Kaleta, Anna Maria prepare for federal trial in ‘blackball’ lawsuit

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As part of a federal lawsuit, developer Shawn Kaleta and his company allege the city of Anna Maria required a chain-link fence and drainage ditch around a row of five homes on Magnolia Avenue during construction but similar requirements were not imposed on other developers.
Developer Shawn Kaleta and Beach to Bay Construction LLC allege the city of Anna Maria issued a 2015 red tag order shutting off power to a remodeled home at 9802 Gulf Drive in ongoing litigation in U.S. District Court in Tampa. Islander Photos: Kathy Prucnell

Almost daily filings remind court-watchers of the federal case of Shawn Kaleta and Beach to Bay Construction LLC versus the city of Anna Maria.

For the past two months, attorneys for both sides have filed a steady stream of papers aimed at gaining an edge in the litigation first filed in February 2016.

The developer alleges the city has blackballed him to the tune of $12 million in lost permits and profits.

The case is set for a trial at the year’s end in U.S. District Court in Tampa.

In a move July 10 to end the case before a trial, the city filed motions for summary judgment and to strike the plaintiffs’ experts.

The developer’s case rests on constitutional claims, including a First Amendment argument the city deterred his free speech and rights to petition by restricting his projects, making false public statements and filing an “unsubstantiated” business complaint. Kaleta-Beach to Bay also bring a discrimination claim under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

Kaleta and his company are represented by Bradenton attorneys Najmy and Thompson, P.A., including Louis Najmy and Aaron Thomas. With a June 19 appearance, a Lakewood Ranch attorney, Brian P. Kopp, joined the developer’s legal team.

Defending the city is the Orlando firm of Dean, Ringers, Morgan & Lawton, including attorney John T. Conner, hired by the city’s insurer, a Florida League of Cities’ affiliate.

In a summary judgment motion, Conner asks the court to end the case because of a lack of a genuine dispute as to any material fact.

It contends the plaintiffs have failed to: 1) show disparate treatment, 2) exhaust administrative remedies and obtain a final city decision; 3) offer evidence of a perceived ban against the developer and 4) show they engaged in speech or conduct protected by the First Amendment.

In the Kaleta-Beach to Bay response, Thomas contends the record indicates similarly situated properties and developers, evidence of a ban and a clear claim of chilling effects as a result of targeted actions against the plaintiffs. No exhaustion of administrative remedies is required, he wrote.

Thomas also labels the dispositive motion “nothing more than a desperate attempt to avoid trial on the merits,” which paints a false narrative and mischaracterizes the record.

The city also seeks to disarm the $12 million damages claim, attempting to strike Kaleta’s experts under a court rule that limits expert testimony to that which is reliable, qualified and helpful.

The city points to plaintiffs’ co-experts as unqualified causation witnesses, unreliable because they misapplied facts and unhelpful due to their conflicting opinions.

Thomas responds the city’s causation argument is misplaced because the experts are qualified to show the plaintiff’s damages were related to, and not proximately caused by the city.

He called the city’s attempt to strike the experts “a blunderbuss” of a motion “easily put aside in the final analysis.”

In May, Kaleta filed the expert report of Matthew Clark of Kentucky and Lewis Olds of Arizona, estimating damages due to the city’s blackball against Kaleta and his company.

The experts’ joint report calculated developer losses based on an estimated 38 permits that would have been issued since 2015 but for the city’s discriminatory acts.

According to the report, the developer’s lost profits to 2020 were projected at $12,339,055 and lost earnings at $11,441,885.

By October, the court is expected to rule on the outstanding motions, according to Najmy.

A pretrial hearing is set for 10:30 a.m. Friday, Oct. 6, before Judge James D. Whittemore, in the Sam M. Gibbons U.S. Courthouse in Tampa.

2 thoughts on “Kaleta, Anna Maria prepare for federal trial in ‘blackball’ lawsuit

  1. Paula

    Shawn Kaleta is a builder of short-term rental houses.
    Many of those involved in the short-term rental industry often threaten to sue, or they do sue. Our board has won the lawsuits against those who have sued us when we changed our amendments to prohibit their unbridled ability to rent short-term.
    Stand strong against them. The rental industry does have deep pockets, but they can be beaten back. However, it is not an easy task (they heavily support certain legislators), and it does take a lot of work!


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