Town Facing Nine Lawsuits

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With a new Town Attorney in the wings and two new lawsuits against the Town filed within hours of each other on January 18th, the Sand Paper wanted to take a look at where the Town stood in the number of lawsuits.

On January 18, 2017, James J. Jamieson filed a legal action against the Town. On the same day, Persaud Properties FL Investments (Terry Persaud) also filed a separate case.

In August 2016, we did a review of active lawsuits naming the Town as a defendant and found six active legal actions against the Town at that point.

This week we found a total of nine active lawsuits through a search of the Lee County Clerk of Court website and the District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

 

Defending the Town

The Town Attorney does not always handle lawsuits naming the Town as a defendant. The insurance package the Town purchases from the Florida League of Cities (FLC) includes defense of the Town in some cases, Director of Administrative Services Maureen Rischitelli explained this week. They cover the ‘slip and fall’ type cases for the Town.

“It’s part of our liability insurance they carry,” said Rischitelli. “Should the Town be found to be negligent, then it would be up to the judge what we would pay, of course.”

Last year that insurance was about $290,000. This year it is $301,800.

The Florida League of Cities represents more than 400 cities, villages and towns throughout the state. To find out more about them and the services they offer, visit www.floridaleagueofcities.com.

Right now there are four active cases that fall within the FLC insurance. Those are:

 

GARSON V. TOWN OF FORT MYERS BEACH

Filed on December 8, 2016, Sylvia Garson of New York claims to have tripped and fallen on the sidewalk near the now closed ice cream store and Pierview Hotel on August 10, 2014 due to broken cobblestones or pavers. She has requested a jury trial. Attorney Damian Albert is representing the Town.

 

MCSWEENEY V. TOWN OF FORT MYERS BEACH

On May 5, 2016, Daphne McSweeney of Ohio filed a lawsuit against the Town and Lighthouse Island Resort for an injury she sustained when she fell into a drain catch basin on November 9, 2013. The Town is included in the suit is because the property in question is jointly maintained by the resort and the Town. Damian Albert is representing the Town.

 

MINERS V. TOWN OF FORT MYERS BEACH

The second lawsuit involving both the Town and Lighthouse was filed on June 26, 2015 by plaintiff Starr Miners, and is similar to McSweeney’s in that the plaintiff is asking for damages for permanent injuries sustained in a fall into a catch basin on December 14, 2013. Damian Albert is representing the Town.

 

BLANTON V. TOWN OF FORT MYERS BEACH

The third slip-and-fall lawsuit is only against the Town. It was filed on November 23, 2015 by Kathyrn Blanton, who is asking for damages for permanent injuries she sustained on January 1, 2013 while walking on the sidewalk near 6665 Estero Boulevard. A hearing is set for March 27, 2017. Scott Alexander is representing the Town.

 

On The Town

Active lawsuits not covered by the FLC include five lawsuits. The Town’s budget for legal services for this year is $225,000, up from $180,000 in last year’s budget. That includes $125,000 for the Town Attorney and $100,00 for other expenses, including outside counsel.

 

FISH TALE MARINA V. TOWN OF FORT MYERS BEACH

On March 15, 2016, Fish Tale Marina filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari after a February 16, 2016 decision by Town Council to deny their request that they be ‘grandfathered’ in and recognized as a nonconforming personal watercraft (jet-ski) vendor. The suit claims the Town incorrectly interpreted the Town’s Land Development Code (LDC) and zoning regulations, choosing instead to base their decision on Lee County’s ordinances and not the Town’s. Dawn Lehnert is representing the Town.

 

ORLANDINI /KLINE V. TOWN OF FORT MYERS BEACH

Two months later in May 2016, Joe Orlandini and Lyle Kline, owners of beachfront property located at 1560 I Street, filed a lawsuit against the town regarding a beach chair rental business. The business existed when they purchased the property on January 12, 2015. On January 19, 2016, the Town adopted Ordinance 15-12, which allowed for existing nonconforming beach furniture rental businesses if the operator could prove that they were operating at a site on January 1, 2015, a date the suit claims is arbitrary and capricious. The plaintiffs ask that Ordinance 15-12 not be applied to the subject property as it violates their rights to due process and equal protection among other claims. John Turner is representing the Town in this case that is moving toward trial.

 

The wooded area in the center of this photo indicates the approximate area of the property on Chapel St. at issue in the lawsuit filed by James J. Jamieson against the Town.

JAMES J. JAMIESON V. TOWN OF FORT MYERS BEACH

The first legal action filed against the Town on January 18, 2017 was brought by James Jamieson regarding a 7-acre parcel of land in the Sea Grape subdivision. The action includes six counts including a Bert Harris claim, regulatory taking and a common law trespass action. This case involves wetland designation, minimum use designation and stormwater discharge onto the property. No attorney has been named to represent the Town according to Lee court records.

 

PERSAUD PROPERTIES V. TOWN OF FORT MYERS BEACH

The most recent legal action filed against the Town is a Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief by Persaud Properties FL Investments, LLC, owner of the two properties at 3050 and 3056 Estero Blvd. The properties were issued a stop work order on May 12, 2016 and on August 15th Persaud was notified that they had until November 1, 2016 to tear down the buildings. This case seeks to have the Town’s interpretation of the Coastal Construction Setback Line (CCL) declared invalid and the Town’s Land Development Code relating to the CCL declared “vague and unenforceable.” There is no attorney yet assigned to represent the Town according to Lee court records.

 

CARRASCO V. TOWN OF FORT MYERS BEACH

A lawsuit against the Town was filed in District Court on January 15, 2016 by former Town Community Development employee Jim Carrasco claiming a civil rights violation. This case is expected to go to jury trial in 2017.

In looking back five years, we found a total of 19 lawsuits filed against the Town between 2011 and 2017. Nine of them have been resolved. For comparison purposes, we looked at the City of Sanibel for the same period and found a total of 10 lawsuits, 3 active and 7 resolved.

We also looked at the Special Districts within the Town and found no lawsuits naming the Beach Library or the Mosquito Control District. The Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District had a total of four lawsuits in the past 5 years, three resolved and one, a 2015 case filed by former Fire Chief Darren White alleging Breach of Contract, currently working it’s way through the courts.

 

Further details of these cases are available to the public on the Lee County Clerk of Court website, leeclerk.org. Look for “online services” and then “search court cases.”

 

Missy Layfield