The Clarksville City Council voted unanimously in the Oct. 20 regular session to approve a settlement agreement in the amount of $450,000 between the City of Clarksville and Jeff and Sherri Robinson and their wholly-owned Franklin Street Corporation (FSC).
A settlement is not an admission of wrongdoing, and the City strongly denies any liability or wrongdoing, other than the $8,335 in damages awarded by a jury in the first of three ongoing lawsuits for a water and sewer pipe that was accidentally placed slightly over one foot into the FSC property.
After careful consideration, it was decided that a cessation of litigation expenses in connection with two of the three lawsuits was in the best interest of the citizens of Clarksville and would allow the City to continue to focus on its core mission of service to the community.
The settlement agreed upon includes the City reimbursing the Robinsons up to $200,000 in expenses to extend the combined sewer line on the FSC property to a new grate inlet, the construction of a retaining wall, the alteration of existing downspouts, and the installation of stormwater runoff infrastructure.
The agreement also includes paying the Robinsons $250,000 as part of a project agreement and transferring an alley on City-owned property to them in exchange for property owned by Highpointe Row Partners - also owned by the Robinsons - and transferring it to the City.
“This has been a lengthy battle and could have continued down a path of no resolve,” Mayor Joe Pitts said. “However, we wanted to settle the issue for the taxpayers. I know that neither side received the outcome they desired, but I’m glad we could reach an amicable consensus. In my heart, I know we did everything we could to resolve this, that is, by avoiding additional expenses, uncertainty, and draining public resources. Now, as we put this chapter behind us, I hope we can turn the page and resume moving forward in strengthening and developing our beautiful City of Clarksville.”
“I would also like to thank Lance Baker, our City Attorney, and his legal team for the extraordinary work and time they put into this,” Pitts added. “Their professionalism is second to none.”
The approved settlement represents the latest chapter in a lengthy legal battle with the Robinsons, which stems from a 2002 property transfer and an alleged verbal promise between the couple and then-Mayor Johnny Piper to pave an alley on City-owned property for the benefit of the Robinsons’ restaurant business.
In 2015, years after Piper left office, the Robinsons announced plans to construct a spec building and then a brewhouse, and they allegedly asked the City to pave the alley. After then-Mayor Kim McMillan announced the City did not intend to complete the alley, FSC filed a sprawling multi-count lawsuit in 2016.
The Robinsons sued the City, alleging six separate causes of action. These claims included breach of contract, violation of civil rights, promissory estoppel, and inverse condemnation. Five of the Robinsons’ six claims, including the one pertaining to the alleged promise by Piper, upon which the plaintiffs were seeking millions of dollars in damages, were dismissed by the court.
In October 2019, a Montgomery County Circuit Court jury returned a verdict in favor of the Robinsons on a claim of inverse condemnation, the last remaining count in the lawsuit, which argued that the City had allegedly taken a small part of the land owned by the plaintiffs when it installed a sewer line. The jury awarded the Robinsons’ damages of $8,335. That case is now on appeal at the Tennessee Court of Appeals.
In May 2020, the Robinsons requested $1.2 million to settle all existing or future claims in connection with the sewer line and promissory estoppel issues; however, members of the City Council voted unanimously to reject the offer.
In September 2020, Davidson County Joseph P. Binkley Jr., sitting by interchange for the Montgomery Country Circuit Court, denied the Robinsons’ request for more than $850,000 in attorneys fees and costs in their ongoing lawsuit against the City and ordered the City to pay only $30,000.
The Robinsons and their Franklin Street Corporation also filed two additional lawsuits, one in Federal Court in Nashville alleging the same type of claims and facts as alleged in the first state court lawsuit currently on appeal following this settlement. That federal court lawsuit is being dismissed as part of the current settlement, along with a third lawsuit filed in state court by Mr. Robinson, alleging the City has violated the Open Meetings Act and Public Records Act laws, which the City vehemently denies.