Filed under: Central Coast, Inland Empire, Los Angeles Area, San Diego Area

Ryan Thomas Dunn

Ryan Dunn(213) 542-5717

Ryan is senior counsel in Colantuono, Highsmith & Whatley’s litigation and advisory practice groups. His practice covers a full range of litigation matters for cities and other public entities, including disputes over public revenues, election disputes, land use issues, general commercial litigation, and related appeals. He uses his deep knowledge of California civil procedure to efficiently defend public entities in litigation and resolve disputes cost-effectively. Ryan also serves as general counsel of the Goleta Water District and the Burbank Hospitality Association.

Ryan’s litigation experience includes:

Municipal Revenues

  • defense of Proposition 218 and 26 challenges to utility rates and general fund transfers on behalf of several cities and water agencies throughout the state, many involving defense of class actions;
  • representation of a Central Coast county in two challenges to the county’s annexation fees, leading to a successful motion for new trial and judgment for the county at the new trial in the first trial and judgment for the county on the merits in the second;
  • defense of two charter cities in putative class action Proposition 218 challenges to utility franchise fees and passed through to utility customers;
  • representation of charter city in arbitration with investor-owned utility regarding franchise fees owed to charter city for gas and electric franchises;
  • defense of a geologic hazard abatement district’s (GHAD) assessment against Proposition 218 challenges and pursuit of a validation judgment to protect it from future challenges;
  • successful defense of a municipal water district’s rates against Proposition 218 challenge from residents of discrete service area, who argued they were entitled to a separate notice procedure and not required to repay accumulated deficit through rates;
  • successful defense of a southern California charter city’s interpretation of a parcel tax against a Proposition 218 challenge claiming the city’s application of the tax amount to a “change of methodology” and therefore a tax increase requiring voter approval.

Business Improvement Districts

  • successful defense of a southern California tourism marketing district assessment in two Proposition 26 challenges, one a class action, both affirmed on appeal;
  • representation of a southern California charter city in a Proposition 26 case against the city’s business improvement district assessments, leading to a dismissal;
  • successful defense of city, BID board of directors, and individual board members in untimely challenge to BID assessment and city’s hotel bed tax, leading to judgment for defendants on demurrer;
  • defense of a business improvement district in a Public Records Act case involving a challenge to the district’s document retention policy;
  • representation of business improvement district in defense of claim for injunctive relief and damages filed by assessed property owner

Other Litigation

  • defense of a county’s enforcement of its ridgeline protection ordinance against an inverse condemnation challenge, leading to a defense verdict after a five-day court trial;
  • defense of city in CEQA challenge to redevelopment of convenience store;
  • defense of a city council’s interpretation of its charter in refusing to honor mayoral veto from challenges by the mayor and private citizens; and
  • successful representation of a Fortune 500 company in a federal Superfund case


  • Jacks v. City of Santa Barbara (2017) 3 Cal.5th 248 — a successful petition for review of a Proposition 218 challenge to Santa Barbara’s electricity franchise fee and representation of the City at the Supreme Court, where the court reversed the Court of Appeal, and which is now pending in the trial court on remand;
  • San Diegans for Open Government v. City of San Diego (2019, unpublished) — reversal of an $874,000 attorney fee award against tourism marketing district and order denying association $131,000 in trial costs;
  • Reid v. City of San Diego (2018) 24 Cal.App.5th 343 — defense of a tourism marketing district in putative class action Proposition 26 challenge to assessment, dismissed on demurrer at trial court and affirmed on appeal;
  • California Taxpayers Action Network v. City of San Diego (2018, unpublished) — defense of a tourism marketing district in reverse validation Proposition 26 challenge to assessment, dismissed on demurrer at trial court and affirmed on appeal;
  • Webb v. City of Riverside (2018) 23 Cal.App.5th 244 — defense of a Proposition 26/218 challenge to Riverside’s general fund transfer from its municipal electric utility, dismissed on demurrer at the trial court and affirmed on appeal;
  • Jurupa Valley Limited Partnership v. City of Vernon (2016, unpublished) — defense of city in Proposition 218 challenge to parcel tax, affirmed on appeal;
  • Hardesty v. Sacramento County (2020, unpublished) — successful defense of senior county officials in appeal to the Ninth Circuit of federal substantive due process challenge to land use decisions;
  • defense of city, business improvement district, and district board of directors in appeal of judgment for defendants in challenge to BID assessment and hotel bed tax (pending);
  • drafting and opposing petitions for appellate writ relief, publication of appellate decisions, and Supreme Court review; and
  • drafting several amicus briefs on public law matters on behalf of the League of California Cities and other municipal entities, including in California Cannabis Coalition v. City of Upland (2017) 3 Cal.5th 924; and In re Transient Occupancy Tax Cases (2016) 2 Cal.5th 131.

Ryan is a member of the League of California Cities Municipal Finance Committee and helped draft the League’s Proposition 218/26 Implementation Guide.

Prior to joining Colantuono, Highsmith & Whatley, Ryan litigated environmental and product liability matters at Faegre Baker Daniels LLP (now Faegre Drinker) in Minneapolis. Ryan’s work at Faegre included significant involvement in advising a corporate client on the potential for environmental enforcement actions under state and federal law arising out of groundwater contamination caused by an oil refinery in Alaska, as well as representation of that client in litigation with a former owner of that refinery.

After law school, Ryan worked as a law clerk to two judges with civil case assignments at Los Angeles Superior Court. In this role, Ryan analyzed and drafted bench memoranda for dozens of motions for summary judgment on cases ranging from employment matters to real estate disputes to government tort claims. Ryan also analyzed motions from every stage of the civil trial process, from demurrers to discovery disputes to requests for entry of default judgments.

Ryan has been named a Southern California Rising Star by Super Lawyers every year since 2016. He received his law degree from the UCLA School of Law in 2009 and an M.A. in urban planning from the UCLA School of Public Affairs that year, where he focused his studies on transportation issues. Ryan assisted two law professors in their research efforts while at UCLA and was named a Distinguished Advocate by the UCLA Moot Court Honors Program. He graduated with honors from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a B.B.A. in Finance and Real Estate and worked for an affordable housing developer in the Minneapolis area after college. When not at work, you might find him at a dog park with his rescue pit bull Rizzo, rooting for the Chicago Cubs or Wisconsin Badgers, or exploring Los Angeles by foot or bike.

Practice Areas:

  • Public Revenues
  • Water Law
  • Appellate Law
  • Election Law
  • Land Use Litigation
  • Public Records Act Litigation
  • Redevelopment & Affordable Housing
  • Utilities Law

Ryan’s Significant Appellate Representations