Westchester, 449 U.S. 820.

8. Fadem Interview, supra note 6.

9. RALPH WARNER, About the Author in EVERYBODY'S GUIDE TO SMALL CLAIMS COURT (9th ed. 1991).

10. California law requires this procedure before bringing suit against a government body. CAL. GOV'T CODE 910 (West 1980) (amended 1987); CAL. GOV'T CODE 915 (West 1980).

11. CAL. CIV. PROC. CODE 116.2 (West Supp. 1981), amended by CAL. CIV. PROC. CODE 116.220 (West Supp. 1991).

12. The diminution in value claims, among other problems, would have involved complex valuation issues and would have required expert real estate appraisals for each piece of property.

13. Lawyers are not allowed in California small claims court. CAL. CIV. PROC. CODE 117.4 (West Supp. 1981) (current version at CAL. CIV. PROC. CODE 116.530 (West Supp. 1991)).

14. Dyson v. City and County of San Francisco, No. 50885 (Cal. Mun. Ct., San Mateo County 1982) (transcript on file with authors).

15. Greater Westchester Homeowners Ass'n v. City of Los Angeles, 603 P.2d 1329, 1337 (Cal. 1979). This implication was later confirmed in Baker v. Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport, 705 P.2d 866, 870-73 (Cal. 1985).

16. CAL. GOV'T CODE 911.2 (West 1980) (amended 1987).

17. CAL. CIV. PROC. CODE 116.2 (West 1982), amended by CAL. CIV. PROC. CODE 116.220 (West Supp. 1991).

18. CAL. CIV. PROC. CODE 117.8 (West 1982) (current version at CAL. CIV. PROC. CODE 116.530 (West Supp. 1991)).

19. City and County of San Francisco v. Small Claims Div., No. 263365 (Cal. Super. Ct., San Mateo County 1983).

20. 1982 Cal. Stat. 1027; Gail D. Cox, Legislature Helps SF. Airport's Fight Against Noise Suits, L.A. DAILY L.J., Sept. 2, 1982, at 1.

21. Dyson & Huajardo, Giant Killers Meet S.F. Octopus in Round Two of Small Claims Fight, supra note 3, at 6.

22. The San Francisco plaintiffs and others did convince Governor Deukmejian to veto subsequent bills seeking to extend the moratorium to other airports for additional years. See, e.g., Robert Bartlett, Veto of Bill on Airport Suits, S.F. CHRON., Sept. 16, 1983, at 10; Kenneth F. Bunting, County Pushes for Ambitious Legislative Package in '86, L.A. TIMES (Orange County ed.), Jan. 12, 1986, Metro Pt. 2 at 1.

23. City and County of San Francisco v. Small Claims Div., 190 Cal. Rptr. 340 (1983).

24. Id. at 342-43.

25. Id. at 345-47.

26. CAL. CIV. PROC. CODE 117.8, 117.10 (West 1982) (current version at CAL. CIV. PROC. CODE 116.710-116.770 (West Supp. 1991)). Losing plaintiffs cannot appeal. Id.

27. Elias estimates he spent 300 hours on the case, including representing the plaintiffs in the airport's challenge to the small claims court's jurisdiction. He billed the plaintiffs only $10 an hour, for a total of about $3,000. Interview with Stephen Elias in San Francisco, CA (May 26, 1986) [hereinafter "Elias Interview"].

28. CAL. CIV. PROC. CODE 117, 117.10 (West 1982), repealed by CAL. CIV. PROC. CODE 116.510, 116.520, 116.770 (West Supp. 1991).

29. Dyson v. City and County of San Francisco, No. 263365 (Cal. Sup. Ct., San Mateo County 1983).

30. City and County of San Francisco v. Small Claims Div., 190 Cal. Rptr. 340, 344 (1983); Sanderson v. Niemann, 110 P.2d 1025, 1031 (Cal. 1941); CAL. CIV. PROC. CODE 116.780(c) (West Supp. 1991).

31. Elias Interview supra note 27.

32. Interview with Linda Dyson and Delores Huajardo, in Burlingame, CA (May 18, 1986).

33. Settlement Agreement, Dyson, No. 263365 (copy on file with authors).

34. Telephone interview with Louis Turpen (Sept. 27, 1991) [hereinafter "Turpen Interview"]; City and County of San Francisco v. Federal Aviation Admin., 942 F.2d 1391, 1393-94 (9th Cir. 1991); City and County of San Francisco v. Engen, 819 F.2d 873, 874 (9th Cir. 1987); S.F. Airport Faces U.S. Fund Cutoff, S.J. MERCURY NEWS, Dec. 8, 1985, at 9B.

35. Turpen acknowledges, however, that managers of many other airports are less sensitive to environmental issues than he and that pressure such as lawsuits and political action may be necessary to get their attention. Turpen Interview, supra note 34.

36. Elias Interview, supra note 27.

37. Id.

38. Workman, How Airport Landed in Small Claims Court, supra note 3, at 9.

39. Unless otherwise indicated, the information in this Section regarding the suit against the Los Angeles Airport comes from telephone interviews with Los Angeles anti-noise activists Katherine Thomas, Thomas Paterson, and George Gerard, with plaintiffs' attorney, Gerald Fadem, and from Doug Smith, Victory in LAX Suit Called a Hollow One, L.A. TIMES, Oct. 9, 1980, at 1; Penelope McMillan, Uproar Grows Over Airport Noise, L.A. TIMES, Apr. 26, 1981, pt. 1, at 1.

40. 603 P.2d 1329 (Cal. 1979), cert. denied, 449 U.S. 820 (1980).

41. Doug Smith, 13-Year Battle Takes its Toll, L.A. TIMES, Oct. 12, 1980, 10, at 1. Plaintiffs' lawyers submitted a request for $352,000 in attorneys' fees, which the trial court reduced to $200,000. The California Supreme Court remanded the attorneys' fee award for more specific findings, but the final award remained the same. Greater Westchester, 603 P.2d at 1338; Smith, supra, at 1.

42. Smith, supra note 41, at 1.

43. Id.

44. Fadem Interview, supra note 6.

45. Unless otherwise indicated, the information in this section regarding the suit against the San Jose Airport comes from telephone interviews with plaintiffs Lauren Smyth and Richard Garcia, with neighborhood association leader Lyle Johnson (Nov. 7, 1987), and with plaintiffs' attorney W. Robert Morgan (May 28, 1986).

46. City of San Jose v. Superior Court, 525 P.2d 701, 710 (Cal. 1974). The San Francisco plaintiffs might have avoided this pitfall had they sought class certification by filing, as they did in small claims court, only nuisance and not inverse condemnation actions.

47. E. ALLAN LIND & TOM R. TYLER, THE SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY OF PROCEDURAL JUSTICE (1988); Tom R. Tyler, What is Procedural Justice?: Criteria Used by Citizens to Assess the Fairness of Legal Procedures, 22 LAW & SOC'Y REV. 103, 122-29 (1988). Tyler evaluates the variable "representation," which he defines as "'how much opportunity' [litigants] had had to present their problem or case to the authorities before decisions were made." Tyler, supra, at 111.

48. CAL. CIV. PROC. CODE 117.4 (West 1982) (current version at CAL. CIV. PROC. CODE 116.530 (West Supp. 1991)).

49. William M. O'Barr & John M. Conley, Litigant Satisfaction Versus Legal Adequacy in Small Claims Court Narratives, 19 LAW & SOC'Y REV. 661, 666-67, 676-77 (1985).

50. Such an outcome is, of course, possible where plaintiffs are represented by counsel. See United States v. County of Westchester, 571 F. Supp. 786, 791 (S.D.N.Y. 1983) (discussing the negotiating committee agreed to in the settlement of Town of Greenwich v. Westchester County, No. B-74-280 (D. Conn. 1974)).

51. Fadem Interview, supra note 6.


53. O'Barr& Conley, supra note 49, at 684-90.

54. A study of New York Small Claims Court found that when an unrepresented plaintiff faced a represented defendant, the defendant won (i.e., paid less than one-third of plaintiff's claim) 59% of adjudicated cases and 69% of arbitrated cases, compared to 23% and 14% when the defendant, too, was unrepresented. Austin Sarat, Alternatives in Dispute Processing: Litigation in Small Claims Court, 10 LAW & SOC'Y REV. 339, 367 (1976).

55. Elias, along with Ralph Warner, coached the plaintiffs before their small claims court appearances and coached them every night during trial. Elias also substituted for them in their motion limiting discovery and in the appeal of small claims court jurisdiction. Elias also helped the plaintiffs draft jury instructions in Superior Court.

56. Another potential limit on the pro se approach is the need for a group of sufficiently articulate plaintiffs to explain their position in court. Non-English-speaking people, for example, could have problems. Although this was not a problem for the well-educated neighbors of the San Francisco Airport, it might be elsewhere.

57. See Bryant G.Garth, Introduction: Toward a Sociology of Class Action, 57 IND. L.J. 371 (1982).

58. See, e.g., CAL. CIV. PROC. CODE 116.220(b) (West Supp. 1991). The only available equitable remedies are recision, restitution, reformation, and specific performance -- not injunctions.

59. "[C]ommercial flights which are conducted in strict compliance with federal regulations may not be enjoined as nuisances, both because of the continuing public interest in air transportation, and because of the likelihood of direct conflict with federal law." Greater Westchester Homeowners Ass'n v. City of Los Angeles, 603 P.2d 1329, 1332 (Cal. 1979); see also City of Burbank v. Lockheed Air Terminal, 411 U.S. 624, 633-35 (1973); British Airways Bd. v. Port Auth. of New York, 558 F.2d 75, 84 (2d Cir. 1977) ("Concorde ); British Airways Bd. v. Port Auth. of New York, 564 F.2d 1002 (2d Cir. 1977) ("Concorde IF'); United States v. County of Westchester, 571 F. Supp. 786, 797 (S.D.N.Y. 1983); United States v. New York, 552 F. Supp. 255 (N.D.N.Y. 1982), aff'd, 708 F.2d 92 (2d Cir. 1983); Baker v. Burbank- Glendale Pasadena Airport, 705 P.2d 866, 869 n.6 (Cal. 1985). On the availability of injunctive relief against nuisances, see FOWLER V. HARPER ET AL., THE LAW OF TORTS 93-94, 12227 (2d ed. 1986).

60. The limit in California was raised to $5000 per claim. CAL. CIV. PROC. CODE 116.220 (West Supp. 1991). The limit remains less in most other states. E.g., MICH. COMP. LAWS ANN. 600.8401(2) (West 1987) ($1500 limit); N.Y. JUD. LAW 1801 (McKinney 1989) ($2000 limit); TEX. GOV'T CODE ANN. 28.003(a) (West Supp. 1991) ($2500 limit).

61. CAL. CIV. PROC. CODE 116.530 (West Supp. 1991).

62. Deposition of Linda Dyson, at 132, Dyson v. City and County of San Francisco, No. 263365 (Cal. Super. Ct., San Mateo County 1983).

63. Renters Sue Landlord Over Drug Dealers, S.J. MERCURY NEWS, Sept. 14, 1991, at 4B; Neighbors Set a National Example, Tenants Win Drug Battle with Small Claims Suit, S.J. MERCURY NEWS, Aug. 31, 1989, at IB; Katherine Bishop, Neighbors in West Use Small Claims Court to Combat Drugs, N.Y. TIMES, Oct. 17, 1989, A, at 16; Maitland Zane, Landlady Fights Judgment on Boarded-Up Crack House, S.F. CHRON., Feb. 10, 1990, at A4; Drug House Owner Loses Appeal of Her Suit, S.F. CHRON., Mar. 15, 1990, at A11; L.A. Chung, S.F Agency Sued Over Hayes Valley Project Crime, S.F. CHRON., Apr. 24, 1990, at B12; Residents Near Crime-Ridden SF Housing Project Win Claim, S.F. CHRON., May 1, 1990, at A9; Torri Minton, The $4 Solution: A Plan to Get Drugs Out of Your Neighborhood, S.F. CHRON., Oct. 11, 1990, at B3; George Martell, Neighbors Win Suit Over Crime: SF Housing Authority Ruled Liable for Assaults Near Project, S.F. CHRON., Nov. 2, 1990, at A2; Reynolds Holding, Rooming House is a "Nuisance," Neighbors Tell Court in S.F, S.F. CHRON., May 15, 1991, at A15; Reynolds Holding, 41 Awards in Suits Against Drug House, S.F. CHRON., May 25, 1991, at A15; Berkeley Landlord Sued for $5,000 -- 67 times, S.F. CHRON., Sept. 13, 1991, at A26; Elisabeth Dunham, Neighbors of Landlords Win by Suing Landlords, BALT. SUN, Oct. 14, 1991, at 3A.

64. Dunham, supra note 63.

65. Id.

66. City and County of San Francisco v. Small Claims Div., 190 Cal. Rptr. 340, 342-43 (1983). The inclusion of certain types of complex cases has been criticized. Barbara Yngvesson & Patricia Hennessy, Small Claims, Complex Disputes: A Review of the Small Claims Literature, 9 LAW & SOC'Y REV. 219, 258-59 (1975).

67. The authors were informed that California Rural Legal Assistance helped Hispanic workers in a central California community file 1983 claims in small claims court against officers of the local police department who arrested and detained groups of workers until their immigration status could be determined.

68. Turpen Interview, supra note 34; City and County of San Francisco v. F.A.A., 942 F.2d 1391, 1393-94 (9th Cir. 1991).

69. Dyson & Huajardo, Ordeal by Fire: Our First Jury Trial, supra note 3.