Developer v. Anna Maria heads to jury trial

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City requirements for a chain-link fence and drainage ditches around several homes on Magnolia Avenue is one of several city actions protested by developer Shawn Kaleta and Beach to Bay Construction LLC in U.S. District Court. The federal trial is set for the November term.

Talks to settle developer Shawn Kaleta’s federal lawsuit — now alleging $7.9 million-$12.3 million against the city of Anna Maria — appear to be in infancy as a jury trial knocks at the door.

Senior Judge James Whittemore ordered an eight-person jury trial to start in the November term at an Oct. 6 pretrial conference in U.S. District Court.

Kaleta’s case, filed in February 2016, alleges the city, through its mayor, commissioners and staff, discriminated and retaliated against him and his company, Beach to Bay Construction LLC, violating First and 14th Amendment protections.

The city denies the allegations.

In a recent pretrial statement, the city acknowledges new procedures were put in place to handle rapid growth in the past seven years, but denied treating Kaleta and Beach to Bay differently from other developers.

The latest reports from Kaleta’s experts calculate damages at $4.5 million less from the initial finding of $11.4 million under a lost-business-earnings approach, and at $12.3 million in a lost-permits calculation.

At the pretrial in Tampa, Whittemore also ordered the trial to run a maximum of seven days.

“It was a pretty straight forward hearing,” according to an Oct. 7 text from Kaleta attorney Aaron Thomas of the Najmy Thompson law firm of Bradenton, who attended the conference.

Kaleta and his company also are represented by Lakewood Ranch attorney Brian P. Kopp.

Thomas said the 40-minute conference was “mostly” about trial procedures, with “no real meaningful discussion of settlement.”

October dates were put on the calendar for “motions in limine” — requests heard by the judge outside the presence of the jurors.

Attorney Louis Najmy acknowledged Oct. 7 the two sides have had “discussion about having settlement talks.”

Mayor Dan Murphy could not be reached for comment Oct. 7.

Before the pretrial, two city motions were denied by Whittemore early in October.

The city had asked the judge to strike Kaleta’s experts and their reports and also asked for fees as well as for summary judgment.

In denying a city motion to strike, the judge ruled the city failed to show Kaleta violated court rules requiring expert witness disclosures.

The court similarly dispelled the city motion to end the case summarily, finding evidence of adverse conduct when viewed in the developer’s standpoint.

After the Oct. 6 conference, the city filed an “unopposed” motion to add witnesses to its list of 21 names. The inadvertently omitted witnesses were discussed during the pretrial, according to the court paper.

The city has named 24 witnesses.

Both sides have filed objections to the other party’s witness list.

The witnesses named in the city’s unopposed motion are: Pete Dospel, Dan Gagne, Brent Whitehead, Greg Ross, Frank Agnelli, Joseph Acebal, Jim Hugg, Sam Pakbaz, Holmes Beach building official James McGuinness, Keith Carter and Holmes Beach Commissioners Jean Peelen and Carol Soustek.

The city insurance carrier under the Florida League of Cities has provided counsel, William Lawton, John Conner and Jenna Winchester of Dean, Ringers, Morton, Lawton PA of Orlando.

The attorneys’ motions in limine are due Oct. 20 with responses due Oct. 27.

The eventual trial will be at the Sam M. Gibbons U.S. Courthouse in Tampa.

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