Lawsuit: Warner Robins discriminated against developer

bpurser@macon.comJanuary 4, 2014 

WARNER ROBINS -- A developer has filed a lawsuit against the city of Warner Robins and two of its engineers alleging discriminatory practices that resulted in financial loss.

Thomas A. Brightman, owner of Peach Blossom Development Co. Inc. and TAB Enterprises Inc., filed the lawsuit Tuesday in federal court in Macon. In addition to the city, the lawsuit names Charles Beauchea, an assistant city engineer, and Marianne Golmitz, the city engineer for utilities.

The lawsuit alleges the late Mayor Donald Walker placed Brightman and his companies on a “bad list” when Brightman was constructing a pond for the Peach Blossom Terrace subdivision, and as a result, the city harassed him and frustrated the development process by bringing false accusations that he was violating city ordinances and other laws.

“These allegations and accusations were not based in fact and were levied against (Brightman) simply because Mayor Walker and city employees wanted to harass (Brightman),” the lawsuit states.

The city denies it discriminated against Brightman.

After the pond was constructed, the city allegedly forced the electricity to be shut off, which rendered the siphon system inoperable, the lawsuit states. The siphon system is an automatic system designed to keep the pond from overflowing.

The city also called the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, but the state agency found the pond was within regulations, the lawsuit states. However, the city has not allowed the pond to be refilled, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also details several other instances in which the city and its employees are accused of applying and misapplying city ordinances and building codes “under the guise” of enforcing the law to allegedly discriminate against Brightman.

Those developments include the Highway 41 North Plaza, Beau Claire subdivision, Borders Way, the Rose Hill subdivision Phase V, Moody Square and others, according to the lawsuit.

City Attorney Jim Elliott said he’s spoken with both Beauchea and Golmitz about the lawsuit.

“Their contention is that they simply applied all the ordinances and regulations and code standards and all those kinds of things to any of those projects that they would have applied to anyone else’s projects,” Elliott said. “And so we don’t believe on the face that there’s any substance to the allegations that would lead to liability on the city’s part.”

Beauchea and Golmitz declined comment.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction to require the city to accept Brightman’s permit for the pond and allow electricity to be supplied to the siphon system.

The lawsuit also seeks the award of actual, compensatory and punitive damages to be determined by a jury at trial, payment of attorney fees and litigation costs and any other relief as deemed by the court.

Kelly Burke, a Warner Robins attorney representing Brightman, said the injunction is broader in that he seeks to end all alleged discriminatory treatment of Brightman.

Also, the damages being sought apply to all of the developments listed in the lawsuit and not just the pond, Burke said.

“It’s a culmination of several years worth of frustration that my client’s had with the city,” Burke said of the lawsuit. “As you can see, it goes back for a long time.

“His hope was it would get better, but he’s convinced it’s not getting better unless he does something about it.”

An offer to settle with the city for $1.5 million out of court was included in a Feb. 13, 2012, notice from Burke of Brightman’s intent to file the lawsuit. City officials rejected the proposed settlement.

Part of the city’s defense of the lawsuit may be whether the allegations related to the projects have been raised in a timely manner.

Elliott said the alleged actions are required to have occurred within six months preceding notice to file suit in order to preserve a person’s right to later file a lawsuit to recover damages. Walker died in 2009.

“I have serious doubts that all of the actions they allege in the letter and then later in the lawsuit occurred within six months prior to the date of that letter,” Elliott said.

In his notice of intent to sue, Burke admits the actions were outside the normal six-month statue of limitations but states that the “conspiracy to engage in this conduct” was only recently discovered in a deposition Beauchea gave in another lawsuit. The admission in the deposition that the city was attempting to put Brightman out of business was the reason for taking action, the notice states.

That deposition was taken for a lawsuit two property owners filed in Houston County Superior Court against Brightman about the Peach Blossom Terrace pond not being completed. Although the lawsuit is still pending, Burke and George Williams, a Warner Robins attorney representing the property owners, indicated in correspondence to the presiding judge that a settlement has been reached. Burke said the paperwork to formally dismiss the lawsuit has not been filed yet.

The deposition was not included in the court file. Burke, who was reached out-of-town by telephone, said the deposition was not easily accessible and it wasn’t proper to go through the whole case before the city has even responded.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.

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