By Robert Carter and Melanie Patterson
North Jefferson News
BIRMINGHAM — A civil court judge has granted the city of Fultondale's motion for summary judgement against the corporate parent of Home Field Sports Grill, which effectively throws the case out.
Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Tom King ruled against CNL Properties and owner John Douglas, who had sued the city in a long-running dispute over the restaurant on Decatur Highway which was heavily damaged by the April 2011 tornado.
City building inspectors had ruled that the building was damaged more than 50 percent, and therefore had to be rebuilt in conformance with current zoning ordinances since the structure was built before zoning laws were first enacted in the city.
Douglas had contended that the damage was less than 50 percent, and therefore could be repaired without having to meet current zoning laws.
King ruled that Douglas had not exhausted all avenues of appeal of the city's decision within the 12 months prescribed by city laws, and therefore was not entitled to seek remedies through the court system.
Fultondale Mayor Jim Lowery was happy with King’s ruling.
“We feel like the judge looked at all the facts. The ruling was made and we were simply defending ourselves against a lawsuit,” Lowery said. “The zoning code we were defending is in every city. For us to defend ourselves, we simply had no choice. We were on the right side of the law.”
Even though the lawsuit did not go to a full trial by jury, the defense was an expensive proposition.
“The city spent over $100,000 defending ourselves on this case. The taxpayers will have to pay for that. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the way it is,” Lowery said. "I felt like justice was served. I feel like Mr. Douglas had a right to question anything he wanted to question, but it was absolutely necessary for us to defend ourselves. Hopefully the property owner will work with the city on the cleanup of the tornado damage."
Douglas, who learned of the decision when contacted by a North Jefferson News reporter for comment, said he would need to talk with his attorneys before commenting. That would not happen until Wednesday, Douglas said later Tuesday night.
Lowery said that the city had already filed a condemnation notice on the property and could legally tear it down, but that they were waiting on Judge King’s decision. He added that city attorneys will look at the ruling to see what comes next.
Douglas has carried on a sometimes-public feud with Lowery, and ran against him in the most recent city elections, but lost by a wide margin.