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Posted on: October 31, 2019

Five of six claims brought by Robinsons in multimillion dollar lawsuit dismissed

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. –  The City of Clarksville has prevailed on five of six claims brought by Jeff and Sherri Robinson in a longstanding legal dispute over a would-be alley and two small parcels of land near the Robinson’s downtown Blackhorse Pub and Brewery.

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.

The promissory estoppel claim pertained to an alleged promise made by former Mayor Johnny Piper to pave an alleged alley on City-owned property for the benefit of the Robinson’s restaurant business. The inverse condemnation claim pertained to a sewer line extension project in which the city accidentally installed a  small portion of the line two feet onto an undeveloped lot owned by the Robinsons.

Five of the Robinson’s six claims, including the one pertaining to the alleged promise by a former mayor, upon which the plaintiffs were seeking millions of dollars in damages, have now been dismissed by the court.

On Wednesday, 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 “taken” a small part of the land owned by the plaintiffs when it installed a sewer line.

The jury awarded the Robinsons damages of $8,300.

“So here we are, after years of legal wrangling that cost city taxpayers nearly a million dollars, the Robinsons win one claim and get damages of $8,300,” Mayor Joe Pitts said Thursday. “I want citizens to know that since I took office in January, we did everything we could to resolve this and  move on. We offered to move the pipe at our expense, and we offered a substantial cash settlement that the Robinsons would not agree to.”

The inverse condemnation lawsuit arose out of a sewer project performed by the City Gas & Water Department to improve a part of the more than 100-year-old downtown sewer system. City engineers relied on what proved to be an inaccurate survey contained in a site plan submitted by the Robinsons. The jury was not permitted to hear this information.

During the sewer pipe installation, the City accidentally installed the pipe less than two fee over on the Robinson’s property. The City project also provided both sewer and water tie-ins that were of direct benefit to the Robinsons. The value of these benefits was more than $32,000, another fact which the City was not permitted to tell the jury.

The promissory estoppel claim,  a central issue in the dispute, was dismissed earlier this month by Davidson County Circuit Court Judge Joseph P. Binkley Jr., who had been assigned the case.

Binkley granted the City’s motion for summary judgement, agreeing with the City on its central arguments that there was no written contract or promise to build an alley; the 2002 City Council could not bind future administrations to a contract; that the city council never approved anything other than the purchase of the property and the installation of utilities; and if then-Mayor Johnny Piper had made a verbal promise, it could not be enforced beyond his term of office; and that the Robinson’s claim was barred by the statute of limitations.

In 2002, according the lawsuit, the Robinsons and their Franklin Street Corporation purchased the two Second Street parcels and sold a small portion -- 11.5 feet of property  -- to the city. 

The Robinsons claimed in the lawsuit that the transaction was managed by then-Mayor Piper, with the understanding that the City would pave the city-owned tract and install and maintain underground utilities. 

Utilities were installed, a curb cut was put in to the Second Street sidewalk and the City used the tract to access the rear of the Franklin Street properties to maintain the utilities. The Robinsons have also used the City’s tract by placing a dumpster and a restaurant grease trap on the City-owned property, another fact the jury was not allowed to hear. However, the 110 S. Second St. property remained undeveloped.

In 2015, years after Piper left office, the Robinsons announced plans to construct a spec building and then a brewhouse, and they asked the City to pave the alleged 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.

So far, the City has spent $961,900 on outside counsel in it’s defense of the Robinson/FSC lawsuit. The legal action could be extended by appeals by either side and by the Robinson’s expected request to be awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars of legal fees on their inverse condemnation claim. They will not be permitted to request attorney fees in connection with the claims that have been dismissed. 

Mayor Pitts said he and the City respects the court’s and jurors’ decision in this case, and thanks them for their service.

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